A proper diet is one of the most important parts of giving your new ducklings a healthy, happy start in life. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science. Here are the four components of a healthy, balanced duckling diet, ten things you shouldn’t feed your ducklings, how much to feed them, how to provide the feed, and some extra tips.

1: Commercial Feed


Commercial feed will compose the staple of your ducks’ diet, throughout their life. Waterfowl feed, such as Purina Flock Raiser, is the best diet for a duckling. Unfortunately, feed specially made for waterfowl is difficult to find in many areas, so you may have to go with chick starter that is 18-20% protein.

Crumbles are the best form of feed for ducklings. Mash is acceptable, but wet it so they don’t choke on the loose powder. Pellets are usually too large for small ducklings to consume.

Feed chick starter for at least two weeks, and then transition them to chick grower for lower protein (15-16%). When exactly to transition seems to depend on who you ask; answers can vary from “switch at two weeks” to “switch at ten weeks.” In my opinion, it’s not a big deal. Just be sure you switch to a lower protein feed at some point to prevent angel wing, which is caused by too fast growth.

2: Niacin

Ducklings and chicks have similar nutritional requirements, which is why chick food is fine for ducklings–EXCEPT for niacin, or vitamin B3. Ducks have higher niacin dietary requirements than chickens, so if you feed them chick starter, you will need to add niacin. Failing to do this will likely result in niacin deficiencies. You can feed niacin by adding brewer’s yeast to their feed, at a rate of about 1/2 cup of brewer’s yeast per 10 pounds of feed.

3. Greens

Who wants to eat the same dry mash day in, day out? Give your ducklings some healthy variety. If circumstances and weather allow, let them outside so they can find grass of their own (in a safe, sheltered area, of course, or at least under supervision). If you can’t bring them outside, or not often, bring them some chopped up grass and weed clippings to play with in their brooder.

You can also feed them bits of veggies and fruits. At first, when they’re really small, you’ll probably have to cut it into small pieces for them. Peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, cabbage, strawberries, and lettuce are common favorites. Here’s a list of treats you can feed your birds (of any age): https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-treat-chart%E2%80%94the-best-treats-for-backyard-chickens.47738/

Keep in mind that greens alone should not compose the majority of the diet. Veggies and fruits by themselves do not make a balanced diet. Too much of them can cause your ducklings to have protein deficiencies or other problems.

4. Grit

Since ducks don’t have teeth, they use grit, in the form of small rocks and sand, to chew up their food. Here’s how to tell whether you need to feed your ducklings grit or not:

  1. Are they outside foraging every day? If they are, they can probably find their own grit by picking through bits of dirt and sand, and thus you do not need to feed them grit.
  2. Are they in a brooder and eating nothing but commercial feed? I don’t recommend this, but if so, there’s no need for grit because there’s nothing that needs to be chewed up.

If you answered no to both of those–basically, if they’re not outside full-time, but are getting food aside from commercial feed, you need to feed them grit.

Oyster shell is not a good source of grit for ducklings because it is so high in calcium. Instead, offer free choice chick grit.

What Not To Feed

  1. Bread is low in nutrition and is very dangerous to feed in large quantities. It’s basically junk food.
  2. Cat food contains high quantities of methionine, which could possibly kill your ducks.
  3. Spinach prevents calcium absorption, which is especially dangerous for adult females but can also harm ducklings. If you feed spinach, it should be in very small amounts only.
  4. Avocado is toxic to ducks (and many other animals).
  5. Chocolate is also toxic.
  6. Onions are toxic in large quantities.
  7. Dry or undercooked beans contain hemagglutinin and are toxic.
  8. Citrus is extremely acidic and will cause digestive problems in ducks.
  9. Raw green potato peels are toxic.
  10. Salty, sugary, or high-fat foods are dangerous for ducks. The same goes for carbonated beverages, coffee, alcohol, or anything considered junk food for humans, like French fries or pepperoni.

This list also holds true for adult ducks AND chickens.

Remember: just because they love it does not mean it’s good for them. And just because you fed one of these foods to your birds before and they didn’t die does not mean it’s healthy for them.

11. Adult laying mash is too low in protein and too high in calcium for ducklings. Some say the extra calcium will be deadly. Personally, I’ve never had problems with feeding ducklings layer mash. However, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, and I still recommend against it, just to be safe.

12. Also, some people ignorantly feed their ducks scratch or raw grains and think it is all their birds need for food. This is untrue. Although grain can make up a large part of their diet, it is not high enough in protein to be a complete diet and is not a substitute for commercial feed.

Is medicated feed bad for ducklings?


The idea that medicated feed for chicks is bad for ducklings because they eat more than chicks and thus overdose themselves has become widely spread and is preached by many. However, it seems to be a misconception.

The coccidiostat in chick feed, usually amprolium, is used to prevent coccidiosis. It’s not an antibiotic; it’s just a thiamine blocker. Amprolium is considered to be safe for ducks as long as they don’t overdose. The sulfa drugs used long ago in feed were not safe for ducks, which is probably where the myth began, but those drugs are no longer used (in the United States, at least; if you live in a foreign country, you might want to check what drug is being used as the medication). In general, there is little need to worry about feeding your ducklings medicated feed.

Ducks don’t need the medication, though. Ducklings are not as susceptible to coccidiosis as chicks and there is absolutely no need to feed them medicated feed. From my perspective, if you have the choice between medicated and unmedicated feed, the unmedicated feed would be the better option, because why feed it if you don’t have to? And who knows–there could still be hidden side effects of amprolium that are not known yet. Or perhaps overdosing is still an issue. Even Dave Holderread states in his book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, that nonmedicated feed is preferable when possible.

Here’s a link from Metzer Farms about feeding medicated feed to ducklings: https://metzerfarms.blogspot.com/2011/11/can-medicated-feed-be-used-for.html

Here’s a study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6878147

How much feed and how often?

Ducklings digest food quickly, so they need food often. Feed young ducklings free choice, so it’s always available. At the very least, feed ducklings three times a day. It’s fine to have dedicated feeding times (such as once in the morning and once in the evening) for adult ducks, but not for ducklings. Don’t worry about them overeating. Just make sure they always have access to food or are fed multiple times a day.

How to feed it?

A good feeder reduces spillage and messes, and prevents the food from becoming soiled, stood in, or pooped in. Open dishes are not optimal, as the ducklings are guaranteed to walk in it and poop in it. The feeder should also be something that is difficult to tip over and spill.

Summary

  1. Feed your ducklings waterfowl feed or chick starter.
  2. If you choose chick starter, supplement with niacin.
  3. Supplement with vegetables and other greens.
  4. Add grit if they are eating anything other than commercial feed and cannot find grit themselves.
  5. Don’t feed bread, cat food, spinach, avocado, chocolate, onions, dry or undercooked beans, citrus, raw green potato peels, or salty, sugary, or high-fat foods.
  6. Medicated feed is okay, but non-medicated feed is preferable.
  7. Feed free choice.
  8. Use a feeder that stays as clean as possible.

7 Comments

  1. I am hatching ducks ( white ones) in my classroom. I have someone that raises ducks and will take them. Once out of the incubator…what do I need for them? A box with heat lamp and bedding? Do they need a big pan of water? And how long can I keep them before they need to go? I do have ducking specific feed. Thank you! Sorry for all the questions!

    1. Hi Pamela,

      Yes, they will need a box with a heat lamp and bedding. They will need water, but it should not be too open because that will cause a massive mess when they start getting in it and spilling it everywhere. Baths are better held outside the brooder! A simple chick waterer will suffice if you’ll only have them for a few days. (They don’t need a bath during their first few days anyway.) As messy as ducklings are, even this kind of waterer will cause a huge mess unless you put it inside a larger dish or over a pan or something to prevent the spilled water from wetting the bedding. Just be sure it’s easy to access and won’t trap the ducklings. My favorite method is to build a small screen/wire platform, put a bowl under it to catch the spillage, and put the water on top.

      Actually, depending on how long you’ll have them, they may not need food and water anyway. They absorb the yolk sac right before hatching, so they won’t even be hungry for probably at least 24 hours after hatching. I don’t know how long you want to keep them. You can send them to the duck raiser anytime. But the longer you keep them, the more work they’ll be.

      If weather’s good where you are, it would also be a good idea to let them outside under supervision once they’re fluffy and active.

      Hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any other questions!

      Sincerely,
      Hannah Miller

  2. Hello Hannah,

    I was hoping I could ask you some questions about the right food for ducklings. Your homepage looks really good and it was the most specific information about food for ducks that I could find.
    Tomorrow we will have three ducklings to raise.
    The only thing where I feel a little doubt is concerning the food. I read so many different things on the Internet that also contradict each other. I would like to feed them as natural as possible (without synthetic vitamins, conservatives, etc.
    -I read somewhere that for the first days you can give them cooked eggs (without the shell) with dandelion, greens or nettles mixed with water. Is that true or do they need a starter right away?
    – I would like the starter to be without soy beans because of the many anti-nutrients they contain, but it is almost impossible to find that here (I live in Austria) My question is: can one combine different grains and seeds oneself and get enough protein for the ducklings like that without the soy? Maybe with the brewers yeast added which also contains quite some protein one can get the right combination oneself? (I also have a mill to grind the grain.)
    -When they are indoors for the first days/weeks, is it necessary for them to have access to grit all the time? Should I mix it with the food or should it be there in a different bowl all the time? And how many millimeters should the grit be?

    These are my questions. I hope you can give me some advice.

    Many many thanks in advance.

    Kind greetings,
    Elsa

    Elsa
    1. Hi Elsa,

      Natural feeding is a subject I care about a lot and would like to learn about more myself. I would like to someday feed my flock naturally, too. Unfortunately, there’s very little information about it online, since almost no one is willing to stray from the norm. This book has been very helpful to me in learning about natural feeding and I highly recommend it. It has a chapter on making your own feed, a chapter on feeding the flock from home resources, and a chapter on growing worms and other recomposers for poultry feed, as well as thoughts on commercial feed.

      The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers

      You have to be very careful when trying to recreate a natural, balanced diet yourself because it’s quite easy to cause imbalances and deficiencies. I actually have tried feeding nothing but wheat to my birds, in addition to letting them free range. They did okay, but they had trouble molting, and the babies did not grow normally. It was clear that they needed more protein. Right now, they eat half commercial feed and half milo (also known as sorghum). The older ducks that don’t lay much get mostly milo, which is rather low in protein, while the young ducks and the ones laying a lot get mostly commercial feed.

      I am experimenting with growin amaranth for them because it’s very high in protein and fairly easy to grow. It seems like it will be a good option. The book I linked to above talks about amaranth, too. I’ve also experimented with pigeon peas, which were nice, but it would be hard to grow enough to make a difference in their diet since I have soe many birds. Duckweed is an excellent source of food for ducks, since it’s extremely high in protein and very nutritious, but I haven’t tried it yet. Sunflowers, dandelions, and pumpkin seeds are also good additions. I think the biggest consideration when mixing your own feed is the protein content, and unfortunately a lot of grains aren’t very high in protein.

      This article lists protein contents of different types of feed ingredients: https://avianaquamiser.com/posts/protein_content_in_chicken_feed_ingredients/

      In answer to your specific questions:

      1. I think it would work, at least if it’s just for a short time. They’ve been living on egg for a whole month; they can probably live on it a bit longer! LOL. Dandelions and greens are also healthy and nutritious. I am not sure about nettles. I have seen some people saying they’re nutritious and excellent for ducks, and other people saying they’re poisonous. You might want to research it a bit more. Overall, I don’t think this would work as a long-term diet, but I don’t see any problems with it for a few days. It takes many days before an imbalance in the diet would cause problems.

      2. Theoretically, yes, it’s possible. However, I haven’t met many people who have been successful! I think free ranging is one of the best ways to help your flock find natural feed. Beyond that, I think that it should be possible to find a mix that works through experimenting, but I can’t give you a recipe or any answers myself because no one really has any tried-and-true method. I think mixing a grain like wheat with a variety of high-protein foods like amaranth, pigeon peas, duckweed, sunflowers, and so on, would create a relatively balanced diet. But again, it would take a lot of experimenting and research.

      3. Yes, if they’re eating greens, they need grit all the time. Just put it in a bowl so they can nibble at it whenever they want. You could mix it in with their food, but I think it’s better to have it separate so they can choose what they eat based on how much they need. I think you would use “chick grit” or “starter grit,” which is around 0.2mm. (I, personally, have never bought grit, because my ducklings are outdoors from day 1, and we have a sand pile and a driveway that they cross regularly and can get grit from.) Coarse sand also works as grit.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. And if you succeed in feeding your ducks naturally, I would love to hear all about it!

      Sincerely,
      Hannah Miller

      1. Hello Hannah,

        Thanks a lot for your time and answers!
        It does really help me a lot and it makes me realize that making my own duck feed could be problematic, especially because it is the first time for us raising ducks.
        I will probably buy a starter which comes as near to my ideals as possible to be on the safe side.

        If I ever experiment (by growing as much feed as I can myself), I’ll share my experiences here.

        Again many thanks!!

        Elsa

        Elsa
        1. Hi Elsa,

          Yes, if you’re a first-timer, I think it would be best to start with something “safe” even if it’s not totally healthy. But don’t forget that you can always supplement! My ducks eat mostly commercial feed, supplemented with milo/sorghum and vegetable and fruit scraps, such as Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, watermelon, amaranth if we have it, and more. We also have a tree that makes berries that taste a little like apples, and the birds love them. They also find a lot of food on their own by foraging, such as tadpoles, small fish, bugs, and grass. There are still plenty of options to improve your birds’ diet even if they’re primarily eating commercial feed!

          Sincerely,
          Hannah Miller

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