Though ducks enjoy eating slugs, plants, snails, frogs and an assortment of insects, they aren't likely to get adequate nutrition just from foraging. They need food formulated to meet their dietary needs. Those needs are similar to chicken's nutritional requirements, but not quite the same. However, in a pinch, it's sometimes OK for ducks to eat chicken feed.
The nutrients that ducks require for a healthy diet remain the same throughout their lives, though the amounts of those individual ingredients change depending on their stage of life and whether they're egg-laying females. According to Metzer Farms, a commercial poultry ranch, ducks require:
- Crude fat
- Crude fiber
- Linoleic acid
- Vitamins A, D, E, K and B-1, 2, 6 and 12
Although crude protein is also listed, what ducks actually need are the distinct amino acids that make up proteins:
- Total Sulphur Amino Acid (TSAA)
Differences in Needs
According to the Duck Research Laboratory at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, ducks and chickens benefit from the same nutrients, so you'll likely see the same ingredients listed on the labels of chicken feed and duck feed. However, ducks need a slightly different amount of each ingredient, so although duck and chicken feed may appear the same, they really aren't.
Chicken Feed is OK Occasionally
Because of the differences in ducks' and chickens' nutritional needs, the New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences advises against substituting chicken feed for duck feed on a regular basis. However, both the University of Minnesota Extension and North Carolina State University/A & T State University Cooperative Extension say chicken feed is an acceptable substitution if duck feed isn't available. Both extensions do provide a warning when feeding chicken feed to ducks, as it sometimes contains medications that are unsafe for ducks.
What About Cracked Corn?
Corn is an ingredient in some poultry foods and, although it's OK to feed corn to both ducks and chickens, it isn't nutritionally complete. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says whole dried corn kernels are among the things you can feed to ducks, and it's an ingredient that's included in many commercial ration mixes formulated for ducks. You'll also find cracked corn in duck feed mixes and the University of Minnesota Extension lists cracked corn as a grain that's OK to feed to ducklings that are about 3 weeks old.
- University of Minnesota Extension: Raising Ducks
- North Carolina State University: Feeding Ducks
- Mother Earth News: Grow Your Own Poultry Feed
- New Mexico State University: How to Keep a Small Poultry Flock
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Backyard Bird Feeding
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Duck Nutrition
- Hindustan Animal Feeds: Duck Feed Ingredients
- Domestic Duck; Chris Ashton, Mike Ashton
- Metzer Farms: Nutritional Requirements for Ducks and Geese
- Poultry Keeper: Feeding Chickens - What Should I Feed My Chickens?