The number one question I always get from backyard chicken keepers thinking about adding some domestic duck breeds to their flock is “What do ducks eat?” Fortunately, ducks can do quite well on chicken feed, although there is waterfowl feed available commercially for those who raise only ducks; or ducks and geese together.
Wondering what ducks eat is a valid question. It’s not as straightforward as feeding baby chickens. In the wild of course, ducks get by eating grass, weeds, bug larvae, slugs, grubs, snakes, and frogs. If you free range your ducks, they will also fill up on these protein-rich, nutritious goodies. And in fact, most of the treats I give my ducks are leafy greens or chopped herbs or weeds. My ducks seem to love anything green. And peas floated in their water tub is a favorite treat.
What Do You Feed Baby Ducks?
If you’re wondering what do you feed baby ducks, they can be started on regular chick starter feed. You want to choose the unmedicated chick starter feed. Not only are ducklings not susceptible to coccidiosis which the medicated feed protects against, since ducklings eat far more per ounce of body weight than baby chicks, they are likely to over-medicate themselves. So stick with the unmedicated chick starter feed that is around 20 percent protein.
Unlike baby chicks who stay on the starter feed for the first 8 weeks, baby ducklings should only be on it for the first two weeks after they hatch. The high protein content can lead to issues such as Angel Wing which is caused by too much protein in the diet. Cutting the feed with raw rolled oats (up to a 25 percent ratio to the feed) can also help reduce the amount of protein the ducklings are eating and help them grow at a more constant rate.
Ducklings’ fast growth can lead to foot and leg problems as well. Adding some brewer’s yeast to the feed will provide niacin for strong bones. Brewer’s yeast in a 2 percent ratio to feed is recommended. I add the brewer’s yeast to my ducks daily feed for life.
It’s important to try to get your ducklings out on grass for exercise and fresh air on warm sunny days, and so they can start eating grass and weeds. Just be sure to keep them protected from danger and bring them back inside if they seem cold. Barring time outdoors, pick some grass and weeds for them to nibble on in their brooder. Just be sure they have a dish of coarse dirt available also to help them digest the fibrous plants.
Feeding Growing Babies
After two weeks, the ducklings should be switched to chicken grower feed which has 16 percent protein. I continue to add the oats and brewer’s yeast to the grower feed as well.
What do Ducks Eat Once They’re Full Grown?
Around 18 weeks old, your ducks can be switched to a chicken layer feed which has the added calcium they need to lay eggs with strong shells. Duck eggs are larger and have thicker shells than chicken eggs, so the appropriate calcium levels are important. You should also provide them crushed eggshell or oyster shell free choice in addition to the layer feed. You can choose crumble or pellet (it’s a personal choice and you should try both to see which your ducks prefer), organic or non-organic.
Be Sure to Let Them Roam
It’s important that you allow your ducks some free range time through all stages of their life. Because they do tend to grow so fast, getting exercise (and fresh air) is extremely beneficial, as is having access to fresh grass and weeds to eat, as well as bug larvae. Your ducks do need grit just like chickens do to help them digest their food but should pick up enough small stones, pebbles, and coarse dirt as they roam to satisfy that need. If you can’t let your ducks out due to predators or your work schedule, then providing them commercial grit free choice is recommended.
Domestic ducks can’t fly, so they are extremely vulnerable to predators and should be supervised whenever they are outside of their safe pen or run. If you can’t let them out, clipping grass, weeds, and herbs for them, as well as offering them lots of scraps from the garden is a good idea for their optimal health.
So the answer to what do ducks eat is a fairly simple answer. But it is one that must be carefully managed for optimal growth of fast-growing ducks.
What do ducks eat in your brooder and backyard? Do they have favorite treats? Do your ducks free range daily? Let us know in the comments below.
Lisa Steele is the author of Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy Healthy Ducks…Naturally (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013).