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    Tractor Supply Company

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    What to Feed Baby Ducks/Ducklings: A Duck Food Guide

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Looking for an easy backyard bird to raise? Ducks fit the bill—they’re hardier and healthier than chickens, have great temperaments, and are prodigious egg layers. However, ducks do require a healthy diet of duck food that meets the nutritional needs of their age. As ducks mature, their dietary needs change. It’s essential to their well-being to feed them a duck diet based on their stage of life. 

    Pellets vs. crumbles

    Duck food typically comes in two forms: pellets and crumbles. Duck pellets are convenient, nutritionally consistent, and reduce waste. However, pellets are often too large for younger birds. Crumbles are easier to eat, making them a popular choice for young ducks.

    What do baby ducks eat?

    Start your flock on duck starter feed. Ducklings grow very quickly, particularly in the first two to three weeks of their lives. Baby duck food contains 18 to 20% protein, plus all the nutrients and vitamins young fowl need to flourish.

    Phase duckling food out after the first two weeks and switch to a starter/grower feed with a protein content of roughly 15%.  Food with too-high protein content can cause health issues such as angel wing—a condition when the wing bones grow too fast and are too heavy for the joint.

    Chicken starter feed is a popular substitution for duck starter feed, but the two are not equal. A duckling needs between two and three times more Niacin (B3) than a chick, as it plays an essential role in the growth of strong legs and healthy joints. While baby duck food is designed to meet the B3 needs of ducklings, chicken starter feed is not and can result in a Niacin deficiency in ducks. If you use chicken starter feed, brewer’s yeast is a good and readily available niacin supplement for ducks to incorporate into their diet.

    Added medication is another difference between duckling food and chick food. Many chick feeds include medication to prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic disease. Ducklings aren’t as susceptible and eat more feed per ounce of body weight, which can cause them to overmedicate. If you choose to serve your ducks chick food, choose an unmedicated feed and add brewer’s yeast for ducks to their diet.

    Adolescent duck diet

    By nine weeks old, a duck is between 70 and 90% fully grown. Because a high-protein diet poses some health risks to ducks, you’ll want to maintain a diet of starter/grower feed containing about 15% protein until they reach adulthood, which is between 18 and 20 weeks.

    Adult duck diet

    The nutritional needs of adult ducks and the type of duck feed to serve depends on whether they’re laying or non-laying.

    • Laying ducks need a layer duck feed that contains 16 to 17% protein and more calcium than other types of feeds. 
    • Drakes (male ducks) and non-egg-laying ducks require a maintenance diet that is between 12 and 14% protein. Their food should not be fortified with calcium, as too much calcium can cause kidney problems.

    Pitted and thin shells are a sign of low calcium. Oyster shell is commonly added to the diet of egg-laying ducks to ensure they receive enough calcium and produce eggs with strong shells. Serve oyster shell separately from duck feed, as ducks will instinctively eat what they need.

    Ducks that don’t have access to dirt—like those kept in grassy enclosures—also require grit. Wild ducks pick up small stones, pebbles, and sand to grind up their food, but ducks without access to their natural digestive aids will need grit added to their food.

    Organic and non-GMO duck feed

    It’s natural to want to serve the best duck food possible, which leads many to choose organic and non-GMO feeds. All organic duck feed is non-GMO, but not all non-GMO duck food is organic. 

    Organic duck feed must meet strong production and handling standards. Organic crops are grown without pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMO), and antibiotics. Organic standards also prohibit the commingling of organic and non-organic products during production and packaging.

    Non-GMO duck foods use products that haven’t been genetically modified. However, they can use traditional methods of production, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Non-GMO foods have similarly strict handling standards as organic feeds.

    The benefits of serving organic, non-GMO duck food include:

    • Increased appetite.
    • Improved production. 
    • Better eating behavior 
    • Production of organic eggs.

    Ducks are one of the simplest birds to care for, but don’t wing it when it comes to their diet. Ensuring your ducks get the nutrients they need is the easiest way to ensure a clean bill of health and keep your flock productive.