Want organic duck eggs from your backyard flock? Then you’ll need to know where to buy organic duck feed – and duckling feed too if you’re raising your own babies from hatch day.
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, tending entire garden beds to grow them fresh greens, and ensuring that their food bowls always overfloweth.
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.
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
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 feed that’s been specially formulated for ducks.
Gender and Life Stages
There are three distinct types of duck food & supplementation you’ll need for your flock depending on their gender and life stage (scroll to the bottom for a handy chart):
STAGE 1: STARTER FEED (0-8 weeks) – Ducklings (like chicks) require higher levels of protein the first few weeks (0-2 weeks) of life, 18-20%. At 3 weeks old we bump the protein levels of our duckling food down 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 (as per duck expert, Dave Holderread, in Storay’s Guide To Raising Ducks). Also note that sustained higher levels of protein can cause leg and wing deformities in addition to causing kidney and liver damage.
A FEW IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT STAGE 1:
Note 1: 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.
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. You can order either form of Niacian easily via Amazon: Brewer’s Yeast or as B-Complex vitamin capsules.
All of our ducklings loved brewers yeast and, even though we bought duckling-specific starter, we’d still sprinkle some Brewers Yeast in with 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.
We’ve also found that Brewers Yeast sprinkled on kale with a bit of olive oil, lemon or lime juice, & salt makes an incredibly tasty snack for us humans! Why should our birds get to eat all the good stuff? 😉
Note 2: 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.
Note 3: 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.
STAGE 2: MAINTAINER FEED (8+ weeks & non-laying birds) – When your adolescent & adult female ducks (hens) aren’t laying, they’ll need “maintainer” duck food (13-15% protein). Your adult males (drakes) will need maintainer from 8 weeks on.
STAGE 3: LAYER FEED (mature egg-laying hens) – When your hens start laying, make sure they start getting a duck-specific *layer food (16-17% protein, 2.5-3% calcium). Layer duck 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.
Mixing it up!
We recommend mixing maintainer and layer 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 we do it.
Sound too complicated? Another option is to just have a bowl of loose calcium available for your ducks (such as pulverized oyster shell – this is the only brand we can get our very picky ducks to eat). This allows them to take in additional calcium as they feel their bodies need it. 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 once they stop laying to make sure they’re not getting too much calcium and protein, which can cause health problems.
If you’re curious about mineral breakdown and other more in-depth info about duck food than we can cover here, Metzer Farms has a helpful chart.
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 and raised our flock on McGeary and have loved it each time. A complicated illness in our flock (unrelated to feed) led us to follow our vet’s advice and switch to Mazuri Waterfowl for our adult birds. We still use McGeary any time we raise ducklings. 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 some words of caution: 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. 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) in the bowl and weren’t getting a balanced diet. 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. 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.
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:
- Scratch & Peck’s Guide to Lacto-fermenting Feed
- Chicken Chick, How to Sprout Grains
- Fermenting Feed FAQs: Especially helpful if you opt for a whole grain feed like Scratch n’ Peck from the list above
Treats & Poisonous Plants
Ducks LOVE treats. But make them healthy treats! If you’re a regular Tyrant Farms reader, you know we’re avid gardeners – so, it only makes sense that we garden for our ducks as well! Make sure to check out our post: Top 10 Garden Plants to Grow for Ducks & Chickens.
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, if you don’t have duck food, don’t feed them at all.
Our ducks absolute favorite treats in the summer are fresh-picked currant tomatoes, strawberries, and ground cherries.
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:
- Ultimate Duck Treat List: Long list of duck-safe treats ranked by how much ducks typically love them.
- Poisonous Plants: Forum discussion with links to quite a few duck-safe and poisonous plants.
Some of Our Favorite Duck Products
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