What Do Ducks Eat – In the world of free-range poultry, ducks hold a special place in many people’s hearts. They produce rich, flavorful eggs and are – mostly – known for their charming personalities. Ducks are naturally hardy and will mix harmlessly with other livestock. But to keep them healthy, it’s important to give them a good diet, sometimes different from their regular free range diet.
“They eat healthy,” says Lisa Steele, author of Everyday Duck Eggs: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks Naturally. Steele raises ducks and chickens on his farm in Maine. “They just want to eat worms, lettuce, greens, stuff.”
What Do Ducks Eat
This may come as a surprise to those who grew up eating bread and crackers in the park. And yes, ducks will eat bread, but it’s actually not good for them. In fact, in recent years, many wildlife organizations and educational publications have urged people to stop feeding ducks processed food, which fills the birds’ bellies without providing them with nutrients.
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“Ducks were not designed to consume processed bread,” says Gavin Hitchener, a veterinarian and veterinary anatomical pathologist at Cornell University’s Duck Research Laboratory. “There are many problems with it.”
Likewise, domestic ducks need simple, nutritious food to maintain health. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.
As a basis for the diet of domestic ducks, breeders often use commercial feed specially designed for waterfowl. This is usually in pellet form, but ducks will also consume it in a finely ground form, according to CJ Walton, owner of Black Duck Farms in Becket, Mass.
Walton raises rare heritage ducks and sells their eggs to restaurants and grocery stores in her area. He said there are quite a few options for waterfowl feed, but he likes the custom feed mix he buys from Stone House Grain in Hudson, N.Y.
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“We realized that duck mash is necessary for good eating,” says Walton. “They won’t even eat corn. Everything has to be cracked or crushed.”
“It’s really hard to find food for ducks or waterfowl,” said Steele, who has a number of ducks and chickens. “The easiest thing to do [when you have chickens] is to feed them all.”
The ducks, owned by Lisa Steele of Dixmont, Maine, eat chicken feed supplemented with brewer’s yeast and oatmeal. | Lisa Steele’s photo
To make chicken feed more duck-friendly, Steele adds brewer’s yeast, which contains niacin, a form of vitamin B3 that ducks need to grow healthily. Vitamins also aid digestion, promote healthy bones and support the immune system. It can be found naturally in yeast, meat, eggs, green vegetables and grains.
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Steele also adds oatmeal to his chicken feed to cut down on protein. She found that giving ducks too much protein can cause them to grow too fast and become too heavy, putting extra strain on their legs.
“Ducks always need access to water when they’re feeding,” Walton said. “They will have trouble swallowing if they don’t.”
Walton says he’s heard from first-time duck owners who didn’t know how to provide water for their ducks and ended up choking on their food.
Providing ducks with the right nutrition in the first few weeks of life is essential for their proper development and maintenance of future health. This is not difficult to do, but requires a little knowledge of what ducklings need.
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Most farmers start their ducklings with commercial chick starter food formulated to promote healthy chick growth. But as Steele pointed out, ducks need niacin – and it’s also important for ducklings, so the feed must be supplemented. Chickens do not need this nutrient.
“In the wild, ducks can absorb large amounts of niacin needed for bone development,” Walton said. “And no chicken or chicken feed has enough niacin for ducks.”
To solve this problem, Walton says you can mix brewer’s yeast into your chickens’ starters, or you can add a niacin supplement to their water.
“When we buy ducks that are a few weeks old from other farms, or sometimes people give us ducks if they don’t get niacin, we often notice some leg problems,” Walton said.
What Do Baby Ducks Eat
In addition, Steele recommends that you monitor the weight of your ducklings and remove them from the chick starter stage fairly early to prevent them from growing too fast. She usually feeds the cubs starter food for about eight weeks. Instead, she only fed the ducks starter feed for two weeks before switching to a mixed feed for adult chicks.
But every farmer does things differently. Walton began feeding the ducks a starter feed with 20% protein and gradually reduced the protein ratio until the ducks reached about 17% protein when they were 18 weeks old. Then he turned them into food for laying hens.
In general, ducks gain weight easily. This is great for people raising ducks for meat, but it can also cause health problems. This is especially important to remember when raising ducklings as they grow quickly.
“[If they grow too fast], their bones will weaken,” Hitchener said. “They’re not designed to carry that kind of weight, and it puts a lot of pressure on their joints.”
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Hitchener says that in some cases you may need to limit their feed. You can also give them less protein instead of feeding them green vegetables. Providing enough space to roam and swim can also help ducks achieve a healthy weight.
Sometimes ducks may need a supplemental source of calcium. Walton offers this in the form of painted oyster shells. It is important to note that some commercial waterfowl and chicken feeds contain more calcium than others.
Ducks must also always have access to grits, which help them digest their food. According to a fact sheet on duck digestion from Ducks Unlimited, the world’s largest waterfowl conservation organization, ducks don’t have teeth, so they use grit (sand or small rocks) in their digestive tract to help them digest larger meals.
Dandelion greens are a good snack for domestic ducks and for many they can be found for free right in their garden. | Lisa Steele’s photo
What Do Baby Ducks Eat
Allowing ducks to roam pastures or swim in ponds can provide them with natural food that promotes health. By allowing ducks to roam freely, you will also save money on commercial feed.
“They tend to like broadleaf weeds, like dandelions and clover, so I plant a pretty heavy grass mix for them,” says Walton. “I think grazing ducks reduce their grain consumption by about a third.”
Walton likes to rotate his ducks between pastures in the summer to keep their water from getting messy.
“They’re a lot easier on the landscape and the garden than chickens,” says Steele. “They don’t really hurt things, but they will trample smaller plants and nibble on the lower leaves.”
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In addition to foraging for green vegetables, ducks also catch snails, worms and many types of insects. And if they have access to ponds, their diet may also include fish, algae and small aquatic animals.
As for treats or supplements, ducks like a variety of plants and insects, Steele said, and these “healthy foods” provide the nutrients the birds need to maintain good health.
“They love the greens,” Steele said. “I grow a lot of things for her in the summer – Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.”
In addition, she regularly feeds her ducks watermelon, cucumbers, berries, peanuts, peas and corn. Some of these snacks—such as peas and corn—float so ducks can eat them while swimming or drinking from water bowls.
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“You know when you get to that point in the summer and you realize you’ve grown too many zucchini?” Walton said. “We tear it up and feed it to the ducks.”
With hard vegetables, such as zucchini, it is important to break it into small pieces, otherwise the end may choke. Walton often runs shredded vegetables through a food processor to get the right size.
It is also important that the food is fresh, Hitchener said. Ducks are susceptible to diseases caused by aflatoxins found in certain types of mold. Ducks are also susceptible to botulism, which is caused by a toxin that can accumulate from decaying organic matter and sometimes maggots.
Terry Fitzpatrick has been feeding ducks twice a day on the Penobscot River in Brewer, Maine for three years. He fed them a mixture of cracked corn and sunflower hearts, which was much more nutritious than traditional bread. | Photo by Caitlin Rogers
What Eats A Duck?
Wild ducks usually have enough natural food sources available that they do not need additional food from humans. But for some people, feeding ducks is a tradition, an activity that brings them joy. If this is the case for you, consider giving them something nutritious and natural.
“If you have to feed mallards, bring it along