What Do Ducks Eat?
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Raising ducks? Here’s what you should know about creating a nutritious, balanced diet for your feathered friends. Ducks aren’t picky and that can get them into trouble if they’re exposed to things that aren’t good for them. Keep them healthy and safe with this guide to duck feed.
Ducks are easy-to-care-for birds and hardier than chickens. Domestic ducks are relatively easy to feed with pellets and supplemental snacks, but their dietary needs change over their life span and depending on what you’re raising them for.
ducks will grow fast, waning off duckling feed and onto starter/grower feed in just a few weeks. Protein intake is the main concern during this time. Too much protein can affect their development and cause conditions like angel wing.
As adults, ducks raised for laying eggs will need more protein and calcium than non-laying ducks. Without enough calcium, duck eggshells will be thin or pitted. Oyster shells are a common supplement for this.
Ducks can survive on chicken feed, but it’s not ideal. Ducks require higher levels of niacin to help their bones grow correctly. Adding some Brewer’s yeast to chicken feed can make up for it—and for mixed flocks of ducks and chickens, extra niacin is beneficial for chickens too.
An added concern for baby ducklings is medicate chick feed. Baby chicks are more susceptible to parasites. Ducklings don’t need the same protection and eat more. Feeding them chick feed runs the risk of overmedication. If you plan to use chick feed instead of duckling feed, make sure it’s unmedicated.
Ducks need grit in their diet—small stones and sand that help them grind up and digest food. If your flock is free-range, they’ll pick up grit on their own while foraging for greens and insects. If they are penned add supplemental grit to their food once a week.
In the wild, a duck will eat insects, small mollusks, grains, seeds and plants. When giving your domestic ducks a treat, choose snacks that are similar to their natural diet.
Greens such as weeds, grass, kale and lettuce (not iceberg) are great for ducks and can supply enrichment. Scatter them in your ducks’ water and watch them have fun! Other good vegetables include squash, cucumber, corn and peas.
Mealworms and earthworms are easy to raise or can be bought from most pet and fishing stores. Other healthy sources of protein include small or chopped fish and meat.
Ducks love fruit. Berries, melon, apple slices and stone fruits all make great treats. Remove any seeds or pits first.
Ducks are prone to weight gain. When it comes to grains, make sure you’re feeding them the healthiest options. Oats, barley and wheat are good options, as well as cooked or uncooked rice.
Bird seed is an easy choice to give your ducks some variety in their diet and usually include cracked corn, millet or sunflower seeds. Nuts and seeds can be given on their own, but make sure they’re small. Large pieces can become a choking hazard.
While leafy greens can be given in unlimited amounts, all other snacks should make up no more than 10 percent of your duck’s diet. An easy way to moderate is to set aside scraps from your own food preparation.
How much your duck eats will also depend on other factors in their lifestyle. Ducks that free-range will likely forage for insects on their own, as well as mollusks, small fish and aquatic plants if they have access to a pond. In this case, you won’t have to worry as much about supplementing their diets with greens and protein.
Besides “junk food” like bread, some foods are dangerous to feed ducks:
Citrus and spinach can interfere with calcium absorption, leading to thin-shelled eggs.
Avocado, onions and white potatoes have different toxins that can cause a range of health effects from anemia to heart failure.
Raw beans have a natural insecticide that’s harmful to ducks. However, both cooking and sprouting will make the beans safe for consumption.
Tomatoes and eggplants are part of the nightshade family. While ripe tomatoes and eggplants are safe to eat, keep ducks away from the plants themselves and green tomatoes.
Fruit pits and seeds have cyanide, so make sure to only give them fruit slices.
An adult domestic duck will eat between four to seven ounces of feed a day, depending on size, breed and season. Keep fresh water available at all times as ducks drink quite a bit.
Ducklings should have food available at all times. They digest quickly and need to consume a lot to grow. You can continue entirely free-choice feeding as they grow up, or just offer free-choice snacks and have set meals. Your ducks should have something available to eat at all times if they’re not able to forage.
If setting meal times, it’s recommended to feed at least twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening. Make sure that any leftover food from the previous day is thrown out, since ducks splash around a lot and old food might get damp and moldy.
If you have free-ranging backyard ducks, you might notice that they aren’t eating all of their food. No worries, it just means they’re foraging elsewhere. It’s fine to reduce the amount of feed you put out every day but pay attention to the changing seasons. There won’t be as much to forage in the winter and your ducks will need more feed.
Ducks are susceptible to putting on extra weight. Not only is this uncomfortable for your birds, but it will decrease their life span and reduce egg production in your laying ducks. If you’ve been free-choice feeding, allowing them access to food at meal times might help stop weight gain, but also consider whether they’re penned or allowed to roam. Birds that get to forage are much less likely to become obese.
With proper feeding, ducks are healthy and good-tempered animals for companionship and fresh eggs. Make sure you’re giving them the best food and treats.