Keeping ducks can be a fun, relatively easy, straightforward, and rewarding experience. But if you are new to the world of duck keeping or considering keeping them for the first time, you might be wondering what to feed ducks and what to avoid.
You can feed ducks with duck feed you can buy in shops. Or you can prepare your own using oats, wheat, rice, corn, and chickpeas. It is also beneficial for ducks to add occasionally bugs and warms to their diet.
You can purchase the main duck feed or spend some time designing a DIY feed if you prefer to be more self-sufficient. Whichever option you choose, you should also make sure that ducks are able to spend plenty of time foraging. And there are certain things you should avoid.
You should avoid feeding ducks crops in the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.), raw dried beans, moldy food, citrus fruit, spinach, iceberg lettuce. You should also avoid feeding an excess of junk food with low nutrient content and high calories.
Read on to learn more about what to feed ducks at different stages in their lives. And to learn why the things mentioned above should be avoided. By the end of this guide, you should have a much clearer idea about what your ducks need and how their needs can be met when you raise them on your homestead.
What To Feed Ducks
The first and most important thing to understand about ducks is that their needs will differ depending on the conditions in which they are kept. Ducks that have access to large and abundantly vegetated areas in which to range free will generally require less feed than those kept permanently in a smaller run or outdoors area.
Of course, the size and breed of the birds is also an important consideration. Generally speaking, adult ducks will eat around 6-7 oz (170-200g) of feed per day. Larger birds will usually require a little more, and meat birds may also be fed a little more on a daily basis. However, this is only a rough rule of thumb, and there is a wide range of factors that could and will affect this number.
Ducks Need Protein And Niacin
When thinking about what to feed ducks, don’t forget the importance of drinking water. Ducks absolutely must have access to fresh water at all times. They will go back and forth between their water and food containers to keep their food moist and to stop themselves from choking. Place water close to the food – but not so close that spills and mess become an issue.
Duck nutrition involves paying close attention to certain vitamins and minerals. Ducks are particularly vulnerable to certain nutrient deficiencies. So making sure that you avoid those deficiencies is the most important thing to think about when it comes to feeding your ducks.
One of the most crucial things to think about is protein. Ducks need to have foods throughout their lives that provide the right amounts of protein at each stage of their development. Providing too little or too much protein can cause a range of health issues.
Too little protein and they can be stunted in their growth and fail to thrive.
If a duck has too much protein, they can develop a problem called angel wing – and the feathers on their wings will turn outwards.
One of the most crucial things to learn about duck nutrition is how much protein they require to grow successfully and remain healthy and strong.
Though there are a number of deficiencies that can lead to problems, a lack of Niacin (B3) is one of the most serious. This is essential for ducks to grow strong legs and joints. If they do not get enough of it, they may be weak, unable to walk, and may even die.
If you buy a commercial duck feed, it should be optimized to suit the needs of your birds. If you decide to make your own, then it is crucial to follow recipes according to scientific knowledge and advice. If you get it wrong, your birds may suffer, and you may even lose some of your ducks to illness and death.
DIY Duck Feed
Cereals are an important part of a commercial duck feed. And they are an integral part of most DIY home-made duck feeds too. Using a carefully worked out proportion of the following ingredients (or some of them) as the main component of the feed, you should be able to create a DIY duck feed tailored to meet the requirements at each stage of their development:
- Lentils/ Peas
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
However, if you do decide to make your own – remember – it is vital to make sure you are confident that you understand enough about its nutritional composition and the needs of your ducks to make the right choices. This can be an interesting route to go down for those more experienced in keeping ducks. But it is probably not the best choice for beginners.
Feed Ducklings 20% Protein Feed
Finding a commercial feed specifically formulated for ducklings is not always easy. Some feed stores do not carry a feed that has been specifically created to meet the needs of your ducks during this early stage of their growth. If you can find a duck or waterfowl starter, this is the best option, as it will contain everything the ducklings need to grow up strong, in just the right amounts. The feed you choose, whether you buy it or make your own, should have a protein content of 20%. Only for 2-3 weeks, however, after which protein content should be dropped.
One handy hint is that if you are making your own feed, brewer’s yeast can be added – this is one way to provide the amount of niacin your ducklings need. You can also add brewer’s yeast to a commercial chick starter if you cannot find a duckling specific feed.
Chick feeds available widely at feed stores are usually labeled starter and grower. Use a starter for ducklings for their first 2-3 weeks. But then switch to the grower. The chick starter is 20-24% protein, so it is best not to keep ducklings on it for longer than 2-3 weeks. If you do so, they may have too much protein and develop angel wing.
Try to find a crumble if you can. Mash is okay. But make sure it is wet, so they do not choke on the powdery substance. Pellets are usually too large for little ducklings to eat. The only thing to remember is that while most of the nutritional needs of chicks and ducklings are the same, ducklings need added niacin. A rule of thumb is to add 2-3 cups of brewer’s yeast for every 10lbs of chick feed you use.
There is a rumor doing the rounds that you should not feed ducklings medicated chick feed. It is said that ducklings overdose themselves because they eat more than chicks typically do. This is a myth. Though you should choose non-medicated if you can – this is because the amprolium commonly used in these to prevent coccidiosis is not required by the ducklings. It will not typically do any harm.
Formerly, there were sulfa drugs used in chick feeds. But these are no longer used in the US. In other countries, however, it is best to check to see what is in any medicated feed before feeding it to ducklings. Never feed anything with antibiotics that animals do not need, as overuse of antibiotics contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Whichever food you provide for ducklings, it should be a free choice. There should always be food available so they can eat little and often. And do not forget the water too.
Feed Juvenile Ducks 15% Protein Feed
As soon as ducklings are past the tiny fluffy duckling stage, their rate of growth will slow somewhat. As mentioned above, it is best to reduce the protein content of their main feed after 2-3 weeks and switch to a lower protein content feed. Ideally, juvenile ducks should be fed a feed that is 15% protein or thereabout.
If you are going down the commercial route, flock raiser is an appropriate choice. This is typically much easier to find than feeds specially formulated for ducklings. And it should contain everything that your growing ducks need.
Feed Layers Ducks 16%-17% Protein Feed
Once ducks reach adulthood, what you feed them may differ somewhat depending on whether you are rearing them for eggs or for meat.
With layers, of course, you want to provide a balanced feed that will support healthy birds and healthy eggs. A feed for laying ducks should contain around 16-17% protein.
If you cannot find a specially formulated feed for laying ducks, then a chicken layers feed should be sufficient for ducks too.
One other thing to think about with layers is calcium. If you consistently notice poor eggshell quality, then a calcium deficiency is likely to be to blame. Providing the layers with oyster shells or feeding eggshells back to them mixed in their food should help in combatting this problem.
Feed Broilers 20% Protein Feed
Broilers or meat birds are typically fed a higher protein diet. This is not suitable for ducks that will live longer, but this strategy is sometimes employed to get the best results from broiler ducks that will obviously have a shorter lifespan.
To support rapid growth, broiler ducks are often fed a feed with 20% protein. This is commonly used with Pekin ducks, for example, which typically already grow much faster than most other breeds.
Foraged Food Is Excellent For Ducks
A balanced feed should make up the bulk of your ducks’ diet. But the more they can forage for themselves, the healthier and happier they will be. Remember, ducks need a wide variety of nutrients in order to thrive, and the best way to make sure they get enough variety in their diet is to make sure they are able to forage for it themselves as widely as possible.
The more you can allow ducks to free-range, and the healthier and more biodiverse the area in which they are foraging, the better their diet will be. The feed should be available free choice, but ducks will tend to eat less the more wild food is available.
If you have a duck pond, ducks will be able to eat duckweed and lots of other aquatic and marginal vegetation.
Around the pond, in a woodland, orchard, or forest garden, they will be able to forage for more wild greens and also eat plenty of bugs – a win-win as it will not only give them access to more varied food, it will also aid you by keeping pests down on that part of your property. They can help keep weeds down, too – chickweed is often a favorite – though you should remember that this is a weed you can eat too – it is delicious in a salad!
If you are more limited in space or worried about predators in your area and so cannot allow free-ranging all the time, consider allowing it supervised for limited periods. And remember, if they cannot go foraging, you can still take foraged materials to them. Bringing them weeds and other treats collected from around other parts of your homestead could be a very good idea. And your ducks will definitely thank you for the foraged snacks you provide.
Snacks and Treats – Perfect For Ducks
It is great to bring ducks foraged treats from around your homestead or allowing them to forage around it for themselves. But you can also feed them additional snacks and treats. Just make sure the snacks and additional feeds that you provide are healthy for your ducks.
Some of the home-grown snacks or scrap foods that you can offer are:
- Bugs and worms
- Whole grains
- Scrambled Excess Eggs
Providing the occasional treat will not be a problem and will enrich your ducks’ diet. Just make sure that you do not provide too much and that the balanced feed still makes up the bulk of what they eat.
When it comes to bugs and worms, we are not just talking about those which you collect from the wild. One interesting thing to consider is that you could consider breeding these specifically to give as a supplemental feed to your ducks.
Mealworms are a great choice as you can breed the beetles of which these are the larval stage in even the smallest of spaces, and get a good supply of food for your birds. Ducks consider these to be a delicacy and will be delighted if you provide this protein-rich snack every now and then. They are high in protein and can help in enticing ducks back into their run at the end of a day.
You can consider breeding red wriggler or tiger worms too – in a vermicomposting system. A wormery not only provides a great compost enriched with worm castings, but it also provides a place for the worms to breed. Excess worms from the system can be a great snack to feed to your ducks.
Most fruit and vegetable scraps and excess produce make great supplemental foods for ducks. There are just a few exceptions, which are mentioned below. Ducks absolutely love fruits from an orchard or berries from your garden. This is one more reason why ducks and fruit orchards often go together very well.
Cut leafy greens, a little cooked pumpkin, or other crops can also be chopped small and feed a little here and there to ducklings, as well as adult ducks. Peas, brassicas, cucurbits, and many other commonly grown annual crops are real treats for ducks and can be given every now and then.
Ducks love grains. But make sure you give them whole grains, or they will pack on the weight, and their health may suffer. Avoid giving quick-release carbs too often, and focus on occasional snacks of whole wheat bread crusts and crumbs, brown rice, quinoa, and oats, for example. Remember – the word occasional is key.
If you have a lot of excess eggs, then you could consider scrambling some and feeding these to your ducks. This is another protein-rich snack that could be a good, occasional addition to their diet.
What To Avoid Feeding Ducks
Ducks can accept many kitchen and garden scraps in moderation. But there are certain things that you should definitely be sure to avoid. Some things that it is not a good idea to feed to your ducks include:
Crops in the Nightshade Family
Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants are all in the nightshade family. All parts of these plants, from the stems and leaves to the tubers and fruits, are toxic to ducks. Never feed things from this plant family to your ducks.
Raw Dried Beans
Beans can be given to your ducks, but only ever if they are fresh and green or sprouted. Never ever try to feed ducks raw or dried beans because they are toxic to them.
While you can often feed ducks things that would otherwise have been thrown away or popped into your composting system, never feed ducks any food that has gone moldy or rotten. This could make them sick and introduce pathogens. Do not take any risks.
Citrus fruits are highly acidic and can upset a duck’s digestive system. These fruits can also interrupt a duck’s ability to absorb calcium, which in turn can lead to problems with the shells of their eggs. So while many fruits are excellent for duck treats, citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges should be avoided.
While many leafy green vegetables and weeds are great for your ducks, spinach is one to avoid. Excess spinach in their diet can also interfere with calcium absorption. So this is one leafy green that you should not feed to your feathered friends.
Lettuce in small amounts can be fine. But watery lettuces like iceberg lettuces can give ducks diarrhea and throw their digestive systems out of whack. So if you do feed lettuce, try to stick to romaine types and give only a very moderate amount at one time.
Too Much Junk Food
Ducks will happily gobble down a huge range of snacks and treats. But too many empty calories are not a good idea for them, just as they are not good for us. While the occasional scrap of white bread or the leftover cake won’t do any harm, do not make a habit of feeding ducks junk food, or they may fill up without getting the nutrients they need. Stick to some of the healthier treats and snacks mentioned above.
With the hints and tips mentioned above, you should find it much easier to work out a diet for your ducks and work out what to feed ducks and what to avoid. Again, the important things are making sure that their basic nutritional needs are met throughout their lives and making sure that their diets are as rich and varied, with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible.
The better and more varied and healthy your ducks’ diet is, the healthier and happier they will be. And remember, healthy ducks lay healthy eggs and provide healthy meat. So what is good for laying and meat ducks is ultimately good for you too.