Ducks

Where to Buy Organic Duckling & Duck Feed

Where to Buy Organic Duckling & Duck Feed thumbnail

 

We have the most spoiled-rotten flock of ducks on the planet. Our Welsh Harlequins have two humans that dote on their every need, including tucking them into their coop at night, building them a 1,200 gallon in-ground pool with waterfalls (post on that coming soon, so make sure to subscribe to our mailing list!), tending entire garden beds to grow them fresh greens, and ensuring that their food bowls always overfloweth.

A typical duck greeting is:

A typical duck greeting is: “What offerings have you brought for me today?”

In all fairness, they do give us duck eggs, added soil fertility, pest insect control, and limitless amounts of entertainment in return. (Ducks are goofy and hilarious creatures.)

If you have backyard ducks, or are considering getting them, you’ll need to know what to feed them. And you’re in the right place, because we’re going to give you everything you need to know about feeding your ducks–whether duckling or adult, whether they’re laying eggs or not.

Duck Nutrition: What & When To Feed Your Ducks

As with humans, a good diet is critically important to the health of your ducks.

Ok, which of you broke into the strawberry patch?

Ok, which one of you broke into the strawberry patch?

Here are some important things you need to know about ducks in order to make sure you’re getting yours the nutrition they need to be healthy:

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  • Ducks Have Different Dietary Needs Than Chickens – As waterfowl, ducks have different dietary needs than their feathered cousins. They can do just fine on a chicken feed base, but you’d need to make some modifications like adding Niacin (Vitamin B3) to their feed. Instead, we recommend getting duck-specific food.
  • Gender and Life Stages –  There are three distinct types of food & supplementation you’ll need for your ducks depending on their gender and life stage:
    • Starter (0-8 weeks) – Ducklings (like chicks) require higher levels of protein the first few weeks (0-2 weeks) of life. At 3 weeks old we bump the protein levels down from 18-20% to 15-16% by mixing in 20% oats to their crumble. This encourages them to grow at a healthy, normal rate vs. the more accelerated rate commonly recommended for broilers & commercial egg layers. Also note that sustained higher levels of protein can cause leg and wing deformities in addition to causing kidney and liver damage.
      • Niacin (Vitamin B3): It’s very important that either your ducklings get duck-specific starter food OR if you buy starter meant for chicks, that you enrich it with niacin; it’s really easy to do. Because ducklings grow faster than chicks, chick starter does not have the niacin levels that are optimal for ducklings (NRC requirements for ducklings = 55 mg/kg niacin compared to only 27-35 mg/kg for chicks.), and they could end up with leg deformities if they don’t have the nutrition to support proper bone and muscle development.
      • You can order Niacin in the form of Brewer’s Yeast or as B-Complex vitamin capsules. Here’s an AWESOME article by Metzer farms about duckling leg problems & Vitamin B-Complex supplementation with measurements and calculations for adding it to their food or water. We typically add 2 tablespoons brewers yeast/cup of crumble or 100mg B-Complex/gallon water.
      • All of our ducklings loved brewers yeast and, even though we bought duckling-specific starter, we’d still sprinkle some Brewers Yeast on their veggie treats (kale, tomatoes, etc.) just because they enjoyed it. Also, if your ducklings are eating a lot of nutrient-dense organic veggies like kale, niacin deficiency isn’t as much of a concern.
      • Ducklings choke on crumble: Ducklings constantly eat, and each time they do you’d think they’d never seen food before. They voraciously wolf their food down and often times will choke on the dry crumble. Pro tip: Put enough water in their food to make a wet mash (the consistency of oatmeal). This also helps ensure an even mixture of brewer’s yeast if you’re adding niacin to their food.
      • Medicated feed: If you’re reading an article about where to buy organic duck food, you’re probably not going to feed your ducklings medicated chick starter, BUT just in case…I’m going to say it: Don’t feed your ducklings medicated chick starter. Ducklings eat more food than chicks of the same weight and can consume higher levels of the antibiotic than is safe for them. Additionally, many of the bacterial infections that chicks get, ducklings aren’t susceptible to so there’s no reason to medicate them.
    • Maintainer (8+ weeks & non-laying birds) – When your adult female ducks (hens) aren’t laying, they’ll need maintainer. Your adult males (drakes) will need maintainer from 8 weeks on.
    • Layer (mature egg-laying hens) – When your hens start laying, make sure they start getting a duck-specific *layer feed. Layer feed has more protein, calcium, and other vitamins & minerals in it than maintainer feed. This extra nutrition is critical to the health of a laying hen.
    • *In our opinion, your goal should be to grow healthy ducks, not to produce the most possible eggs from each hen. Giving your laying hens 100% layer feed can cause them to lay too frequently over a longer period of time than is good for their health. Issues arising from over-active reproductive tracts are likely one of the leading causes of death and illness in backyard ducks.
    • We recommend mixing maintainer and layer feed while your ducks are laying, giving them the nutrition they need without stimulating them to over-produce eggs. It may take some playing around with the formula to see what ratio of layer:non-layer feed works best for your flock. We usually start with a mix of 30% layer feed : 70% maintenance feed and increase (or decrease) the percentage of layer in the mix as needed. Hens who aren’t getting enough calcium will lay eggs with thin shells and soft-shelled eggs; if you see those, you know it’s time to increase the amount of calcium in their feed. Here’s a really handy egg shell trouble-shooting chart.
    • If at all possible, Storay’s Guide To Raising Ducks recommends that you start your mature ducks on layer feed three weeks prior to them actually laying eggs. How do you know when they’re going to start laying? It’s a little tricky, but here’s how.
    • Sound too complicated? Another option is to just have a bowl of loose calcium available for your ducks (such as pulverized oyster shell – frustratingly, this is the only brand we can get our very picky ducks to eat), allowing them to start taking in additional calcium as they need it, then immediately switch to layer feed the day the first egg arrives. It’s also important to remember to switch them back to maintenance (non-layer) feed immediately once they stop laying to make sure they’re not getting too much calcium and protein, which can cause health problems.

Metzer Farms has a helpful chart which can be found here, if you’re curious about mineral breakdown and other more in-depth info than we cover here.

The girls acting like typical sisters – stealing from each other and fighting over their things. :)

Best Available Duck Feed (Including Where to Buy Organic Duck Feed)

We’ve read about and used lots of different types of duck feed. We also talk regularly with avian vets and other experts who know a lot about duck health and nutrition. That being said, here’s a list of duck food brands we recommend:

  • McGeary Organics (mash & pellets): USDA Certified Organic. We started our flock on McGeary and loved it. We switched them off McGeary because we liked the idea of a whole grain feed (see below). We switched back to McGeary for a while as our primary organic food source when the whole grain feed didn’t work for our flock. Feed types available: Waterfowl Starter, Waterfowl Maintenance & Waterfowl Breeder (layer)
  • Scratch and Peck Feed (whole grains): USDA Certified Organic. Their whole line of feed is excellent in terms of quality and we found their customer service to be top notch (the one time we needed to use it), but we offer this recommendation with caution — the same caution we’d give any whole grain feed…some of our hens picked out what they enjoyed eating and left the nutritious things (like the minerals and other fines that are separate in a non-pelleted feed product) that they didn’t enjoy as much in the bowl. They also didn’t like to eat fermented food (which is the recommended way to offer whole grain feed for the most bio-available nutrition – more on that below) and if it’s not mixed with water it allows your birds the opportunity to be picky eaters. If you’re looking for a high-quality whole grain, fermentable organic feed, these guys have it. It’s a bit more expensive if you can’t find it locally, but you get what you pay for. If you’ve never fed a whole grain feed before, make sure you keep an eye on your ducks to ensure they’re eating everything, not just the grains or corn. Feed types available: Chicken Starter*, Chicken Maintenance & Chicken Layer you’ll want to add Niacin to this starter
  • Mazuri Waterfowl (pellets)NOT CERTIFIED ORGANIC, but it’s being added to this list b/c it’s recommended by literally EVERY waterfowl rescue, zoo and vet we’ve spoken to – including our own. You’re guaranteed to get great waterfowl-specific nutrition and not have to worry about your ducks picking out the pieces they like and leaving other things they actually need in the bowl. If certified organic food and organic eggs aren’t as important to you as making sure your ducks are healthy, we’d recommend this brand. Feed types available: Waterfowl Starter, Waterfowl Maintenance & Waterfowl Breeder (layer)
  • Mixing Your Own Feed: Sometime it’s practical to mix your own feed using multiple brands (or life stage-specific types) of feed. This really comes in handy when you have a 10 lb bag of starter and you want to use it up, but you don’t want to feed your birds that much protein, so you mix it with another bag of feed. Because feed mixing errors can cause all kinds of health issues, you’ll want to make sure you are using proper ratios and your birds are getting the proper nutrition they need to be healthy. Metzer Farm’s has a very helpful calculator to make sure you’re mixing things in proper ratios.
One of our hens, Jackson, warming up her ducklings on a cool spring morning.

One of our hens, Jackson, warming up her ducklings on a cool spring morning.

Sprouting Grains & Fermenting Feed For Ducks

Sprouted and fermented grains are excellent for your duck’s health, providing lots of nutrition and promoting beneficial microbes within their digestive systems. Do you have to feed your ducks sprouted grains and fermented feed? Nope. But it can improve their health, even if you just give it to them once per month or so. Also, the healthier your ducks, the more nutritious their eggs will be. 

Here are three excellent sources to help you learn more about using these supplemental foods:

Winston, our drake, swimming in his pond in the shade of a peach branch.

Winston, our drake, swimming in his pond in the shade of a peach branch.

Treats & Poisonous Plants

Ducks LOVE treats. But make them healthy treats. Say NO to bread, as this can become a gelatinous blob in their crops and cause all kinds of digestive problems. On that note, if you absolutely feel compelled to feed wild ducks at a nearby lake or pond, use cat or dog food kibbles, not bread–or better yet, don’t feed them at all.

Our ducks absolute favorite treats in the summer are fresh-picked currant tomatoes, strawberries, and ground cherries.

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In the cool months, they gorge on virtually every type of salad green we grow in our organic garden.

To help you figure out what treats to give your ducks and what plants/foods to make sure they avoid, here are two good resources:

Don't be too nervous about letting your ducks forage. Our flock gets to

Don’t be too nervous about letting your ducks forage. Our flock gets to “walk the grounds” throughout our gardens every night and they’ve never eaten any plant that makes them sick. They seem to have pretty good natural instincts about what they should and shouldn’t eat.


Some of Our Favorite Duck Products

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