The information below isadapted from information provided by Cornell University’s Duck Research Lab.
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. Suggested nutrient levels for complete duck rations are listed in Tables 1a and 1b. 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 tables in reference to a particular energy level. For each type of ration, requirements for a high and a low energy ration are given. Requirements for rations with energy levels different from those listed in the tables, can be calculated using the nutrient/energy ratios in the tables. Examples of complete duck rations are listed in Tables 2a and 2b.
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. Examples of both high and low energy diets are included in Tables 2a and 2b.
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 Tables 1a and 1b (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. A good source of information on the amount of available phosphorus in foodstuffs is the NRC publication Nutrient Requirements of Poultry. 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 (those minerals listed in Tables 1a and 1b, other than calcium, phosphorus and sodium) in the form of commercially prepared premixes. 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. Books on duck and poultry nutrition (see References) provide helpful advice for preparing vitamin and mineral mixes.