The Complete Duck Feeding Guide for Homesteaders

Ducks are relatively low maintenance pets. But before you decide to bring them home, you have to look into their most important need, i.e., food.

What to feed the ducks so that they can grow to be healthy and content? Well, in this article, we are about to discuss everything that you should provide and not feed your ducks.

Your ducks will need commercial feed alongside the natural organic feed in the growing weeks. You may also check with a pet store in your area if they have feed for ducks. If not, you will have to store some in abundance and plan accordingly. Most stores keep mixed flock feed, but are they good enough for waterfowls?

It’s always important to remember that whatever spread you prepare for ducks should be nutrient-rich, so they grow healthy and petite.

Most ducks are used to eating chicken layer feed. But in case of food shortage, what should be our alternative feed? Multiple questions have risen as it matters to the life of the bird.

Before getting into the particulars, let us take a look at the lifecycle of ducks. The early duckling stage is from 0-2 weeks, the young adult stage is between 3-20 weeks, and the adult stage is from 21 weeks and above. Ducks have quite a greater lifespan if not butchered early, unlike most other poultry. Each duck breed comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some lay eggs, some don’t. Some can fly, most cannot. Regardless of all the facts, the most essential and necessary need of any duck is a well-nourished, balanced diet.

Stages of Feeding Ducks

There are different nutritional requirements at every stage of a ducks’ life.

Early Duckling Stage (0-2 weeks)


These two weeks are very crucial for the ducklings. They grow way faster than chicks and hence need more proteins and nutrients. Adult duck feed is scarce, but it’s even more challenging to find starting duck feed. So, an alternate option is to feed your ducklings with a “chick starter.”

Often chick starters contain medicines to prevent coccidiosis, commonly found in chickens but not in ducks. As ducklings can eat a lot, giving them the non-medicated version of the starter feed is ideal. As ducklings grow, they need a high protein in their diet. You will have to look for a high protein chicken starter with at least 20-22% protein for the initial two weeks.

Niacin or B3 is another essential component that needs to be incorporated into a duckling’s diet. Niacin is necessary for the building of strong legs and joints. Without this, ducks can grow up to have crooked legs and distorted joints. If their diet does not contain an adequate amount of niacin, it can lead to ducklings’ death.

Brewer’s yeast powder is a quick source of niacin. You can add 1.5 tablespoons to every cup of chick starter.

Along with all these, there must be fresh drinking water available always. Ducks are bad at having dry food and can often choke themselves. Keeping water with food is a mandate for them.

Also Read: 10 Duck Friendly Plants for A Homesteader’s Garden

Young Adults’ Stage (3-20 weeks)

Young Adults’ Stage
anita dilrukshi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When we say ducklings grow fast, we mean it. For instance, a mallard duckling weighs 35 grams at birth, and just after one week, it weighs 100 grams, and by the end of the second week, they weigh 250 grams.

Will you be able to imagine human babies growing up that fast?

But at this stage, duckling’s slowdown in growth. During this stage, you will need to control their protein intake. You can give them non-medicated “chick grower feed,” which contains 16-18% protein. They are comparatively easier to find.

However, if you cannot find it, you can mix the chick starter feed with rolled oats and dilute the feed. This should be just 20% of their entire meal. This is because immoderate protein consumption can provoke a wing deformity called Angel Wing. This deformity prevents them from flying.

You will have to continue the niacin supplement of your ducklings with brewer’s yeast until they reach 20 weeks, along with plenty of freshwaters. If your ducks have sand and dirt around them, you can start to give them “treats” along with their regular feed. But be careful, do not go all in.

Water is an essential commodity for ducks. They tend to soften their food with water by going back and forth and then can swallow. Make sure you have fresh water available always.

Adult Stage (21 weeks+)

Adult Stage (21 weeks+)
Michel Rathwell from Cornwall, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At this stage, your ducks have grown up and are reaching maturity. They are getting themselves ready to lay their first eggs. At this point, you can replace the existing feed to regular chicken layer feed or even waterfowl layer feed, if available. There is no need for niacin supplements for the ducks anymore.

Chicken layer feed should contain at least 16% protein and calcium so that they can form eggshells. Shell grits are a great source of calcium; thereby, make sure you have crushed and added it to their diet. At this stage, mixed grains and pellets are the best kinds of food.

If you have only drakes in the flock, or your ducks are too old to lay eggs, you can provide them with a maintenance diet that has 14% protein content. It helps them to control and have a healthy weight. And like always, you need to provide them with plenty of fresh drinking water to swallow their feed.

Also Read: 9 Common Duck Predator to Look Out For

Duck Treats

– When your ducks start to grow, you can give them a taste of the treats that they will love you for, besides their regular commercial feed. You need to maintain treats to be 10% of their daily meal. They love snacks and might ask for more. But do not go overboard.

– Bugs are ducks’ all-time favorite snack. They are excellent foragers, and they snack on any insect or bug present in the soil. Additionally, you can also give them any insect-like grasshopper, worms, and mealworms, and you will see the happiness in their behavior. They like to eat all the weeds and extra grass in the garden, hence cleaning it.

– Have you ever seen ducks enjoying their fruits? It is a fun and entertaining visual. Any extra fruit you can give them, and they will happily enjoy their treat. Fruits like strawberries, watermelons, pit fruits, and seeded fruits can instantly brighten up their day.

– Another very healthy treat for the ducks, which you will always have handy throughout the year, is vegetable and vegetable peels. Romaine lettuce is the vegetable they love and can go crazy for. If you have a kitchen garden and grow vegetables in abundance, you can feed your ducks all the leftover vegetables, and they will be overjoyed. Some of their favorite vegetables are corn, kale, zucchini, peas, and squash.

– Whole grains are another very special treat for the ducks. But it should be given in moderation; else, they tend to gain weight with whole grains. Grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, oats, or even quinoa are some special treats.

– Some other random high protein treats include warm oatmeal during winters, cooked rice, scrambled eggs, crushed oyster shells, plain yogurt, weed, and herbs, cooked pasta, live fish, etc.

The Food You Should Avoid Feeding Your Ducks

Everything is not safe for ducks to feed on. So, you need to be watchful of what your ducks are consuming than be sorry later. Here are some of the most generic food items that you should avoid feeding your ducks.

Citrus Fruits and Vegetables – the citric acid in these fruits and vegetables disturbs the ducks’ natural calcium absorbing capacity. This might lead to a thin eggshell or, at times, no shell at all.

Spinach – this also messes up with their systems and leads to low-quality eggs.

Iceberg Lettuce – when given in moderation, it is fine. But if they eat more, they can get diarrhea, which will make them weak and vulnerable.

Raw Dried Beans – this can be given only in fresh sprouted form. Raw beans are toxic to the birds.

White Potatoes, Purple Eggplants, and Green Tomatoes – all these vegetables fall in the nightshade family. Every part of these plants is proven to be toxic to the ducks.

Salty, Sugary, Or High-Fat Food – any kind of junk food and carbonated drinks are hazardous for ducks.

How to Feed Your Ducks

Ducks have a huge appetite. They tend to eat each and everything that falls in their eyesight.

Most people mix weeds with leafy vegetables and keep it for the ducks. From 4-20 weeks, ducks eat roughly 0.25 pounds per day. On the other hand, grown-up ducks will require somewhere between four to six ounces of feed every day. You can give them once or twice per day.

For ducklings, the food container needs to have a meal throughout the day. When ducks are hungry, they communicate with loud quacks. So do not worry, your ducks will never go empty stomach.

They are, therefore, straightforward to maintain and do not need special arrangements for feeding.

When food is given to the ducks, they usually come in a flock. So in ideal scenarios, you need to provide the food in large containers. It gives them the freedom to pick and choose whenever they want.

A suitable feeder can be an investment for the yard as it reduces spillage and prevents the food from getting contaminated with duck poop. They should be provided with a device on which they cannot climb on and poop in.

Another important device that you can need for your poultry is the waterer. Ducks can dirty their water very quickly and will drink on the dirty water. To avoid that, you need to get a poultry waterer, which they will not be able to climb. It should be hung from a wall.

Final Thoughts

If you love to feed pet animals, you are going to enjoy feeding ducks. They are not aggressive at all and love to forage around. Since they are giant feeders, you need to make sure there is sufficient feed for everyone. Especially for hens who are going to lay eggs, a protein-rich nutritious meal is essential. You will always have to make sure there is clean drinking water, as ducks can drink dirty, stinky water too. And you do not want your ducks to fall weak.

If you have young children around the house, you need to make sure that they do not feed anything and everything to the ducks. Ducklings are tender and petite, and they need extra care and attention. You need to look into their protein and vitamin requirements.

Ducks are genuinely remarkable birds with minimal demands. That’s what makes them excellent pets for your backyard.