Duck nutrition & healthcare: FIRST video interview with Dr. Scott Echols

Duck nutrition & healthcare: FIRST video interview with Dr. Scott Echols thumbnail
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Video interview 1 of 2 with Dr. M. Scott Echols, DVM, DABVP (Avian Practice). In this conversation, you’ll learn all about duck nutrition and healthcare advice as it relates to backyard and pet ducks.

Table of contents:

  1. Video background and intro to Dr. M. Scott Echols
  2. Watch video interview with Dr. Echols (includes captions for the hearing impaired)
  3. Questions and answers from video with timestamps

1. Background

Here’s a bit of relevant background and context before you dive into the video interview: 

Our goal: Provide free, science-based duck healthcare advice

We strive to bring FREE science-based advice to people interested in raising backyard and pet ducks. The reason: we love domestic ducks and want them to have the best lives possible for as long as possible no matter who is raising them.

Many people take this type of management approach with their dogs and cats, so why not their ducks, too? Unfortunately, ever since we started raising ducks, the advice available to the general public about raising pet and backyard ducks has not been great, to put it mildly.

We now have over a decade of experience raising backyard/pet ducks and learning from other duck enthusiasts. We’ve read many backyard duck books (sometimes with horror), read avian vet textbooks, and talked to avian vets about best practices in raising ducks. As we go, we continue to share what we learn via our website and social media channels… 

Now, our video interviews with the legendary Dr. Scott Echols provides another wonderful opportunity for other backyard and pet duck enthusiasts to learn (for free) from one of the brightest and most experienced minds in the field!

A brief introduction to Dr. M. Scott Echols

We’ve long admired the work of Dr. M. Scott Echols, who is regarded as one of the world’s top avian vets and veterinary authors.

Dr. Echols completed a residency at the Medical Center for Birds in Oakley, California and he is board-certified in avian practice. He was the 2007-2008 President of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the 2005 recipient of the T.J. Lafeber Avian Practitioner of the Year Award, 2007 Texas Veterinary Medical Association Non-Traditional Species Practitioner of the Year, and the 2018 Texas A&M Distinguished Alumnus. 

When setting up this interview, we had a lot of questions we wanted to ask Dr. Echols. We also solicited questions from other backyard duck enthusiasts via our social media channels on Instagram and Facebook

In this first video interview (about 1 hour long), we didn’t quite make it through all of our own questions before we ran out of time. However, during the second interview, we were also able to dive into all the duck questions asked by our connections on social media. 

In case you’re wondering: no, this interview was not free for us. Rather, we paid Dr. Echols his standard veterinary lecture fees because we value his time and expertise. So please don’t reach out to Dr. Echols to solicit free duck advice! 

2. Video interview with Dr. M. Scott Echols

Watch the full interview with Dr. Echols below! Whether or not you watch this interview with your ducks is up to you. 

Note: If the video player does not show up or play for you, it’s probably because you’re running ad blocking software. Please temporarily disable the software to watch. Ads are how we’re able to make this information free to everyone despite a considerable expense to us, so thank you for your support! 


3. Questions and answers from interview with Dr. Echols (with timestamps)

In this section, you can find the questions we asked Dr. Echols along with the timestamps in the video where the questions were discussed. This way, you can jump right to the part of the video you want to watch or listen to, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. 

However, if you raise ducks, we highly recommend you take the time to watch the entire discussion, because it’s chock full of valuable information, tips, and advice. 


Timestamp: 00:00:00 – 00:15:30

Introduction between Dr. Scott Echols and Susan & Aaron from Tyrant Farms. 

Question 1:

Timestamp: 00:15:30 – 00:25:13

Wild mallards might produce 20 eggs per year whereas some modern Mallard-derived breeds can easily produce over 300 eggs per year. Is there a negative correlation between high egg production and healthspan/lifespan in ducks?

By breeding ducks for maximum egg production, are breeders inadvertently creating ducks that are likely to have higher rates of illness and injury? If so, might it be better for backyard duck enthusiasts who bring their sick/injured ducks to vets (rather than culling them) to select breeds that aren’t hyper-productive?

Question 2: 

Timestamp: 00:25:13 – 00:33:05

We have six different breeds of ducks, with ducks spanning all ages ranging from 1 year old to over 10. Our primary aim is to keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible, NOT to maximize egg production. For someone with similar aims, can you provide an overview of the optimal duck diet we should be providing from both a macro and micro nutrient standpoint, including factors like protein %, fresh greens, supplements, etc?

Question 3: 

Timestamp: 00:33:05 – 00:36:05

What type of feed (if any) do you recommend for people who raise ducks? We’ve been using Mazuri Waterfowl Maintainer and MW Breeder formulas for years, but is there a better option out there?

Question 4:  

Timestamp: 00:36:05 – 00:40:48

We personally avoid consumption of synthetic pesticides in our own diets and only give homegrown or store bought organic treats (fruit and veggies) to our ducks. Unfortunately, there is no certified organic Mazuri waterfowl feed so our ducks are likely getting low levels of synthetic pesticide residues via their feed. What are the risks with long-term albeit low-level pesticide exposure in ADULT ducks?

Also, when raising our ducklings, we always use certified organic feed since we assume they’re at higher risk of pesticide exposure when they’re rapidly developing versus once they’ve reached maturity — is this assumption accurate?

Question 5: 

Timestamp: 00:40:48 – 00:44:32

Can you walk us through the relationship between seasonal sunlight shifts and seasonal hormonal changes in ducks – what’s happening?

Question 6: 

Timestamp: 00:44:32 – 00:48:25

In ducks as in other avian species, higher seasonal sunlight levels are presumably the primary factor leading to hormonal responses that trigger the initiation of egg production, but are there other environmental cues as well? For instance, do nutritional cues or temperatures play a role in the hormonal responses that trigger egg production initiation and/or cessation?

Question 7: 

Timestamp: 00:48:25 – 00:53:50

Are there dietary regimens that can reduce duck egg production without also putting them at risk of nutrient deficiencies? Example: lower protein, less feed more veggies, etc?

For instance, we don’t give our laying birds 100% layer feed, rather we do a mix of maintenance and layer feed or all maintenance feed later in the summer with the aim of trying to get their reproductive systems to shut off. Is this a sensible, scientifically-grounded approach to safely reduce egg production?

Question 8: 

Timestamp: 00:53:50 – 00:55:01

We’ve seen published research on chickens indicating that adding a small quantity of non-pasteurized living vinegar (like Bragg’s apple cider vinegar) at a ratio of ~1 tsp vinegar per gallon of water can have a positive impact on digestive health, nutrient absorption, and other metrics, likely by introducing beneficial microbes to their GI systems and/or slightly altering the pH. Your thoughts? Is it likely that these findings would hold true for ducks as well?

Question 9: 

Timestamp: 00:55:01 – 00:59:03

We’re fortunate to have a large organic edible landscape that produces food for us and our ducks. So our ducks get a lot of foraging opportunities. Our original ducks (all Welsh harlequins) are great foragers, but very discerning/picky. However, last year we got 6 new adolescent ducks from Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (a great operation!) and they don’t seem nearly as discerning while foraging, which we’re a bit concerned about due to toxicity risks from plants they ingest.

For instance, we grow different species of alliums / onion family plants which our original ducks never touched. Thus, our new ducks are foraging plants like garlic chives and Egyptian walking onions almost daily. We always thought that certain compounds in alliums (like thiosulphate) were toxic to waterfowl and most other avian species, but our new ducks have not shown any signs of acute illness from ingesting these plants. Are there chronic risks to allium consumption? Or any risks at low dosage?

Along the same lines, there’s even research showing that adding garlic (which is obviously in the allium plant family) to a chicken’s diet is actually beneficial. Can you untangle this for us and perhaps give general guidelines on allium consumption for backyard poultry enthusiasts?

Question 10:

Timestamp: 00:59:03 – 01:11:20

Let’s talk for a minute about larger breeds like Pekins and Silver Appleyards, which are more prone to arthritis and leg / joint / foot injuries (including bumblefoot). What are some tips for optimizing their health and keeping their weight in check? Also, we regularly give our Pekin high quality fish oil pills in the hopes that it could help with joint health and arthritis – is this practice sound? If so, perhaps you could quickly detail best practices/protocols as far as dosage?

We hope you enjoyed this interview about duck healthcare with Dr. Scott Echols! If so, be sure to check out our second interview where Dr. Echols answers questions submitted to us via social media from other duck parents. 


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  • Reply
    March 6, 2024 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks for this very informative interview! As someone who deeply cares about their ducks as pets, and not for food production, I was wondering about many things that were covered in this interview. Seems like we are doing some things right already like giving them maintenance feed and lots of greens, allowing them to forage in the yard, and giving them access to deep water for them to be able to swim. We even have artificial turf because our surfaces are so hard. We are trying to monitor their weight and got one of these baby scales. I had the suspicion that some of our babies added weight over the winter, but it was all feather fluff 🙂 I am looking forward to part two. Your friends from Ducks of Providence.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 7, 2024 at 10:05 am

      Glad the information in this interview was helpful for you, Melanie! We’ve had to postpone our second interview with Dr. Echols until next week, but we’re really looking forward to learning more and sharing.

      Sounds like we’re in the same boat with you. When we first started raising ducks over a decade ago, our primary aim was egg production – and we knew very little about ducks from the standpoint of physiology. As our goals shifted towards raising them for health and longevity, we had to start from scratch and fundamentally shift our understanding and management approach (and we’re still learning and tweaking!). Unfortunately, all the “how to raise duck” books and websites (other than ours) provides advice solely based on maximum egg production and/or meat production, and that info does not at all apply for people who view their ducks as long-lived pets who sometimes make breakfast. We’re hoping that bringing this information to light (for free) via experts like Dr. Echols will help us and others consider a different management approach AND know how to go about making it happen.

      Also, winter duck fluff does indeed make a duck’s hips look a bit chunky – ha!

  • Reply
    Kimberly Hecker
    February 29, 2024 at 7:07 am

    The ducks chose not to watch with us but they certainly appreciate you sharing this knowledge with their people. Thank you Aaron, Susan and Dr. Echols

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 29, 2024 at 1:38 pm

      You’re very welcome! Hope the information proves helpful for you and your ducks, even if they don’t watch.

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