Feeding Ducklings – Guide to a Balanced Diet
Ducklings have a slightly different diet from that of adult ducks. Knowing what you can and cannot feed ducklings in the first days and weeks of their lives is crucial to helping them grow into healthy and strong adult ducks.
Whether your ducklings are newly hatched from an incubator or from under a broody hen, the same feeding recommendations apply.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to feeding ducklings:
What to Feed Ducklings
As an omnivorous bird species, ducks will feed on a variety of food types including plant matter, worms, bugs, and others.
And while ducklings are omnivores too, in the first weeks of their lives, their diet is not as varied as that of adult ducks.
In the first 24-36 hours after hatching, ducklings will not usually take food or water. They may not even show any interest in food. There’s no cause for alarm, this is normal for newly hatched ducklings.
Just before hatching, ducklings will absorb the yolk sac from the egg, which helps them survive until the mother duck takes her brood to feed.
After the first 24-36 hours, ducklings are ready to feed. So, here’s what you can feed ducklings once they’re ready to eat:
You can easily turn to commercially available options like waterfowl starter crumbs or chick crumbs to feed your ducklings in the first 3 weeks of their lives.
At this stage, it’s important to check the label of the starter crumbs and make sure you’re buying unmedicated ones, especially if you’re starting your ducklings on chick crumbs, which are often medicated.
Medicated chick starter crumbs are not suitable for ducklings because of the risk of overdosing on the medicine. As opposed to chicks, ducklings eat more, so there’s a higher intake of the medicine too.
Therefore, feed your ducklings unmedicated starter crumbs for the first 3 weeks of their lives.
In the third week, you can slowly wean them off starter crumbs by mixing in waterfowl growe pellets for a week or so.
A tip that can help your ducklings swallow dry food better is to add a little water to the crumble you feed them. By adding water, the crumble will have an oatmeal consistency, making it much easier to swallow.
This is only needed in the first two weeks. After this period, simply giving your ducklings access to fresh, clean water is enough to allow them to wash down dry food with water.
When adding water to the crumble, you’ll need to replace it a couple of times a day as the crumble tends to sour when water is added to it.
All living things need niacin or vitamin B3 to develop strong bones, and ducklings are no exception.
Because ducklings develop quickly, a niacin deficiency can cause developmental problems such as shaky feet, unwillingness to walk, slow growth, sitting back on their haunches, bowed legs, etc.
Supplementation with niacin or adding niacin-rich treats to their diet will help ducklings develop strong and healthy bones.
Ducklings need around 10 mg of niacin per day. Brewer’s yeast is an excellent source of niacin and can be sprinkled over the feed of ducklings.
Supplementation is only needed when ducklings do their most rapid growth, which is between the ages of 2 to 7 weeks.
Past 10 weeks, supplementation is rarely needed.
Good sources of niacin that can be added to the diet of adult ducks as well include peas, sweet potatoes, tuna fish, salmon, sardines, feeder fish, and pumpkin.
Greens should be introduced into the diet of your ducklings starting from 4 weeks of age. Chopped greens, dandelions, and grass cuttings are ideal for ducklings.
Better yet – if you have a safe enclosure, you can move ducklings outside for some free-range time at the age of 5-6 weeks old. This will allow them to graze and soak up some much-needed sunlight.
While grazing, ducklings may also eat bugs and worms, both of which are great additions to their omnivorous diet.
Ducklings can be offered an unlimited supply of greens including lettuce, kale, chard, celery, carrot greens, herbs, edible weeks, cut grass, etc.
Regardless of the type of greens you feed, make sure to cut them into fine pieces to prevent ducklings from accidentally choking on them.
As far as treats go, there are a couple that ducklings enjoy the most such as fresh non-citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, vegetable scraps, fresh lettuce and mixed greens, and worms.
Fresh fruits that ducklings can safely enjoy include blueberries, cut up grapes, strawberries, and watermelon.
Besides fruits, vegetables like cucumber, broccoli, corn are also suitable treat options. Just make sure to cut larger pieces up to avoid choking.
When introducing new foods into the diet of ducklings, you can cut them up into small pieces and float them in their water bowl. They’ll take to them in no time!
If you have a small pond or pool where you allow your ducklings to bathe, introducing feeder fish or minnows into the pond will have your ducklings diving for them. This can be a fun exercise for them while chasing for treats.
If you see your ducks eating earthworms, mealworms, or other bugs, allow them to do so, these too are a beneficial addition to their diet.
Grit is needed for ducklings to help digest their food. Because ducks don’t have teeth, they cannot chew down on their food. Instead, food is digested in their gizzards and grit is needed to help in the process.
While they’re still small, ducklings can be fed “chick grit”, but once they reach the age of 16 weeks old, they can be switched to standard size grit. Duck breeds that are small-sized should be kept on chick grit.
Laying hens can benefit from crushed oyster shells, which provides them with an additional source of calcium.
What Not to Feed Ducklings
Baby ducklings should not be fed bread, bread crumbs or any other bread type products.
Ducklings that fill up on bread will stop eating their own feed, which is far more nutritious compared to bread, which has little to no nutritional value for ducklings or for other birds. Plus, they can get an impacted crop.
Other foods you should not feed your ducklings include citrus fruits, popcorn, garlic, onion, chocolate, chips, crackers, or other junk foods.
All these can interfere with a duckling’s ability to absorb nutrients, causing malnutrition and developmental problems.
Salt, sugar, or fatty foods should also be avoided. Excess weight can cause leg problems, while too much salt can cause a salt overdose.
Tall pieces of grass or other tall plants should also be avoided as they can also cause impacted crop.
Apart from citrus fruits, you shouldn’t feed mango, seeds of apples, cherries, or peaches and apricot pits to your ducklings.
Ducklings should not eat the leaves of any nightshade plants including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, white potatoes, etc.
When to Start Feeding Ducklings?
Ducklings can be offered food from day one, it’s just that it’s unlikely that they’ll take food that soon.
Ducklings will only start taking an interest in their starter crumbs after the first 24-36 hours of their lives. After the initial 24-36 hours, they will take both food and water.
So, don’t worry if your ducklings don’t eat right away after hatching. It’s not usual for them to do so. Rest assured that after the first 24 hours, they’ll start to show more interest in food.
Make sure to either mix water into their crumbs or have water for them out in a separate feeder.
How to Feed Your Ducklings?
Simply place the starter crumbs in a feeder and allow free access to it. Feeders should be topped off regularly, and ducklings should be allowed to eat as much as they want.
Besides food, unlimited access to fresh, clean water should also be provided.
If you’re feeding your ducklings crumbs mixed in with water, you will need to replace their food a couple of times a day to prevent it from becoming sour.
Can You Force Feed Ducklings?
Ducks raised for foie gras production are force-fed a diet high in fat and carbohydrates, so their livers can grow larger. The enlarged livers can grow 10 times their normal size.
Force-feeding begins when the ducks are just 8 and 10 weeks old and lasts for 12 to 21 days. The practice is cruel, and the mortality rate of these birds is 20 times higher than that of birds raised normally.
As a result, foie gras production is prohibited in California as well as some other countries in the world including Israel, Germany, Italy, Czechia, while other countries have taken action against this practice by outlawing force-feeding.
Overfeeding ducks by force is a cruel practice that severely impacts the quality of life of these birds, and as such more and more countries are taking action against this practice.
What to Feed Ducklings in an Emergency?
It may happen that you run out of starter crumbs for your ducklings and you’re at a loss as to what to feed your ducklings until the next day.
In such cases, there’s a solution that can help you get your ducklings the nutrition they need – for a short time only, you can feed your ducklings crushed hard-boiled eggs. The egg yolk especially is high in nutrients beneficial to your ducklings.
When to Switch Ducklings to Grower Feed?
Once you manage to wean your ducklings off the starter crumbs at 3 or 4 weeks of age, you can continue feeding them waterfowl grower pellets.
You can substitute waterfowl grower pellets for chick grower pellets, just make sure these too are unmedicated.
Therefore, starting from 4 weeks old, ducklings can be fed grower feed instead of the starter crumbs.
The dietary needs of ducklings are different from that of adult ducks, and their diet needs to be adapted to their size and developmental stage.
Ducklings should be started on unmedicated starter crumbs for the first 3 weeks of their lives, then they should be switched to grower pellets.
Other than their regular feed, ducklings should be offered grit, greens, and a variety of other treats for a balanced diet. Ducklings should also be allowed to graze on grass.
To avoid malnutrition and developmental issues, make sure to also consult the list of foods that you should not feed your ducklings.