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.

33 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. My duck egg is very close to hatching and I am not very knowledgable about ducks and what to give them as a basic nessecity because I found this one in my garden abandoned! I have taken it in and kept it for 20 ish days and from candling charts I can tell it’s close! What can I do to prepare for its hatching and what food should I buy to prepare? Any help what be great! Thanks x

      Kiera
      1. Hi Kiera,

        Here’s a quick list of what you’ll need to raise a duckling. But please research beyond this! This is just a simple summary.

        1. A brooder. A plastic tub or tote will make a good brooder.

        2. Bedding. Paper towels may work at first, but become too messy before long. Untreated pine shavings are better. Read this article (it applies to ducklings as well as chicks, even though ducklings are much messier than chicks): https://www.raising-happy-chickens.com/bedding-in-the-brooder.html

        3. A heat lamp or heat plate. Ducklings need warmth. They need 90-92 degrees for the first three days, 85-90 degrees until they’re a week old, and then you decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week.

        4. A waterer. Chicken waterers don’t work very well for ducks since they need to be able to submerge their nares (nostrils) and face in water, and chicken waterers just aren’t deep enough. Here’s a good duckling waterer: https://simplelivingcountrygal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/chick-and-duckling-housing.jpg
        Here’s the full article: https://simplelivingcountrygal.com/baby-chicks-ducks-foolproof-cheap-housing-system/

        5. Food. You can use chick feed, but add niacin to it. If you can find food specifically made for ducklings, that will be even better. Leave the food out for the duckling 24/7. When it’s an adult, it can eat twice a day, but ducklings should always have food available.

        6. A companion. Ducks should never be raised alone. Ideally, it would be good if you can buy one or two more ducklings within a week or two of this one hatching. A hatchery such as Metzer Farms or McMurray Hatchery is a good source of ducklings.

        7. Swimming water. Once a duckling is a few days old, it can have short baths. Since this duckling doesn’t have a real mother to help it oil its feathers and keep it safe, you’ll need to supervise the baths, so don’t put swimming water in the brooder. Just take the duckling out for his baths.

        And you’ll also need to make a plan (if you don’t have one already) for what to do with the duckling when it grows up. If you want to and are able to keep the duckling forever, that’s great! You’ll need to have a shelter and fenced run for your ducks in your backyard. You won’t be able to dump him at a lake or return him to the wild. Ducks raised by humans don’t learn how to find their own food and will probably starve. You might also be able to rehome him if you’re not able to keep him.

        As for preparing for hatching, once you have reached 25 days, you would put your incubator on “lockdown.” You add lots of water to get the humidity to 70-85%, you stop turning the egg, and then you close the incubator and don’t open it unless absolutely necessary, until after the duckling has hatched. The duckling should hatch on or around day 28, unless it’s a Muscovy egg, in which case it will take 35 days. If you think it’s already close to hatching, maybe it will hatch early, so maybe you should put it on lockdown on day 24 instead.

        Again, be sure to do more research! And feel free to ask me if you have any questions. Good luck with your new duckling!

        Hannah

        1. Hi Hannah!
          Thank you so much for your response it’s very helpful! I’ll definately do some more research on this and I really appreciate you replying! Thank you very much!
          Kiera x

          Kiera Broadbank
        2. Just had some mallards hatch in our boat today, we reunited them with their mother by helping them out of the boat. Unfortunately one had still not hatched until my son found tonight. Being night time we can’t see the mother and the other are with her. Any suggestions?

          Matt
          1. Hi Matt,

            Do you know if it’s still alive? (I can’t quite tell from your comment if it has even hatched or not.) It will die if it’s left alone in the boat, but you might be able to save it if you bring it home and put it in a warm place (99.5 degrees F if it hasn’t hatched, and 90 degrees if it has).

            If it hasn’t hatched yet, the mother may have realized that it was too weak to hatch by itself, so in that case, it’s probably not worth saving. If it has hatched, I’m not sure how likely it is that you’ll be able to find the mother and return the duckling to it tomorrow, or if she’ll accept it. If you’re sure you can find her, it might be worth a try, but it’s possible the duckling won’t follow her or she won’t accept it.

            And if you end up keeping the duckling, please be aware that you won’t be able to release it back into the wild. It will become dependent on humans for food.

            I don’t really know what the best option is. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I hope you find a good solution!

            Hannah

          1. Hi Jason and Hannah!
            Unfortunately the egg didn’t hatch 🙁 I tried my best but without the mother there was a low risk of it surviving anyway. Thank you for your interest and helpful advice!
            Kiera x

            Kiera Broadbank
  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

    1. Leo…
      Unless you have plenty of space to house them (barn, garage, shed), I would advise chickens.
      I love my 2 ducklings, but they are way more messy than chicks due to their love for water. After
      three weeks you will definitely not want them inside your home. They also do not perch, so are
      easier prey for raccoons, cats, weasels, etc. They are fun, but realize the work; it doesn’t go away!
      😉

      Cheryl Ide
      1. Leo’s comment was two months ago, so if he did get ducklings, I hope they’re doing well and I hope he’s enjoying them! I agree that ducks aren’t for everyone, but chicks are also messy and also require plenty of space and work. Either way, anyone getting into ducks or chickens definitely needs to research and be sure they’re prepared for the commitment. It’s definitely fun and worth it, though!

        Hannah

  3. This is a great site, been very helpful reading the queries, my first time hatching ducklings ( runner ducks ) have a drake called Ronnie he’s 4 yrs old just hatched 8 ducklings nearly ready to go down my field, had a pen and large run made for them until they can roam freely with my Runner and a female Muscovy, you can get hooked on hatching ducklings they are so funny and they love being together, got more eggs to hatch due 16 Th June

    Anonymous
  4. Hi Hannah,
    My family is hatching a duck egg (unknown breed) with a homemade incubator. We bought the egg with the duck already growing inside so we don’t know when to put the egg in lockdown, and even so, our incubator is basically microwaved tube socks filled with rice. When the socks return to room temperature, we microwave them again. We know this method may not be efficient, but should we get an actual incubator?
    Thanks,
    An

    An
    1. Hi An,

      Yeah, I think you should get an incubator. There are some small incubators for sale for less than $100. Some are even $40 or less. You also should get one or two thermometers and hygrometers if you don’t already have them. The temperature and humidity should stay as stable as possible, but it’s impossible to know what’s happening without a thermometer and hygrometer (and you can’t trust the ones that come with incubators, by the way). Fluctuations of more than a few degrees or for more than a couple hours can kill the egg, so I feel like the sock method may not work well. An incandescent light would probably be better, but if you can get an incubator, that would definitely be best.

      Also, to get a better idea of when to put the egg on lockdown, look at some egg candling charts (such as this one: https://www.bubblesfeatheredbeauties.com/29572911_10213895958891869_3518021555088292142_n.jpg) and put the egg on lockdown approximately when it starts look like like day 24. To be safe, you can do it a little earlier, since too early is better than too late. Hopefully your egg isn’t a Muscovy egg, which will complicate things, since they take 35 days.

      Good luck with the egg! Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Hannah

  5. Hi there I am a first time duck mum. My baby hatched on Wednesday and I Doing well. He doesn’t seem to be eating much at the moment but I do have unlimited food for new born ducklings out. He pecks at it but I can’t tell if he is actually eating it or not???

    Alys Baines
    1. Hi Alys,

      Newborn ducklings eat very little, so I can understand why it would be hard to see if he’s actually eating or not. I think he probably is, even if you can’t tell yet. You might try wetting the feet or sprinkling it in water. Ducklings love eating food from water.

      I hope he’s still doing well! Welcome to the world of ducks! I hope you consider getting at least one more duck though–it’s best for ducks to have a companion. 🙂

      Hannah

      1. Thank you! Yes we are considering getting her one! She is feisty haha! Love her to bits. She is eating a lot now and loves to jump in her shallow water bowl and make a mess everywhere hahaha! Really a very cute little thing

        Alys Baines
  6. Hello, I have 24 ducklings (almost 3 weeks old) that are in a large coop outdoors with a wire mesh bottom (almost like a big rabbit hutch). I would like to bring them into another enclosure that is fenced/wired around that is on the ground and contains grass and much more room. Since it is during the summer I figured the temperature was not a problem. I also have sand in an area that their “nighttime” house will be on. We usually lock them up at night, within the enclosure as an extra precaution. Will that be a problem (the sand)? I have read different opinions on ducklings and sand. I was also considering covering the sand with straw. Thank you for your help.

    Jennifer
    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Sand usually works fine for ducklings, but sometimes people have trouble with them trying to eat it. I think they are old enough now that they know what’s food and how to find their food, so I doubt it would be a problem. But if you put them in and they do start eating it, then yeah, it would probably be better to put straw on top, at least temporarily.

      By the way, at three weeks old, ducklings can’t handle temperatures much colder than 75-80 degrees. (The rule of thumb is 90-92 degrees for the first few days, 85-90 for days 4-7, and then you can drop by 5 degrees each week.) They can probably handle lower for the night if they’re in an draft-free enclosure and since there’s so many that they can snuggle up against each other can conserve heat, but if it’s much below 75 for the day, it might still be a little too early to move them outside.

      Hope that helps!

      Hannah

    1. Hi Erin,

      Ducklings grow extremely fast and seem to eat more every day. A very young duckling won’t even eat one ounce a day, but a juvenile could eat up to a pound a day. How much foraging time they get also makes a difference. So does the breed. Larger breeds obviously eat more in general, but Muscovies, if given plentiful access to forage, may eat less than other breeds simply because they’re better foragers.

      I would guess that adult ducks generally eat 1/4 to 1/2 a pound of food a day, but it varies a lot.

      Your first 5lb bag will probably last over a week, maybe even two weeks, but it won’t be long before they’ll consume a 5lb bag in only 2-3 days, although they eat more as growing juveniles than they do as adults.

      I found an anecdote from someone on a poultry forum I’m a member of saying that their 4 ducklings took 6 weeks to consume a 50-pound bag.

      To save feed, do a little research on fermenting feed. This makes it easier to digest and thus they don’t need to eat quite as much.

      Hope that helps!

      Hannah

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