RSPCA welfare standards
for domestic/common ducks
14 February 2015
* indicates an amendment
The litter must be:
a) of a suitable material and particle size
b) managed to maintain it in a dry condition
c) of a sufficient depth for dilution of faeces
d) topped up to maintain dry conditions - this must be on a daily basis if necessary
e) managed hygienically.
The requirement to keep litter in a well maintained state is detailed in law (Welfare of Farmed
Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (as amended)). A poultry flock kept on well maintained litter
is healthier and more profitable than one kept on poor quality litter. Poor quality litter can cause
unnecessary suffering to the birds and can also result in downgrading of the end product at the
slaughterhouse. For example, poor litter can cause degeneration of the outer scales on the feet
(i.e. on the pressure points), which can lead to a condition known as pododermatitis (foot pad
burn). Poor litter can be avoided.
Litter moisture is a key cause of litter related problems and is affected by drinker design and
management; air change rate; litter material and depth; stocking density and rate; diet (i.e. raw
material quality and formulation) and flock health.
In poultry houses, three environmental factors have to be considered together, because their
control is interdependent. They are environmental temperature, ventilation rate and humidity.
The humidity of the poultry house environment is affected by the number and size of the birds
and therefore by their respiratory output and also, of course, by the relative humidity of the air
entering the house. When the relative humidity in the house exceeds 70%, the moisture content
of the litter tends to increase, leading to poorer conditions. The aim should be to maintain a
relative humidity level in the house of between 50 and 70% by supplying sufficient air and
added heat when necessary.
A lot of the water, and all of the fat and nitrogen found in the litter, which all have a detrimental
impact on litter quality, is excreted from the birds as faeces. Therefore the higher the stocking
rate the more of these factors the litter has to absorb. Also, the rate of evaporation of moisture
from the litter falls as stocking rate increases.
Any disease or skeletal abnormality that reduces the birds' mobility is likely to affect their
welfare adversely, as they will have increased contact with the litter.
Finally, not all foot pad burn is simply a result of poor litter quality. If birds spend excessive
amounts of time squatting down due to leg problems or other diseases they will be more likely
to suffer from these lesions regardless of litter condition.
Primary source: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). 2004. Poultry Litter Management. Defra, London.
E 3.5 Litter which is wet, infested with mites, or otherwise harmfully contaminated must:
a) not be introduced into duck housing
b) be replaced immediately if within the house.
Depending on the severity of the issue, wet litter may be covered with fresh, dry litter if this
is sufficient to prevent the birds becoming wet from water seeping up through the litter.