What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity

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The conventional wisdom about what to feed pet or backyard ducks may be causing preventable health problems or even deaths in your flock. In this article, we’ll detail an avian vet-approved feeding regimen you can use to promote the long-term health of your ducks. 

When we first got Welsh Harlequin ducks over a decade ago, we didn’t know much about duck nutrition or have any experience to draw on. Thus, we sought out formulas/regimens from experienced duck experts that we could use to provide our ducks with the nutrition they needed.  

The traditional wisdom as to what to feed backyard ducks goes something like this:

  1. On or before the day your mature female ducks start laying eggs, switch them off of maintainer feed and start giving them layer feed. Layer feed is higher in protein, calcium, and other nutrients which provides your ducks with the extra nutrition they need to produce eggs.  
  2. Once your ducks stop laying eggs, switch them back over to maintainer feed. 
  3. Repeat. 

This is the duck feeding formula we started with. However, it’s no longer the regimen we use today. 

What’s the difference between waterfowl maintainer and layer/breeder feed? 

For context:

  • “maintainer” feed is 13-15% protein and about 1% calcium; 
  • “layer” feed (aka breeder feed) is 16-17% protein and about 3% calcium.

After having three of our ducks die in the first five years and several others experience egg and reproductive health issues related to over-laying, we realized something was wrong… 

Three of our Welsh Harlequin ducks engaged in their favorite activity: foraging for worms (plus slugs, snails, crickets, and other goodies). Foraging provides a larger share of their diet during the warmer months, but it primarily makes them happy. From: What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity.

Three of our Welsh Harlequin ducks engaged in their favorite activity: foraging for worms (plus slugs, snails, crickets, and other goodies). Foraging provides a larger share of their diet during the warmer months, but doesn’t make up a large percentage of their caloric/nutritional intake. 

The right formula for a different goal

Farmers who raise ducks for breeding, egg production, or meat production have a fundamentally different goal in mind than people who raise backyard or pet ducks. This isn’t a statement of judgment. These farmers are doing the best they can within a given financial incentive framework. And without their efforts, many heritage breed ducks might have been lost to history. 

Simple put, the farmer’s goal is one of maximizing production and profit. Get the most eggs or the most meat weight as quickly and cheaply as possible.

If a duck gets sick, it gets culled. If its egg production slows down, it gets culled. Ducks don’t grow old in these operations, because that’s not what they’re set up for.   

Meanwhile, most duck breeders are breeding for things like breed-standard traits (such as feather coloration, body proportions, etc) and high egg production (due to market demand). They’re not necessarily focused on producing the healthiest, most long-lived ducks possible. 

On the flip side of this coin is backyard and pet duck parents like us. While we love eating duck eggs and having beautiful ducks, our primary goal is to have happy, healthy ducks that live as long as possible.

Like a cat or dog, our ducks are part of our family. If they get sick or injured, we don’t cull them, we go to the ends of the earth to get them the medical care they need to get well.  

See the problems yet? 

There are actually two problems that emerge from this framework:

  1. Backyard and pet duck parents are likely NOT getting ducks bred for their longevity/long-term health;
  2. Backyard and pet duck parents are following prescriptive duck feeding regimens designed to maximize egg production, not optimize the long-term health and longevity of their ducks. 

Thus, many poultry parents like us end up with sick or dead pet ducks despite strictly following the standard feeding regimen and providing excellent care for our poultry. 

Our ducks enjoying a nice morning offering of organic lettuce and kale plus a sprinkling of mealworms. From: What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity.

Our ducks enjoying a nice morning offering of organic lettuce and kale plus a sprinkling of mealworms.

Heartbreak from the loss of a pet duck… and lessons learned  

In 2018, we were crushed by the death of Svetlana, the smartest sweetest duck we’ve ever known. While her death wasn’t directly caused by nutritional issues, the first health problem “domino” in a long chain of dominoes was the result of a diet issue. 

In Svetlana’s case, we’d been feeding our ducks an organic whole grain mix food rather than a crumble or pellet. As it turns out, unlike our other ducks, Svetlana was only picking out her favorite parts of the mix (corn) and leaving the rest. Thus her body wasn’t getting the nutrition it needed to produce or lay hard-shelled eggs. 

Then we switched our flock to a pelleted feed, using the standard approach of giving them 100% layer/breeder feed as soon as they started laying eggs. We hoped to switch them to maintainer feed as soon as they stopped laying eggs, but they almost never stopped laying eggs (unless we forced them to go broody).

The low daylight hours of fall through late winter are supposed to trigger hormonal responses in poultry that make them stop laying eggs. However, it seemed our ducks’ egg turn-off switch wasn’t functioning properly, for reasons we didn’t understand.        

A conversation with an expert avian vet about what to feed backyard and pet ducks 

We LOVE our avian vet, Dr. Hurlbert at HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic. She won us over the first time we met her when she told us about her family’s pet ducks and stated, “ducks are my heart.” 

During Svetlana’s treatments, we had lengthy discussions with Dr. Hurlbert about duck nutrition. Then she told us something we’d never heard or considered: 

“I think it’s a good idea to keep pet ducks on maintainer feed and provide them access to a calcium source on the side [like pulverized oyster shell] that they can eat if they need additional calcium. During peak laying season, you can mix in layer feed if needed.” 

Would this approach mean less duck eggs each year? Yes. Would it also mean healthier, more long-lived ducks? Dr. Hurlbert thought so. 


Duck maintainer feed pellets plus a bowl of pulverized oyster shell. This is the foundational diet we now provide for our flock throughout the year. Yes, we do mix in layer/breeder feed at certain points as we’ll detail below.  

Imagine a balancing scale or seesaw… On one side you have duck eggs, on the other side you have duck health/longevity. Since eggs take an enormous amount of energy and nutrition for your ducks to produce, pushing your ducks to lay as many eggs as possible throughout the year will inevitably lead to health problems and a shortened lifespan. That’s not a problem if you plan to cull sick, injured, or low-producing ducks. 

However, since our goal is long-lived, healthy ducks, we switched our flock to a diet consisting primarily of maintainer feed + access to calcium (crushed oyster shell) supplements made available 365 days per year. Yes, they still get tons of fresh garden greens and treats from our garden. They also forage worms, gastropods, and insects daily. However, the bulk of their diet is maintainer feed via Mazuri Waterfowl with Mazuri Waterfowl breeder/layer formula mixed in during laying season. (More details below.)  

Another expert weighs in on optimal feed regimen for backyard ducks

We and Dr. Hurlbert aren’t the only ones who’ve reached a similar conclusion… On Page 35 of The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook by Kimberly Link, the author has the following to say: 

“Ducks are different from chickens and many female ducks have a hard time laying a healthy egg. If you spend any time talking with other Momma Ducks [human caregivers] you’ll often hear about some very serious egg-laying issues. Having been faced with many of them myself, I’ve found that rationing laying formulas can help prevent many of these problems. 

Whenever my females are laying eggs, I provide them with a mix of 50% Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance and 50% Mazuri Waterfowl Breeder; that is, 50% laying formula. By maintaining a low ration of laying formula I don’t force egg production, but rather give my girls just enough of what they need to cover their dietary needs.”   

Our yearly feeding regimen for healthy backyard and pet ducks 

If your ducks’ health is more important than how many eggs you get each year, consider using this pet or backyard FEMALE duck feeding regimen:

  1. Provide your ducks with 100% maintainer feed when they’re not laying. (Mature male ducks should only get maintainer feed, never layer feed.)
  2. Provide them access to a high quality calcium supplement like oyster shell, so they can get extra calcium if they need it. (Don’t put it in their food, put it in a side bowl/container; they’ll know when they need it.)
  3. When your ducks start laying, switch to a 50/50 mix of layer and maintainer feed. Only mix in more layer feed if you notice the egg shells becoming in any way abnormal (irregularly shaped, bumpy, soft-shelled, less calcified, etc). At some points during the year (example mid-summer) you may need to go up to 100% layer feed. (There may also be variance by breed, age, and individual, so you’ll have to observe your animals and their eggs closely, and develop an intuition about their nutritional needs.)
  4. Take great care of your ducks. This means days outdoors in the sun, access to fresh water to clean and play in, foraging time, and extra treats (fresh organic greens and other veggies, mealworm or black soldier fly larvae, etc).  

Author Kimberly Link also notes that there isn’t a perfect uniform feeding formula for every breed and ever female duck: 

“Feel free to play around with the ratio of laying formula and regular food until you find the proportions that best suit the needs of your laying ducks. These ratios can be adjusted daily as you examine your duck’s eggs. If eggs are looking perfect, keep the same ration. If eggs are soft or odd textured, add more laying formula to the mix. In spring/summer it’s not uncommon to have to boost the laying formula ratio up to 75% or even higher if needed. I do have females who don’t do well with anything less than 100% laying formula most of the time (as indicated by consistently soft-shelled eggs).”

It’s important to note that Kimberly Link segregates her ducks into different living areas and coops. Thus, another challenge for many backyard duck keepers with single coops and shared living areas might be how to make sure ducks are getting more individualized feed regimens. 

For instance, we keep our drake in his own coop and run when our girls are getting layer feed mixed in. Frankly, we’d do this anyway since his hormones are raging during those times of year which causes flock mayhem when he’s not separated. 

What are the results of this duck dietary regimen on our flock?

In science terms, we’re going to next provide you with our own multi-year but anecdotal evidence based on our own small backyard flock. It would be fascinating to see a large-scale, long-duration study performed on domesticated duck nutritional regimens in order to have a larger and more reliable data set to draw on for conclusions. 

With the above caveat in mind, it’s interesting to note that after multiple years on our new feeding regimen, our flock has had no reproductive health problems or deaths. Also, all of our girls stop laying eggs around September, as they’re supposed to when direct sunlight drops under 10 hours.

Yes, it’s somewhat humiliating to buy organic humane certified free-range chicken eggs at a store when we have certified spoiled-rotten egg-laying ducks at home. (Our girls will start laying again in late winter/early spring.)

However, we’ll happily make this tradeoff if it means less stress and heartbreak, ducks that live longer healthier lives, and lower vet bills — even though we love seeing our vet!   

It’s time that pet and backyard duck parents receive and follow nutritional guidelines aligned with their goals, rather than following nutritional guidelines designed for short-lived production animals. Hopefully, the information in this article will help you do just that! 


Other duck articles that will quack you up:

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  • Reply
    January 29, 2024 at 7:37 am

    Hi there, I love your site and your information on raising pet ducks! I have 2 pet drakes (1 welsh harlequin, 1 pekin) who are 9 months old and I live in Australia. I have not been able to find maintainer feed or waterfowl specific feed (except for meat duck finisher feed) so I have been advised by my local feed store to feed the ducks wheat that has been sprouted in water for 2 days. In addition to this they get mealworms/crickets and greens daily. Do you think the wheat is sufficient in meeting their nutritional needs for a long life? If not, do you have any recommendations to improve their diet, or know of a maintainer feed available in Australia?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 29, 2024 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Beth! Let me start by saying I’m NOT an avian scientist or waterfowl nutritionist, so take what I say here with a grain of salt. You may also want to run this question by an avian vet and/or have your avian vet weigh in on my response below.

      With those caveats out of the way, here are my thoughts: It looks like sprouted wheat has a comparable macro nutrient profile (protein / fat / complex carbs) to Mazuri Waterfowl feed, which is what is commonly used here in the US. Mazuri Maintenance feed is 14% protein and their breeder/layer feed is 17%. Sprouted wheat has 16% protein, which is probably a little high for drakes/males (ideal would be in the 14% range). A lot of the protein in Mazuri likely comes from the addition of fish meal, so the bioavailability and micronutrient profile is going to be a bit different relative to sprouted wheat. Since you’re adding mealworms, crickets, and greens to their diets, your ducks are likely getting lots of other good macro and micro nutrients to make up for any potential deficiencies in a purely sprouted wheat-based diet, but those insects are also high in protein. Too much dietary protein can cause a range of health problems in ducks, so maybe bump back the insects a bit while also bumping up the greens (kale, lettuce, edible weeds, etc). Also, consider including other low-protein, plant-based treats they enjoy. For instance, most of our ducks LOVE tomatoes and watermelons.

      Hope this helps and best wishes to you and your drakes!

      • Reply
        January 30, 2024 at 3:41 am

        Hi Aaron, thank you so much for your prompt and informative reply your thoughts are very useful! Recently we have stopped sprouting the wheat as the drakes seem to prefer the wheat unsprouted. Do you think this will still provide the same nutrients for the ducks? Also perhaps we could add old fashioned oyas to the wheat to reduce the protein? Thank you again!

        • Aaron von Frank
          January 30, 2024 at 11:10 am

          You’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time and interest needed to ensure your ducks get the healthy diets they need for optimal health. Oats are a starch, but they also have a significant amount of protein in them. Protein % in old fashioned oats is somewhere between 11-15%, so probably a bit less than wheat, although there is variability. One thing some people do here in the US is grind and ferment the grains before giving it to their poultry. Not a long ferment, just a few days. The fermentation process not only boosts the nutrient levels, but also serves as a probiotic. That’s not something we’ve done and we’re not sure if ducks who haven’t grown up eating this type of food would find it palatable.

          To directly answer your question: sprouted wheat is more nutritious than un-sprouted wheat, but there isn’t a massive difference. As with fermenting and cooking, sprouting does also remove many of the anti-nutrient compounds in mature grains; anti-nutrients inhibit the absorption of nutrients and are essentially a chemical defense intended to keep things from eating too many of them. I’m not sure whether these anti-nutrients inhibit nutrient absorption in avian species, but they do in humans.

          If you have access to an avian vet, one thing you might also consider is getting blood work done in 6-12 months. (Maybe do it once every 12-18 months thereafter.) That way, your vet can determine if there’s anything outside normal boundaries and also compare later test results to initial baseline test results in each duck.

          Last thing: another super healthy supplemental treat that ducks love is minnows/small fish. Obviously, these are very high in protein so it’s not something you’d want to provide in abundance regularly. But they’re part of a duck’s natural diet and loaded with good nutrition. We occasionally buy live minnows from pet stores here and put them in a bowl of water – our ducks go absolutely crazy for them.

        • Beth
          January 31, 2024 at 10:42 pm

          Thank you that is very helpful, I appreciate your thought and research!!

  • Reply
    Debbie Fleischer
    August 13, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Hi Aaron, as I was reading your feeding article, I noticed that you were buying eggs. When I first started my chicken and duck adventures, I was overrun with eggs. No one wanted to keep getting eggs daily. So I remembered that an old friend of my family had given me a big ceramic crock that she used to glass eggs in when she had a farm. My arm was just healing from a break so I couldn’t lift it. I got a food grade plastic bucket, 3 gallon, with a lid. Looked up the ratios of hydrated lime to water and started glassing eggs. Every day I added more, even duck eggs which people say not to do. Kept making more solution. Finally had a 3 gallon bucket full of eggs. Everyone says they have to be pointed a certain way and I couldn’t ever get them to do that. I used them all winter, spring when I needed a lot for a year and a half. Each time before I used them I’d test in a water bath. Out of all those eggs, I think I might have had 1-2 that were bad or cracked. Used them mostly for frittatas omelets etc. So it is possible to do. I had my container under the stairs. No temp control. Never moved. Giving you a little info for a change. Lol

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      August 14, 2023 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Debbie! We’ve heard of water glassing eggs but have never tried it. Our family actually eats so many eggs that we’ve never been overwhelmed on the production side. Plus, we have neighbors, friends, and other family that are always happy to have any of our extra eggs. Once all of our new female ducks start producing, we may have to give water glassing a try.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    I’m sorry, but if the Tyrant is an ‘organic gardener’, then why is she not using an organic feed for her ducks? Mazuri is NOT ORGANIC!! I just called them and asked about the ingredients of Mazuri Waterfowl Breeder – the first three ingredients, in order of amount, are: corn, de-hulled soybean meal, and wheat – we know every one of them highly adulterated. Mazuri says they are within the FDA guidelines for glyphosate residues, but let’s be real – the FDA and Monsanto have a revolving door, they’re basically one and the same company, which is why corruption within the FDA is so rampant. And glyphosate is now known to cause leaky gut syndrome in humans (and probably ducks, as well), and crosses the blood-brain barrier, and who knows what else it does that hasn’t been discovered yet. Who wants that? I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe an “organic gardener” would feed toxic trash to the ducks she loves … and eat their toxic eggs. Yes, it’s a matter of time for all the glyphosate consumed shows up as a physical ailment, eventually it will, and I’m not willing to eat it or feed it to my ducks!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 27, 2023 at 4:53 pm

      We’d love to be able to feed our ducks certified organic food. Problem: It’s currently impossible to find a certified organic duck food that’s specifically formulated for waterfowl/ducks, much less one that’s in kibble form. Chickens and ducks have different nutritional needs, so using organic chicken-specific feed (which is easy to find) or feed that claims to be formulated for chickens and ducks isn’t viable. Certified organic duckling feed is available, but that’s a different formulation than what’s ideal for mature ducks. (And any time we raise ducklings, they get certified organic crumble.)   

      When we first started raising ducks over a decade ago, we were using organic Scratch & Peck feed for our mature ducks and some of our girls were just picking out the bits they liked and not eating the rest, unbeknownst to us. One of them ultimately ended up dying as a result. Hence our desire to use kibble. 

      If there was a certified organic duck kibble/pellet feed that was on the market today, we’d be using it. Since there isn’t, we’re using the best available alternative we have, and the one that our avian vet recommends. We have some ducks that are 10 years old and have been consuming Mazuri waterfowl feed from the time they reached maturity.

  • Reply
    June 16, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Thank you so much for your blog!! As a new duck parent to 3 welsh harlequin ladies, I found myself here A LOT. This article has been extremely helpful as they are approaching 6 weeks old. I’ve been watching YouTube videos on fermented whole grain food for ducks and was considering trying Scratch and Pecks corn free whole grain mix fermented for at least morning feedings and then possibly doing some pellets as well later in the day. They free range the backyard to supplement their diet. Have you experimented with fermented foods or have any thoughts on that topic?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 16, 2023 at 10:23 am

      Thanks for your kind words, and glad to hear the information we provide has been helpful for you in raising your ducklings and ducks! Fermented foods can be great for your ducks! Frankly, the reason we don’t go that route regularly is lack of time – or maybe more honestly, laziness. Ha. You’ll still need to make sure you’re paying careful attention to the macro- and micronutrient profile of your feed, even though the microbial action boosts some of the nutrients and makes them more bioavailable. Best wishes!

  • Reply
    May 20, 2023 at 11:18 am

    i have 3 young ducks don’t know if their boys or girls. .I will be running them with chickens soon. What can I feed them. Their just as pets. thanks

  • Reply
    April 13, 2023 at 12:14 pm

    The lowest protein I can find around my area is Tucker Milling Non GMO 16.5% protein, but it is still over 3% calcium, and I offer free choice calcium. My ducks and chickens get it because I have a mixed flock that wander and forage. I like it because it is corn & soy free. I know some people with chicken egg allergies can eat duck eggs easier, and there is also information out there that it helps if the feed is soy and corn free. My niece cannot eat eggs from chickens that have been fed oats because of her oat allergy. Most people I talk to at the feed stores think I am crazy looking for a 13%-15% maintainer feed. They haven’t been on this feed terribly long and I just cut out all the scratch feed. Hopefully this will go better than what I was feeding, which was a 22% layer because that’s what the feed store suggested.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 16, 2023 at 11:25 am

      Hi Christi! Thanks for putting so much care and attention on your ducks’ health (and your chickens, too). 22% protein is way higher than what our avian vet recommends for ducks, so dropping to 16.5% protein is certainly an improvement. As we note in this article, Mazuri waterfowl feed breeder/layer formula is 17% protein, 2.5-3.5% calcium. If your ducks are able to free-range in a large and rich environment, they’re also going to be able to get worms, slugs, snails, and other high-protein supplemental food (plus nutrient-rich greens and seeds which are higher in carbohydrates). Bottom line: it sounds like your ducks are positioned for good health and longevity. Just keep a close eye on two things:
      1) their egg shells to make sure the shells are not showing abnormalities (deposits, thin shells, etc), and
      2) laying too long (we want our ducks to stop egg production in the fall and not pick back up until late winter-early spring so their bodies have time to recover and remineralize).

      Side note: We’ve only briefly experimented with this but you might want to try it as well… acorns. Wild ducks eat acorns in the fall. One year, we cracked large white oak acorns for our ducks and cut the nut meat into small bits. Lot of work, but our ducks enjoyed it and their yolks were even more beautiful than normal. So that could be a good alternate feed source for you that avoids oats, corn, and soy. Acorns can also be made into great human food as we detail here:

      Hope this helps and good luck to you and your flock!

  • Reply
    Diana Cohen Robinson
    March 15, 2023 at 5:57 pm

    I have a 15 month old Pekiin duck girl who has a decided limp and I don’t know what to do. There are no vets in San Francisco that treat ducks. She most days lays an egg as does her sister and given a choice willl spend most of the day in her swimming pool as it soothes her leg I suspect. Can you offer any suggestions on what I could do to help her leg heal? I’ve checked the underside of her foot pad but I don’t see any cuts or obvious injuries.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 16, 2023 at 11:17 am

      Hi Diana, and sorry to hear about your duck’s leg injury. It’s very hard to recommend a treatment regimen without a diagnosis. It sounds like you’ve ruled out bumblefoot (reference:, which would be the most likely culprit. After ruling out bumblefoot, a vet would likely start by checking for hot, swollen joints which could pinpoint an injury. If that didn’t yield anything obvious, they’d likely next do a radiograph to see what’s going on inside. It could be a break, a strain, arthritis, or an infection. Again, depending on the diagnosis, the treatment regimen would vary. Pain meds, activity restriction, and possibly some sort of wrap or brace could be used to treat a physical injury, whereas antibiotics would likely be prescribed for an infection. To help try to figure out what’s happening, some questions: 1. Did the limp come on slowly or did it just happen all of a sudden one day? 2. Do you see swelling or feel any hot joints? 3. Does your duck ever lay soft, misshapen, or bumpy eggs? 4. Is it easy for the duck to get in and out of the pool, i.e. is the pool level with the ground?

      Also, a bit of bad news: due to their larger size, Pekins are known to be more prone to leg injuries than smaller breeds.

  • Reply
    July 29, 2022 at 10:26 am

    Hi! I came across your site a few weeks ago and have been referencing back to it frequently so thank you!! We are new to ducks and I had some questions… we have 6 ducklings (pekins, anconas, and cayugas-2 of each all female). They are about 7-8 weeks old. Should we be feeding them the maintainer feed now? And give them access to the oyster shells now? Or is it a bit too early? Also we only add in layer feed if the eggs are soft, otherwise it is strictly the maintainer and the oyster shell correct? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 30, 2022 at 10:54 am

      Hi! A little more detail on our duck feeding recommendations:

      >1-2 weeks old: 18-20% protein (ideally crumble feed, not pellets)
      >Between 3-8 weeks old (where you are now): 15-16% protein (crumble, not pellets – we mix organic old fashioned oats into their crumble to lower protein levels)
      >9-18 weeks or until they start laying: 13-14% protein, plus make oyster shell available in separate bowl in case they need it as their bodies begin to initiate egg production
      >Laying hen: *15-17% protein and 2.5-3% calcium, plus make oyster shell available in separate bowl in case they need it (*protein % varies by point in season, health of birds, and egg shell quality – this assumes a focus on health not maximum egg production)
      >Mature non-laying ducks and drakes: 13-15% protein, plus make oyster shell available in separate bowl in case they need it (oyster shell available for females, males shouldn’t need it)

      For reference, here are the numbers on the Mazuri waterfowl feed which is the brand our avian vet recommends:

      >starter: 20% crude protein (these are pellets; we actually start our ducklings on a certified organic starter crumble)
      >maintenance feed: 14% crude protein. 0.8-1.3% calcium
      >breeder/layer feed: 17% protein, 2.5-3.5% calcium

      What we’ve found over the past three years with a lower protein regimen for our laying hens is that the approach requires careful attention to your flock. While sunlight exposure + daylight hours dictate hormonal shifts which trigger physiological responses like egg production, other environmental cues like protein levels in their diet also help to influence egg production. What we’re basically trying to do is get our ducks to lay fewer eggs each year by starting egg production later in the season and ending egg production sooner in late summer/early fall. That’s still A LOT of eggs for a duck to produce. As a visual reference, imagine a bell curve overlaying a time period between late winter through late summer. At the beginning and ends of the bell curve are when we mix in the least amount of breeder/layer feed and at the peak of the curve (in mid summer) is when we mix in the most breeder/maintainer feed.

      We fully acknowledge that this is an unorthodox duck feeding approach and there isn’t research data to draw on in order to determine efficacy and overall health effects of this approach on domestic duck populations. However, anecdotally, we can say that we’ve had no serious illnesses or deaths in our flock since implementing this feed approach whereas we had fairly regular health issues when we stuck to the conventional high protein approach.

      *In the summer, we also provide supplements like Rooster Booster in their water, plus give them lots of greens, fresh tomatoes, and other treats (See our 10 summer care tips for ducks which are applicable now: Our ducks also get to forage out in our gardens for 1-2 hours each night when we’re out, which means they’re also eating worms, slugs, snails, etc. Heat and heat-stress reduces calcium absorption, so it’s especially important to provide shade, supplements, cool swimming water, fans, or anything else you can do during summer when they’re laying eggs to keep your ducks happy, healthy, and in top shape.

      Hope this helps and please let us know if you have any questions!

  • Reply
    July 16, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    I’m trying to dwtermine how much feed per duck. I have 2 pet Welsh Harlequin 10 weeks old. They are out in pond and garden to forage all day and get 2 cups crumble when they go in thw coop at night. Lately they have syarted begging to go in the coop a couple times a day and looks like its just they prefer grain to foraging, like they are lazy since raised alone with no mother to teach them to forage. How much grain does each duck need?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 18, 2022 at 8:32 am

      Ducks eat a lot more when they’re laying eggs to account for all the extra calories and nutrients it takes to produce an egg. At 10 weeks old, your girls aren’t laying eggs yet (that usually starts at around 16 weeks old unless low sunlight hours delay the process to the following spring). However, they’re still going to need a lot of food and nutrition which they might not be able to get from foraging the same spots each day. Remember, wild Mallards can fly to new foraging spots; domestic flightless ducks like Welsh harlequins can’t. And they need plenty of good nutrition and calories to develop and remain healthy.

      Our girls are also out foraging their fenced backyard all day then the rest of the gardens with us in the evening, but we still give them unfettered access to a bowl of Mazuri waterfowl feed as well (this time of year, it’s usually 50% layer / 50% maintenance or even slightly higher on the maintenance percentages). They eat when they need to and that doesn’t seem to diminish their desire to forage, which is more for fun and supplementation than the majority of their diet.

      It sounds like with your situation though, that you need to use your ducks’ feed as an incentive for them to come in to their coops at night, otherwise it might be hard to get them inside. If so, maybe start the day with a cup of food per duck in outdoor bowls. Hopefully, they finish it by late afternoon but it keeps them well enough fed during the day. Then they’ll still be hungry enough by the time it’s cooping hour for them to want to come inside.

      Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    July 16, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Hi, thanks for posting these articles! I would like your opinion on two things. For background, we have 5 ducklings that are around 4 weeks old (we’ve had them for about 3 weeks). Some of them are beginning to quack and they’ve been growing tiny feathers. So far they seem like happy healthy ducks. That is, they walk around, eat, drink, play in the water, and let me know every time an airplane goes by.
    My first question is about protein and feed in general. We’ve been feeding them what the farm supply store said they feed the ducklings. The bag says it’s “meat bird crumbles” and (suspiciously) advertises itself for every kind of bird of all ages with no needed supplements whatsoever. Based on my internet research, I’ve been sprinkling nutritional yeast over their feed for niacin. As for protein, when I looked at the bag it said 20%. This seems very high for ducklings that we want for pets/eggs. What would you recommend I do about this?
    My other question is on foraging. I’ve been letting the ducklings outside for a couple hours each day the past few days. They do a lot of foraging, but I’ve also seen them try to eat a lot of things that just can’t be eaten. Are my ducklings really foraging? Or are they just practicing?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 18, 2022 at 7:56 am

      Hi Evie! Answers to your two questions below:

      1. I’ll copy & paste from our how to raise ducklings guide/article ( since it directly answers your question:

      “Ducklings (like chicks) require higher levels of protein the first two weeks of life, 18-20% protein to be exact. When your ducklings are 3 weeks old, bump the protein levels of your chick feed down to 15-16% by mixing in 20% organic old fashioned oats to their crumble.

      This encourages your ducklings to grow at a healthy, normal rate vs. the more accelerated rate commonly recommended for broilers & commercial egg layers (as per duck expert, Dave Holderread, in Storay’s Guide To Raising Ducks).

      This step is extremely important because sustained higher levels of protein can cause leg and wing deformities in addition to causing kidney and liver damage.”

      Since your ducks are now at 4 weeks, you’ll definitely want to taper down their protein percentages immediately as detailed above. And keep utilizing the nutritional yeast.

      2. Yes, a duckling’s “foraging” often entails picking at inedible things like brown leaves, sticks, etc. This is how they learn their world and what parts of it they can eat. Obviously, you’ll want to be very careful that there aren’t small pieces of plastic, metal screws, and similarly dangerous objects that could kill them if swallowed. If they’re just out foraging in your lawn (which hopefully doesn’t contain any pesticides) then they’ll be perfectly fine to forage away.

  • Reply
    Diana Robinson
    January 22, 2022 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for all the excellent information about diet and oyster shell calcium etc. I live in San Francisco and my two girls have a duck house and a swimming pool with the water changed daily. I buy Bar Ale duck grower pellets and feed my girls tomatoes, lettuce, meal worms, oyster shells sprinkled on top, and I grind up their hard boiled eggs and sprinkle that over their food. Now I know to separate out the grit and leave it for them separately.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 23, 2022 at 7:21 am

      Glad to hear that, Diana, thanks! Yes, it’s definitely a good idea to let your ducks determine how much grit they need rather than putting it in their food. Sounds like you’ve got a nice setup for your flock.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    We adopted two male Welsh Harlequins this summer and it was a struggle for me to find information on how best to feed them for their optimal health and longevity, rather than for meat production. After a lot of reading around I decided to keep them on growers pellet (15% protein) and they free range for live treats all day. Their favourite treat is peas and they demand these daily, which we happily provide. They also enjoy leafy greens whenever we have some. So great to find a source of info from others who are keeping ducks for their wonderful personalities and company and not compromising their health for our own agendas. Glad to read that what I’ve done with their diet sounds similar – it’s reassuring! Great to find this page.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      October 25, 2021 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Laura! Yes, you definitely don’t want to feed high protein layer feed to drakes. Good on you for figuring that out and focusing on the long-term health of your ducks.

      We’re a few years into our new feeding regimen for our girls, and are happy to report zero reproductive health problems in our flock since. We do mix in some higher protein feed to their maintainer feed during laying season (especially in summer) but maintain a much lower protein diet than is generally recommended for maximum egg production. They stopped laying about a month ago, and we’re ok with that. We’d rather have healthier, longer-lived ducks than more eggs. 🙂

  • Reply
    John warner
    September 23, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    Hi Aaron! Fantastic article, such a knowledgable read.
    Regarding the crushed oyster shells, would you offer that all year round or just during laying period?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      September 24, 2021 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks, John! We offer oyster shell to our ducks year round. It will pretty well go untouched when the ducks aren’t laying – they might take a nibble here and there as-needed. However, a few weeks before they start laying again, they’ll start eating it. This is a good indicator that eggs are on the way, which is helpful to know so you can start checking their coop in the morning. Note that you’re not actually wasting or having to refill the oyster shell when they’re not eating it since oyster shell doesn’t go bad.

  • Reply
    Monika Jarosz
    June 27, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Hello, Many thanks for the article. I’m so glad to find your blog as I am a proud parent of 9 Muscovy ducks. I rise them as pets and have very close relationship with all of them. During last 6 years my main worry has been my girls health related to egg lying. 3 years ago I lost one of my duck to hernia caused by excessive egg lying. My heart was broken for many years. I live in Mexico thus have no access to regular brands of food for waterfowl. There are only pallets for chickens (mainly medicated). I opted for what people around give their ducks – corn. I complement it with kale, lettuce, zucchini from my garden. Sometimes, I feed them earthworms and dry grounded fish. They free range. Still my 8 girls lay eggs obsessively. I provide them with calcium and when I observe they’re about to lay eggs hoping they just lay a few. My only solution so far has been letting them sit on artificial eggs (I bought) for a couple of weeks. I’m wondering if you ever tried to use fully homemade pallets that could support the healthy diet that decreases egg production? If so, I would truly appreciate the recipe as well as any additional tips. Thank you so much.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 28, 2021 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Monika! If your girls are still healthy and doing well after 6 years under your current care/feeding regimen, chances are you’re doing things right. Otherwise, health problems would have become evident by now. Granted, just as in people, duck care can and should change with age. Ducks will naturally lay fewer eggs as they get older, but you may want them to lay even fewer eggs each year to make sure they don’t put too much stress on their bodies. As you said, you can make them go broody with fake eggs, which triggers a hormonal response that shuts down egg production. We’ve made our ducks go broody for similar reasons using similar methods as we detail here:

      As far as making our own customized feed for our ducks: we’ve never done that or had the need to do it since we have access to high quality waterfowl-specific feeds here in the US. Frankly, without a science lab and a way to precisely measure macro and micronutrient content of a do-it-yourself duck feed, I’d be very wary about going that approach since ducks’ nutritional needs are pretty precise. In your situation, it sounds like your garden + foraging may be helping them get the nutrients they need to stay healthy since corn by itself would not have an optimal macro and micronutrient profile for a duck’s long-term health.

      Bottom line: it sounds like what you’re doing is working, so drastic changes aren’t warranted. Perhaps the best way for you to reduce egg production in your ducks is to force your girls to go broody with fake eggs at a certain point during the year, rather than changing their feed regimen.

      Best of luck to your and your flock, and cheers from the United States!

  • Reply
    January 4, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    Wow. This is great stuff and you are being so generous with your advice. Will try to support you through your linked items. This is our first year with 13 khaki campbells… we are in a colder higher elevation climate in SW Colorado for reference. We have a few things we are trying to work out but top of the list is food (we will try your recommendations) AND birds flocking to eat it no matter where we hide it…under shelter, etc. Ducks pretty much open range (large electric fenced area to protect from predators) during the day and in the coop at night. Appreciate any ideas! Also: love your pond blog and we are adding it to our notes for next year.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 5, 2021 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks, Katie! We actually have a good friend who keeps geese and ducks in the high desert of Colorado (Dolores). She uses Mazuri waterfowl feed, which is also what we switched to a while back as per our avian vet’s recommendation. Mazuri waterfowl feed is designed to float on water, so she feeds her ducks and geese in their pond each day by simply tossing their food in the water. No way for other birds to get it. So, you might consider putting their food in bowls of water or whatever swimming pond you have for them?

      *One possible downside to this approach: it’s entirely possible that the nutrients in the feed will degrade fairly quickly in water if it’s not consumed within some short time window (15-30 minutes)? This is entirely speculative on our part, but something to consider. We’d hate to give advice that could cause some sort of nutritional deficiency in your ducks over time.

      Another option is to put a cover/shelter over the food with something reflective on top, like an aluminum pie pan. If it’s set up where your ducks can’t see it but birds looking down from above can, it could help to keep them away.

    • Reply
      Monika Jarosz
      July 28, 2021 at 10:23 pm

      Hello Aaron
      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond in such a detail. Yes, it seems forcing them to get broody is the only option for me. Probably improving a bit their diet since the produce from the garden isn’t always available. They get sick from now and then, respiratory and some parasites, typical to the environment we live in. I have great avian vet who is able to help me even though she is 2 hours away. However, many times I rely on natural medicine – plants and alcohol free tinctures.
      I find your site extremely useful as you are doing building your world around ducks well being. I found great tips and solutions to the aspects of duck rising that I was facing all alone down here. Many thanks for sharing your love and experiences.
      Cheers from Mexico!

  • Reply
    Adam Mekky
    December 15, 2020 at 10:36 am

    I live in England, and have been searching on the internet, and in the U.S, maintainer duck feed is sold. But I am unable to locate a UK website which supplies maintainer feed. However, there is such thing as grower/finisher pellets. Are they the same thing please?

    Also, I really love this website. It has helped me loads.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      December 15, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Adam! Glad to hear our site has been helpful for your duck raising questions. Since different countries may use different food labels on their duck feed, the only way to be certain is as follows:
      -What we call “maintainer” feed here in the US is 13-15% protein and about 1% calcium;
      -Our “layer” feed is 16-17% protein and about 3% calcium.
      The macronutrient breakdown/percentages should be provided on the feed bag you’re considering so match them up to be sure. Hope this helps and let us know if you have other questions.

  • Reply
    Connie Cerne
    September 19, 2020 at 7:35 am

    I love your website. I was wondering if the diet would be the same for drakes? Thank you!

  • Reply
    August 6, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    I can’t tell you how happy I am about your website/blog. Your approach to duck rearing matches my thoughts on animals, but as I’m new to ducks, the advice is well received.
    Question if you have time: After reading a lot here I switched my ducks (they are about 3 months old) to Mazuri kibble. The thing is, they hardly eat it. They seem to prefer foraging. There is always kibble available to them, so should I trust that they will eat as much as they need? They just eat a little bit of kibble each day, seemingly surviving mostly on greens and slugs and grubs foraged around the yard.

  • Reply
    Ashlee P
    December 3, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Love this. I feed our girls Mazuri waterfowl kibble and they have a dish of oyster shell for whenever they want some. My vet said the same about keeping them off the layer feed.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      December 3, 2019 at 2:26 pm

      Glad to hear that this duck diet is being prescribed by more vets! Hopefully it will translate to healthier, longer-lived pet & backyard ducks.

      • Reply
        November 20, 2020 at 7:01 pm

        This is our first time raising ducks. We like the idea of separating the oyster shells and using maintenance feed but aren’t sure if we should leave the oyster shells accessible all year. I have been using this method since our ducks reached laying age a few months ago, but now that it is getting colder, do I put the oyster shells away?. Do the hens completely stop laying in the winter months? I have been consistently getting an egg a day from the layers…but we live in the south and rarely get a true freeze. Thanks for all the great information!

        • Aaron von Frank
          November 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm

          Hi Michelle! We provide access to oyster shell all year, but… they know when their bodies need the extra calcium and lose any interest in the oyster shell once they don’t. We leave oyster shell out year round regardless because: 1) sometimes, some of the hens will continue laying much longer than the others so they need the extra calcium, 2) they might start needing a little extra calcium boost from time to time and/or as their bodies begin preparing to lay again. Basically, it can’t hurt to make calcium available, but you’ll notice it pretty well goes untouched during non-laying months.

          As for when you can expect your ducks to stop laying eggs, the answer is unfortunately “it depends.” Lots of factors: your climate, amount of sunlight they get, their nutritional intake, their age, and probably a few other factors as well. We see laying variability (that’s hard to make sense of) within our flock even though they all experience the same environmental factors. Generally, they stop laying around this time of year and pick back up in spring as light levels + insect and edible plant abundance increases.

    • Reply
      Dianne Newbegin
      December 3, 2019 at 10:06 pm

      Same here…Mazuri maintainer…Mazuri Breeder also…mainly maintainer with oyster shells as a side dish…:)

      • Reply
        Aaron von Frank
        December 6, 2019 at 1:36 pm

        Nice! Out of curiosity, have you had any reproductive health issues with your ducks since adopting this dietary regimen?

        • Dianne Newbegin
          January 8, 2020 at 9:58 am

          I have not !

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