Whether you’re raising ducks as pets, for their eggs, meat, or to eventually be released, nutrition is an important part of their lives—and good nutrition will help ducks live healthy lives! It’s true that the nutrition of ducks is similar to chickens, but there are key differences you should know about when deciding what to feed your ducks. If you’re concerned about what to feed your duck at each stage of its life, what not to feed your ducks, differences in diets, and more keep reading to “quack” the case and get your questions answered!


Basics of Duck Nutrition


Before we talk about feed, let’s talk about water briefly. Clean drinking water should always be available to your ducks (for at least 8-12 hours per day). Make sure this water doesn’t get too hot as one of the functions of water is to cool an organism during extreme heat! In addition, birds don’t eat as much if they don’t drink water. In general, ducks drink two times as much water as they eat food on a weight basis. With this in mind, making sure your ducks and ducklings have water is key to good nutrition.


Most ducks are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals in the form of insects, fish, and even worms! At different stages of their lives, ducks have different nutritional needs; as their main diet, they should always be fed an age-appropriate commercial feed. You can give your ducks supplemental vegetables and fruits like zucchini, peas, and non-citrus fruit, but only provide a maximum of 5% additional supplemental feed as their core diet should be a commercial balanced diet.


On the other hand, don’t feed ducks bread, onions, garlic, avocado, or citrus fruits like lemons as these foods are either toxic to them or can cause gastrointestinal problems. Finally, make sure that anything you feed your duck is not contaminated or moldy since ducks are extremely sensitive to mold toxins (aflatoxins)—which can cause damage to their liver, reduce growth, impact reproduction, and more.


From Birth to 2-3 Weeks of Age 


Three fluffy yellow baby chicks stand huddled together on green grass with weathered white wooden siding in the background. Photo by Meyer Hatchery.

Ducklings up to two to three weeks of age should be fed a duck starter crumble diet. They could also be fed pellets, but make sure that the pellets are at most 1/8 inch in diameter.

It’s not recommended to use chicken starter crumble or pellet feed, especially at this age! This is because chicken feed could be deficient in essential nutrients ducks need. For example, ducklings require about 20% more niacin than chicks. Any specially formulated duck starter diet will do; just make sure the protein content is 20-23%! Ducklings grow a lot during the first two weeks of their lives and hence need a lot of protein to maintain fast and adequate growth.


3-20 Weeks of Age 


Three young ducks with brown back plumage and yellow chest plumage forage in the dirt for food. Photo by Andrew Patrick on Pexels.


Ducklings can now be fed a grower diet with pellets about 3/16 inches in diameter. The protein content can be lowered to about 15%. You can also feed a good quality grower diet for

pullets (young chickens) to your ducks. Just make sure to check that the chicken feed still meets all the nutritional requirements for your ducks by comparing the nutritional contents on the bag to those on a duck feed bag. This can be challenging to confirm, so do your homework and talk to a veterinarian to confirm that the diet is appropriate.


Mature Ducks (20 Weeks and Older)


Sexually mature ducks now have very similar nutritional requirements to chickens! Given this, you can feed your ducks a good quality layer or breeder food that’s suitable for all adult ducks or chickens. However, it’s best to avoid medicated feeds, and whenever possible feed commercial diets that are marketed for or include ducks.


Pelleted vs Mash Feed


Pelleted feeds are recommended for ducks over mash feeds (although your ducks can be fed both)! Mash feed is finely ground and mixed so your ducks can’t easily separate out ingredients whereas pellet feed is essentially mash feed in a pellet or capsule form. With mash feed, growth performance in your ducks can be decreased by about 10% compared to feeding pelleted feeds. Feed wastage is also increased, but both forms of feed will have the necessary nutritional requirements for ducks!




It’s important to recognize that ducks have nutritional needs different from other poultry like chickens, especially at their early stages of development. By following the above guidelines, you can feed your ducks appropriately at all stages so they live long, healthy, and happy lives! Remember to provide clean drinking water and use appropriate commercial feeds. If you decide to provide supplemental feed, don’t provide over 5% of your duck’s daily total ration in supplements and make sure the supplements are not toxic to ducks. Finally, if your duck is experiencing health problems or you’re concerned about their diet, you can always speak with your local veterinarian.


Written by Reena Grewal, University of California, Davis Student alongside Maurice Pitesky and Joseph Gendreau, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.