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. Suggested nutrient levels for complete duck rations are listed in Duck Feed Formulation. These levels are set high enough to meet the requirements of all breeds of domestic ducks. Requirements more closely tailored to each particular breed are available, and are usually preferred by commercial duck producers. Because correct nutrient levels for a particular ration depend on the energy level of that ration (ducks eat progressively more feed as the energy level is lowered and progressively less as it is raised), nutrient requirements are listed in the Duck Feed Formulation in reference to a particular energy level.

Ducks, like chickens, have simple stomachs, and therefore cannot digest appreciable amounts of dietary fiber (cellulose, lignin). In contrast to chickens, however, ducks over four weeks of age have an exceptional capacity to consume large quantities of foodstuffs that are high in fiber. When such foodstuffs contain even small amounts of available energy, ducks may be able to consume enough of such foodstuffs to partially or even fully meet their energy requirements.  However when low energy foodstuffs, such as cereal by-products, are available at favorable prices, they can be incorporated into duck rations at fairly high levels, so long as the ration is well balanced.

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.

Minerals and vitamins
Minerals and vitamins required by ducks and suggested levels of use are listed in our Duck Feed Formulation (only those most important in practical rations are listed). Close attention should be paid to calcium, phosphorus and sodium. Note that the phosphorus requirement is expressed in terms of available phosphorus. A large amount of the phosphorus in plants is bound in the form of phytic acid which is unavailable to ducks and other fowl. A rule of thumb used by nutritionists is that only about 1/3 of the phosphorus in foodstuffs of plant origin (cereal grains, soybean meal etc.) is available to poultry. Close to 100% of the phosphorus in inorganic (mineral) sources such as dicalcium phosphate is available. If a duck producer mixes his own feed, the simplest way, and often the most economical as well, is to add vitamins and trace minerals. If it is not possible to use prepared premixes, the next best choice is to purchase the vitamin and mineral sources and make your own premixes. If neither of the above choices are feasible, it will be necessary to include foodstuffs, high in the vitamins and minerals that are lacking, in the ration.

Feeding Developing Breeders
Meat-type ducks, such as Pekins, that are kept as pets or breeding stock will become excessively fat (which is detrimental to their health and will impair their reproductive performance) if fed all they will eat during their development prior to lay. It is therefore necessary to limit their daily intake of feed to an amount that will supply all the necessary nutrients that are needed for proper development, while avoiding an excess of calories. For best results, feed restriction should begin at about 2 weeks of age but for practical reasons it is often begun at about 7 weeks. From the time restriction is begun, and up until the breeders are sufficiently mature (about 28 weeks of age for Pekin ducks), their daily feed intake should be limited to 60 – 70 % of the amount they would eat if allowed to eat all they want. Since the ducks are very hungry at the time of feeding, the feed must be spread out so that all ducks have a chance to eat. Feed can be spread out in long wooden troughs, on a cement slab or on the ground if the area is dry and clean

Feeding Laying Breeders
Nutrient levels that duck breeder Layer rations contain a higher level of calcium than other duck rations because of the laying duck’s need for additional calcium for egg shell formation. A level of 3.00% of the diet is adequate for most breeds of ducks including high egg producing breeds. When enough calcium is included in the ration, it is not necessary to feed oyster shells in addition. However, it will do no harm to make oyster shells available, as is the practice on some duck farms.

Some feed ingredients contain substances that are toxic to ducks, and should not be included in duck rations. Groundnut meal (peanut meal) is often contaminated with aflatoxin, a toxin to which ducks are highly sensitive. Groundnut meal should not be used unless tests have proven it to be free of aflatoxin. Rapeseed meal is another feedstuff that is potentially toxic to ducks. Some older varieties of rapeseed meal contain erucic acid and goitrogens at levels high enough to be harmful to poultry. Ducks are much more sensitive to erucic acid than are chickens and turkeys. Genetically improved varieties of rapeseed (Canola) contain much lower levels of these toxins. However even Canola meals should first be tested in ducks before their use in duck feeds on a large scale.

Feed Quality
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. 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.

Mash or Pellets
It is a well established fact that ducks grow faster, and utilize their feed more efficiently, when fed pelleted rations than when their feed is in mash form.  However, pelleted feeds are not available in many areas of the world, and it may be difficult for small flock owners to get their home mixed feed pelleted. The problem with feeding dry mash to ducks is that it forms a sticky paste when mixed with saliva, which cakes and accumulates on the outer ridges of the mouth. In attempting to free their bills of caked feed, ducks make frequent trips to water to wash their bills, causing feed wastage. For small flock owners who are not able to pellet their duck feeds, one solution to the problems of feeding dry mash is to feed wet mash. Water is mixed with the mash just before feeding. Enough water is added to form a thick mush without making it watery. Mix only what ducks will clean up within a day.