Mobile or migratory duck farming has been considered a culprit for spreading H5N1 around the Mekong delta as they move from province to province to feed on scattered grains after rice fields are harvested. That they’re free to roam around means they can come into contact with wild birds, and because ducks are fairly strong, sometime they can carry the virus without dying from it, hence spreading it to poultries along the way.

The co-existence of rice cultivation and duck farming in the Mekong delta probably existed since people started planting rice in the area. It’s a practice that benefits both rice and duck farmers. Duck farmers get free to cheap food to raise their flocks. Rice farmers get clean up services as the ducks come in and eat up all the pests in the field, and fertilize the fields with their poops! Apparently it’s not only applied in Vietnam but many other countries such as Southern China, the Philippines, India (Kerala).

(ducks in Kerala, India, taken from

What’s interesting is that this type of farming is a culture, an ingrained way of life. According to, up to 2011 there are at least 30.9 million ducks in the Mekong delta and 27,000 family units engaged in duck farming (out of which 17,000 families still use migratory methods). Vaccination has really helped prevent mass outbreaks but the government cannot supply free vaccination forever, and people put their guards down if there are long periods of calm. Among other problems. surveillance is difficult because of constant movement and lack of incentive for farmers to report sickness.

People at OUCRU tell me while ducks farms are among the most interesting to set up cohort studies they’re a challenge to implement. The farmers move around too much. On top of that, if the number of ducks are too large owners cannot keep track, and if they’re too small people switch to farming other things depending on market demand, making a continuous study of 3 years seem impossibly long.

This cave in Quang Binh, the central of Vietnam, is the biggest in the world. What’s fascinating is that there’s an entire mini-rainforest in the middle of the cave with an intact ecosystem, complete with bananas and butterflies.


A while back Juliet shared with me a few of her field photos and I was really surprised to see all the ducks colored pink. After some probing around on the internet and asking people who have relatives with duck farms, I was told that because the ducks roam freely on the rice fields some owners decided to dye their ducks pink in order to distinguish them from other people’s flock. I can’t seem to find out what dye they use and whether there are other colors. 😀



Magical mystery doorways! I thought. Before someone pointed out that these are birdhouses, specifically for swifts.

In recent years people in Can Gio (75kms from Ho Chi Minh city) started farming swift birds for their nest and egg. Swift nest made from the bird’s saliva is a highly prized delicacy in South East Asia.

Unlike poultry, you have to seduce the birds and lure them to this “den” by maintaining the right temperature, sound and particularly by spraying chemical pheromones all over the building. The popular brand on the market is Close2You Aroma. Great name.


When I was a child the only times we get to eat meat was when there was some sort of festival or a big family gathering. A live chicken would be sacrificed for the occasion. My grandma would slit its throat, collect its blood in a bowl which were then used to make congealed blood. Then she doused it with hot water and plucked the feathers off. It was a process that required practice and skill and she did everything quickly and efficiently.

By the time I could cook the economy had improved immensely and we ate meat when we feel like it. Meat was also readily available in the markets and supermarkets. Occasionally someone from the countryside would bring a live chicken to the house as a present but for the most part someone else did the dirty work for us.

I never did the dirty work. I even skipped bio class in school when we had to dissect live frogs and birds. The only things I’ve ever killed were ants, occasionally spiders, and roaches (squeamishly). Otherwise, I have never killed or stayed in the presence of a killing. I’d always sneaked off.

All this goes to say being in the presence of mass killing was the first for me. It’s not that easy to visit a slaughterhouse if you’re not in the meat business, but after the district vets gave the go ahead, the virology and zoonosis team at the OUCRU took me with them on their visit to the slaughterhouse in Cao Lanh, Dong Thap, down in the Mekong.

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This has little to do with medical science and is not particular to vietnam but so interesting. There are a lot of things we assume unique to humankind which have proven wrong. The experiment with the capuchins at the end of the talk is fascinating and hilarious.

Đông Hồ prints depict a number of animals found around farms such as the carp, buffalo, frog, toad, duck but by far the most popular animal is the chicken, the pig comes second. Prints used as good luck charms are commonly called tranh gà lơn which means pictures of chicken and pigs. This goes to show their importance in people’s cultural lives, and the wealth of hopes and meanings embedded into their images.

A flock of chicken is an allusion to fertility, to having a big family with lots of children and grandchildren. Story goes that the print above, Gà thư hùng (the name of a local breed of chicken), was designed by the woodcut master Đám Giác as a wedding present for the local official Chánh Hoàn’s daughter in 1915. Beside the image, in Nôm – the old Vietnamese writing system using Chinese characters, he engraved the phrase lắm con nhiều cháu giống lông giống cánh (children and grandchildren in flocks, sharing the same feathers, the same wings). The image consists of a full family of rooster, hen, and chicks in the composition of a swirl, with their male and female energy complimenting each other like the yin and yang, creating perfect harmony.

Likewise, prints of a family of pigs carries the same wishes, the wish for a flourishing and prosperous family.

an older design of the same image, the circles on their body is the symbol of yin and yang, of harmony:

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