What to Feed Baby Ducks for Proper Nutrition

Proper Nutrition for Healthy Ducklings

by Erin Snyder

What to feed baby ducks should be top of mind for anyone raising ducks. Can chickens and ducks share feed is often the first question asked when people raise both. Though sometimes considered to have the same nutritional needs as chicks, ducklings require more vitamins than chicks do during the growing stage and throughout their adult lives. Young ducks grow faster than chicks and this requires different dietary needs. Failing to meet these nutritional requirements may result in deformities and poor egg production.

While their nutritional needs may vary from those of their chicken cousins when given the proper nourishment, baby ducks are easy to raise. There are many duck breeds to choose including bantam ducks for small backyards and duck breeds for eggs.


What to Feed Baby Ducks: Choosing a Feed

Many feed brands do not offer duckling starter and grower feed, so many duck owners feed their baby ducks a starter and grower formulated for chicks. What to feed baby ducks begins with a starter feed for the first two weeks of life. When choosing a feed for ducklings, look for a non-medicated feed with twenty-two percent protein. (If a twenty-two percent protein starter is unavailable in feedstores near you, feeding ducklings a nonmedicated twenty percent starter for the first four weeks of life will work in a pinch.)

Because ducklings consume more feed than chicks, feeding a medicated starter may result in accidental poisoning from consuming too much medication.

Since chick feed does not contain all the vitamins that baby ducks need to thrive, supplementing their feed with essential vitamins will help ducklings stay healthy. (More on that later.)

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After the first two weeks of life, what to feed baby ducks switches to a lower-protein grower feed. Due to their rapid growth rate, ducklings require switching to a grower feed sooner than chicks to prevent growth deformities. Just as when feeding starter, never feed a medicated grower. Feed ducklings a seventeen to nineteen percent protein grower feed from two weeks of age until the point of lay.

Bring on the Supplements

Most feeds formulated for growing chicks do not contain the niacin and riboflavin baby ducks need to thrive into healthy adults. A deficiency in both vitamins could result in ducklings developing weak or bowed legs, and some individuals may also be stunted in growth and development.

Growing ducklings require fifty-five mg/kg of niacin (B-3) and 4 mg/kg of riboflavin (B-12). Since chick starter and grower feeds do not meet ducklings’ niacin and riboflavin needs, supplementing their diet with Brewer’s yeast is the best way to ensure both baby ducks and adults get these essential B vitamins. Mix three cups of Brewer’s yeast into ten pounds of feed to avoid joint and leg deformities.

Probiotics and prebiotics work together to keep a duckling’s immune system in tip-top condition. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber plants and feed the healthy bacteria in a duckling’s gut. Sea kelp is one of the best prebiotic foods to feed ducklings, as it promotes growth and works best when fed with Brewer’s yeast.

Healthy bacteria found in the gut, also known as probiotics, work to control E. Coli, salmonella, and other harmful bacteria found in the digestive tract. Adding probiotics daily to a duckling’s diet may also help prevent other health concerns, such as bumblefoot.

What to Feed Baby Ducks: Healthy Treats

Raw, uncooked oatmeal is an essential part of what to feed baby ducks. It contains antioxidants, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, choline, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, and helps develop strong legs and wings. Oats should be added to a duckling’s diet soon after hatching and gradually added until twenty-five percent of a growing duckling’s diet is oats at three weeks old. Consuming this beneficial grain helps to decrease the chance of angel wing, a condition caused by too much protein.

The best way to help ducklings reach their potential weight is to give them daily access to pasture. When temperatures are 75° F or above, allowing baby ducks outside in a predator-proofed run will help supplement their diet with essential vitamins and minerals, reduce feed consumption, and lessen the chance of cannibalistic tendencies.

Healthy treats such as herbs (including basil, mint, oregano, parsley, and yarrow), dandelions, leaf lettuce, kale, peas, and black soldier fly larvae should be included in a what to feed baby ducks routine to help them develop a healthy immune system. These nutritious snacks are also packed full of beneficial vitamins and minerals.

When feeding ducklings fresh greens, feed only tender young grasses and herbs and avoid picking greens treated with pesticides or herbicides.

Ducklings are a joy to raise. And with proper nutrients and protection from predators, ducklings will soon grow into healthy adults and fill your egg basket with those deliciously beautiful eggs.

This article about what to feed baby ducks was written for Chickens magazine online. Click here to subscribe to Chickens magazine.

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