We started the ducks on Mazuri waterfowl starter formula, and then switched them to Mazuri waterfowl breeder formula. They did great on the Mazuri breeder for five years, and then we began having supply problems. In the spring of 2007 I started buying Southern States layer pellets, and the ducks have done fine on that. It’s about $12 per 50 pounds as opposed to $25 for the Mazuri, and since they’re not laying the way they used to, I appreciate the savings. I can’t say, though, whether they’d have laid as well on the Southern States feed in their prime.
Do not feed your ducklings chicken feed! Adult ducks can manage on chicken feed or on generic poultry feed, but growing ducklings need more niacin than chicks, and without that nutrient they can develop weak or bowed legs. (They may get all the niacin they need from fresh pasture and bugs, but I think it’s best not to take chances.)
Also, be sure not to buy medicated feed. Ducks eat more than chickens — ducklings, especially — and too much of the medication can make them sick. Ducks tend to be healthier than chickens, anyway, and don’t need the preventive medication.
Feeding schedule and supplements
We feed them from two plastic dog bowls, which we refill morning and evening as necessary. We’ve found it simplest to let them eat as much as they want; they do well regulating their own feeding. How much they eat depends on the time of year: they eat more in colder weather to stay warm and to make up for the lack of bugs and fresh grass. At present, in winter, they go through a 50-lb. bag of food (which costs us $24) in about four weeks. That’s about twelve cups of food a day.
We supplement their “duck chow” with kitchen and garden scraps. They particularly like lettuce and other tender greens, but they also enjoy leftover grits, other whole grains, and most vegetables that are relatively tender and mild. We chop them up into manageable pieces before feeding (a food processor is helpful for larger quantities).
The produce staff of our co-op grocery store lets us scavenge from their leftovers for suitable duck food. Trimmings, slightly wilted leaves, and anything slightly past its prime goes into big garbage bins in the back room; while it can’t be sold, it’s perfectly healthy food, and the store is happy to let us have a few grocery bags full of greens each week.
And, of course, the ducks also eat whatever they find in the yard — bugs, grass, and (when we aren’t looking) parsley from the herb garden.
For water we use two poultry waterers, a five-gallon waterer in their daytime grazing pen and a two-gallon waterer in their night pen. These waterers are designed for chickens, though, and we’ve found that the ducks need deeper water than the shallow trays provide to keep their bills clean. Their swimming pool fills this need, but if for some reason we have to keep them in their night pen during the day, we give them a gallon bucket of water.