William F. Dean, Ph.D.
Regardless of how ducks obtain their food, whether it be by scavenging, or consuming a complete ration, the food consumed must contain all the nutrients, in an available form, that are needed for maintenance, growth and reproduction. Feeding practices will depend in part on the number of ducks raised. If only a few ducks are kept by a household, and they have access to areas where they can forage, they may be able to survive, grow and lay eggs by consuming available food such as green plants, insects, snails, frogs, and table scraps. Under such conditions, ducks will likely grow very slowly and produce a small number of eggs. Herded ducks are an exception, but they require access to large areas where food is available and the care of a herdsman. If keepers of small home flocks want better growth and more eggs they will have to provide supplemental feed. At a minimum they will have to feed some grain. As the size of a home flock increases, it becomes more likely that the flock will not be able to get enough food by foraging and supplemental feeding will become necessary. If more than a few ducks are to be kept, or if increased performance is desired, there are a number of choices of feeding practices: (1) If available and affordable, purchase nutritionally complete commercially prepared duck feeds. If duck rations are not available, and chicken feeds are, they will serve as a satisfactory substitute. (2) If poultry feed concentrates, which when fed with grain constitute a nutritionally complete diet, are available at a reasonable price, this may be a good option. The grain can sometimes be purchased from local farmers at a favorable price. (3) For those with sufficient knowledge of nutrition and feed formulation, complete duck rations may be mixed on the farm. This approach is dependent upon the availability of feed ingredients and vitamin and mineral premixes at affordable prices. Small batches can be mixed by turning the feed on a clean floor with a shovel.
Nutrient requirements of ducks
Ducks require the same nutrients as chickens, but in slightly different amounts, and particularly in terms of the ratio of each nutrient to the energy concentration of the diet.
Ducks, like other poultry, do not actually require "protein" but the individual amino acids contained in dietary proteins. The proteins in the diet are broken down during digestion to amino acids which are absorbed and used by the duck to make its own body proteins, such as those in muscle and feathers. Certain of these amino acids must be supplied in the diet because the duck cannot make them from other sources. These are called essential amino acids. When formulating feeds for ducks, primary attention is paid to meeting the ducks essential amino acid requirements. Protein levels that meet the ducks amino acid requirements may vary slightly, depending upon the amino acid content of the ingredients used in each formulation.
One of the most common causes of poor feed quality is failure to dry grains and other feedstuffs properly before storage. If grains that are too high in moisture are stored, without turning or aeration, the grain will heat up and mold and some of its nutritive value will be destroyed. As explained elsewhere, some molds may produce toxins that are particularly harmful to ducks. Make sure that the grains and other foodstuffs used in duck feeds were properly dried and are free of molds and other contamination. If table scraps, bakery waste, wet mash or other feeds high in moisture are fed, feed only what ducks will clean up in a day. If such feed remains in troughs longer, it will likely become moldy. Feedstuffs that are to be stored for very long should contain no more than 10-12% moisture.
Plenty of clean drinking water should be available to ducks at least 8-12 hours per day. In some management systems it is advantageous to shut off feed and water at night to help maintain litter inside buildings in a dry condition. This applies to breeder ducks or market ducks over 3 weeks of age. If done properly, this practice is not harmful and has no effect on performance during periods of moderate temperatures. During periods when temperatures are above 90ºF, drinking water should be available in the evening until the temperature has dropped below 80°F, or else made available all night. Ducks do not require water for swimming in order to grow and reproduce normally. However, providing some water for wading or swimming can be beneficial, especially in hot climates. Ducks can expel excess heat through their bill and feet when allowed contact with water that is appreciably below their body temperature (107°F, 41.7°C). Water temperatures of 50-70°F (10-21°C) are ideal for ducks.