Feeding your Backyard Ducks

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Before I brought my first ducks home, I was doing some research on the best food to feed them.   My local feed store carries several kinds of chicken feed and a “mixed flock” feed, but nothing specifically for water fowl.  I had tried the mixed flock feed once before with my chickens and was pretty unhappy with it.  It was marketed for being good for chickens, ducks, geese & turkeys from babies to adult.  Sounds like the perfect solution right?  I didn’t think so, at least not that brand.  When my layer chickens were on the mixed flock feed there was a noticeable drop in egg production, and it is the only time we ever have seen the strange no shell soft eggs.  This leads me to believe in an effort to provide nutrition for different age ranges and species it is shortchanging birds in some areas (or maybe it was just a bad brand, in either case it made me leary of trying it again).  When we added ducks to our flock, I knew I didn’t want to go back to the mixed flock feed.  But in the absence of water fowl feed, what should we do?  To save space and effort is it ok to just feed your ducks the same as your chickens?

What to feed your ducks at every stage

Early Duckling Stage (0-2 weeks)

Even if you can find adult water fowl feed, it is even harder to find water fowl starter feed, so many people feed their ducklings chick starter feed.  Ducklings grow much faster than chicks. To facilitate this fast growth, you want to be sure you are providing your ducklings with enough protein.  Look for a high protein chick starter (20-22% would be ideal) for those first two weeks.  Because ducklings eat so much more than chicks, you want to find a non medicated chick starter.  Ducklings will eat too much and can over medicate themselves.  Chick feed is medicated to prevent coccidiosis, which is common among chickens, but pretty rare in ducks so the medication is unnecessary anyway.  The other consideration with feeding ducklings chick starter is the niacin levels.  Ducklings require 2-3 times the amount of niacin that chicks need, deficiencies can lead to bowed legs and joint issues.  An easy source of niacin is powdered brewer’s yeast.  Add 1.5 tablespoons of brewers yeast to every cup of chick feed.  Always provide plenty of fresh water with the feed to help the ducklings digest their food, and hold off on additional treats at this time.

What to feed your backyard ducks

 

Later Duckling Stage (3-20 weeks)

Ducks grow fast. How fast?  A typical Mallard duck at birth weighs 35 grams.  By their one week birthday it will be about 100 grams and by the time they are two weeks old they will be about 250 grams (that is seven times bigger in just two weeks – imagine if your 7 pound newborn human baby grew to 50 pounds in just two weeks!).  Believe it or not at 3 weeks, your ducklings will kick their growth into even higher speed!  To avoid a protein overload, you want to switch to a lower protein chick starter feed (16-18% protein, still non medicated feed).  If you can’t find a lower protein feed, you can “dilute” your starter feed with rolled oats.  Mix in rolled oats, to replace up to 25% of your duckling’s feed.  Start this slowly, working up to the 25% mark over the course of a couple weeks.  Too much protein can cause a wing deformity known as Angel Wing.  It causes the wing to stick out instead of laying flat against the body.  Continue to supplement your duckling’s niacin intake with brewer’s yeast until about 20 weeks, and of course continue providing plenty of fresh water.  As long as your ducklings have access to grit (sand or dirt) you can start to introduce treats to their diet.  Don’t go overboard, they should still be getting the majority of their nutrition from their feed.  Some good treats to try with later stage ducklings include scrambled eggs, yogurt or cottage cheese, earthworms or mealworms, soft mashed fruits like bananas, peaches or unsweetened applesauce, lettuce & herbs (try tearing up romaine lettuce or fresh herbs and floating them in their water dish, they will go crazy for it!).  Greens (lettuce, herbs, grass, weeds, etc) can be fed in unrestricted amounts, but you should try to limit other treats to less than 10% of their diet.

Feeding your Ducks

Adult Ducks (21 weeks+)

At this point, your duck is just about full grown and will be getting ready to lay her first egg.  You want to switch over to regular chicken layer feed (or water fowl layer feed if you can find it) and you won’t need to supplement with the brewer’s yeast anymore.  The feed should have at least 16% protein and added calcium to help form strong eggshells.  If all your ducks are older and no longer laying, or if you are keeping drakes only, you should use a maintenance diet lower in protein (about 14%) and calcium.  Feed should be offered free choice throughout the day along with access to plenty of fresh, clean water.  An adult duck can drink up to a half gallon of water every day, so make sure you are checking the water levels often.  The feed bowl should be emptied and cleaned every day, because ducks like to moisten their feed the food bowl often ends up with water in it.  Wet food can get moldy and you don’t want your ducks to eat moldy food.  If you have chickens, you will notice the list of treats ducks enjoy is pretty similar.  The following healthy treats can be offered free choice along with their feed:

*crushed oyster shells (great source of calcium for laying ducks)
*lettuce/greens (opt for darker greens like kale or romaine – but do not feed them spinach as this can effect their calcium absorption causing issues with laying and egg binding)
*herbs – toss some in their water or pool and watch them fish them out.  Pretty much any fresh herb will be appreciated but some to try include oregano, parsley, basil, mint, sage, dill and marjoram
*weeds – only if your yard has not been treated with any chemicals please!  Some favorites include dandelions (flowers & leaves), clover & chickweed

Feeding your Duck

Other treats ducks love (limit to 10% of diet):

*bugs – fresh or dried, they seem to especially love slugs but also love earthworms, grubs, meal worms & crickets
*live fish – for a special treat get some guppies or minnows and add them to the duck pool!
*cooked rice – white is ok, brown is much better
*cooked pasta – again white is ok, but whole wheat is better
*cooked oatmeal – great in winter, unflavored & unsalted
*scrambled eggs
*plain yogurt
*most fruit & berries – remember ducks have no teeth, so cut up or mashed is easier.   Some favorites include watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries, pears, peaches, banana.  Avoid citrus fruits as it has too much acid for a duck’s digestive system
*vegetables – most are fine, but some favorites include peas, corn, cucumber & tomatoes.  Avoid potatoes unless they are cooked

A word about bread……

Feeding your Duck

I don’t know about you, but as a kid one of my favorite things to do was to go to the park to feed the ducks some stale bread.  There is now a movement to educate people on the dangers of doing just that.  Is this the fun police swooping in to ruin people’s good times?  Not really.  Is a piece of bread going to kill a duck?  No.  But is it the best thing for them to be eating?  Definitely not.  Bread (and other similar products like crackers, chips, cereal, etc) is loaded with carbs and fat .  Bread has very little in the way of vitamins & minerals that a duck needs to be healthy.  Bread is like junk food for ducks.  It is tasty and fills them up, making them less likely to eat the food they need.  Feeding your ducks too much bread will cause excessive weight gain and malnutrition from eating too many treats and too little feed pellets.  Because it is so tasty to them, they tend to gobble it up very quickly which can lead to an impacted crop.  So for your backyard ducks, if you want to indulge them very infrequently with a bit of bread, ripped into tiny pieces it is not the end of the world.  For wild ducks it is really not a good idea because you don’t know how many other families have given that duck bread that day.  Weight gain can be especially deadly for wild ducks, not just for health reasons, but because a fat duck may not be able to escape predators quick enough.  If you or your children love feeding wild ducks you could purchase some duck feed and keep it in a gallon size freezer bag in your car, or bring along a head of romaine lettuce rather than slices of bread 🙂

What do you feed your ducks?  What is their favorite treats?

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10 comments

  1. Bonnie V says:

    Great post! I get so annoyed with feed store clerks who tell people to feed chick starter to their ducklings, and don’t even know what niacin is, much less that ducklings need it.

    Thank you for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop.

  2. Barbara says:

    Thank you! A very informative post.

    I was wondering if it is worth (from a monetary perspective) to mix up the feed for older ducks with a grain or cracked corn?

    Also, and a real newbe question, do you mix the grit or oyster shells with the food or is this given separately?

    Thank you!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Barbara! Older ducks that aren’t laying anymore don’t need all the nutrition of a layer feed so to save money, you definitely could mix in some cheaper grains or corn. Grit and oyster shells are usually given separately, so they can take it as needed 🙂

  3. Olivia says:

    My ducks are about 12 weeks old, free-range in the backyard most of the day and are on Mazuri waterfowl starter. But they seem to be craving mealworms/other yard bugs, even holding out for them and not eating their feed at times. Every time I try to go outside, they run towards me screeching like they’re starving. Any ideas?

    • Liz says:

      Mazuri’s is a nice quality, high protein feed so I wouldn’t worry about them seeking out the treats because of a nutritional deficiency – bugs are just tastier than than feed lol. Every time I step out my back door I have an entourage following me around hoping for treats, I think it’s pretty normal. As long as you have plenty of feed & water out at all times, you might want to cut back on the extra treats for a few weeks so they stop expecting them

      • Jessica says:

        Hi Liz, could you give me some duck advice?

        I have a mated pair that I recently rescued. I have no idea how old they are, other than they are full grown. She isn’t laying any eggs but they are mating occasionally. I currently make their feed with a recipe I found online but they don’t eat much of it. I don’t know if it is because I also give them a bowl of lettuce at the same time, or if they simply don’t like what I give them. Like you said above, the are probably just eating the food they want (the lettuce and meal worm that’s includedin the feed) and being picky ducks but I worry that they don’t eat enough. Would you recommend Mazuri’s as an alternative? I know drakes don’t need the oystershell that they female does so should I separate the bowls?

        • Liz says:

          Mazuri’s is a great feed, but it can be hard to find. We feed our ducks regular chicken layer feed. I would recommend the crumble kind vs the pellet kind, it will be easier for the ducks to eat. Layer feed will give them pretty much all the nutrition they need, so maybe for the next couple weeks only offer the feed so they will get in the habit of eating that, then you can reintroduce treats. You don’t need to mix the oyster shells in the feed, just offer them in a separate bowl. The drake will likely just ignore them. With the days getting shorter, egg production does slow down. The change of home could also stress her enough to stop laying temporarily. Where you don’t know the age of the ducks, that can make it harder too. If they are 4 or 5 years old, I wouldn’t expect her to laying daily still. The other possibility is that, if the ducks are allowed to free range in the yard, they are hiding their nest. You can try watching them to see where they go and maybe they will surprise you with a stash.

          • Jessica says:

            Thank you! I’ve only had them for about a month so this has been a learning curve. I appreciate the help!

  4. kim says:

    I have a duck that has been living at my house for about 6 months. She is little and stays on my front porch for most of her life. A nest but never any eggs. She only leaves twice a day (sometimes once). Sometimes she is so hungry she will come right up to me. I try not to feed her unless she is acting like she is straving. I have three dogs and I am so afraid she will get attacked. Why would she stay at our home? We live in a community where having a duck is not allowed but she won’t leave.

    • Liz says:

      That is really strange. Does she seem injured? Her behavior sounds like she could be broody (she wants to hatch eggs) but maybe for some reason can’t lay them or a predator is stealing them. It would be unusual for a bird in the wild to be broody for more than a month though. I wish I had some more insight for you!

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