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Can Ducks Eat Chicken Feed?

Can Ducks Eat Chicken Feed

Ducks, wild and domestic, have specific dietary needs that must be met to ensure their health and well-being.

Understanding and fulfilling these dietary requirements is essential for responsible duck ownership.

In short, ducks can eat chicken feed, but it requires additional supplementation to be safe and fully meet your flock’s needs.

We’ll get into the nitty-gritty details of why and how (and more) below.

Understanding a Duck’s Dietary Needs

Before we talk about introducing ducks to chicken feed, it’s important for us to understand what ducks need in their diets in the first place.

This allows us to make the best, most educated decisions for our flocks while on the fly, such as in the feed store when faced with dozens of different feed options.

Ducks are Omnivores

Ducks are omnivorous birds, which means they have a varied diet that includes both animal and plant matter.

Some fowl can manage on herbivore diets—ducks cannot.

Their diet should also consist of a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is particularly crucial, especially for growing ducklings and breeding adults, as it supports muscle development and egg production.

Ducks Need a Lot of Water Near Their Food

Yes, all poultry and livestock should always have access to clean water, but this is of utmost importance for ducks.

Water is not only essential for hydration but also plays a vital role in their digestion process. Ducks often use water to help swallow their food, and it aids in breaking down food in their gizzard.

Without water near their food source, they are prone to choking.

Many ducks will actually dip their pellets in their water while eating, which is why the water should be as clean as possible (we acknowledge that is difficult with how messy ducks are) and very close to the food.

ALSO READ: Ducks Need Water

Critical Components of a Duck’s Diet


Ducks are opportunistic feeders and will happily consume insects and small invertebrates if they find them.

Insects like worms, snails, and even small fish can provide additional protein and are a natural part of a duck’s diet, especially for ducks that have access to ponds or water bodies.

Duck & Age

% of Protein Needed

Ducklings up to two weeks old

20-22% protein

Ducklings three to eight weeks old

16-18% protein

Ducks nine to twenty weeks old

15% protein

Adult ducks that are maintaining their weight, not laying, and not molting

12-14% protein

Adult layer ducks

16-18% protein


14% protein

Molting adult ducks

15% protein (drop to 12-14% when the molt ends)

Vitamins and Minerals

A diverse and healthy supply of leafy greens and vegetables will provide your ducks with most, if not all of, their vitamin and mineral needs.

Offerings like lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, and even small pieces of fruit can be part of their diet.

These foods contribute to their overall health and can be a source of enrichment for ducks.

If your ducks have access to a natural pond with lots of native vegetation, they can source a lot of these greens on their own—plus it’s great for your birds and the environment.

Niacin is a key component of duck nutrition, especially in ducklings. It is not included in chick feed, so if you opt to use chick feed, find a way to supplement it.

Brewer’s yeast powder added directly to the water or feed is an easy option.

Grains and Seeds

Ducks enjoy a variety of grains and seeds, such as cracked corn, wheat, barley, and oats.

These grains provide carbohydrates and energy, but they should be part of a balanced diet, as an excessive intake can lead to obesity.

Scatter-feeding grains and seeds can also stimulate natural foraging behaviors in ducks, which is great for stimulating their minds, encouraging socialness between individuals, and building up muscle as they walk or swim to forage.

can ducks eat chicken feed vs duck feed

Key Differences Between Duck Feed and Chicken Feed

Niacin Differences

Chicken feed often does not include Niacin (vitamin B3). This is essential for ducks, they need it for their legs’ development and overall wellbeing.

Protein Content

Chicken feed may have more protein than duck feed; too much protein for too long can be harmful to ducks.

Always read the ingredient labels!

Calcium Levels

Duck feed has less calcium than many chicken feeds.

Ducks do not need as much calcium, and too much calcium over long periods of time can be harmful to ducks (and all barnyard fowl in general).

Pellet Size and Compactness

Duck feed has much larger pellets that are not nearly as compacted as chicken feed.

This is because ducks prefer to dabble in the water, so it’s ideal for the pellets to break apart when introduced to water. Chicken feed is small and compact, perfect for pecking behavior.

Many duck feeds are also designed to float so they’re easier for ducks to find and eat.

Chicken feed will often sink to the bottom of the pond or pool, and it will not break apart, making it more difficult for the ducks to pull out the nutrients they need, even after being ingested.

What Is Duck Feed Made of?

Knowing which ingredients are used to make duck feed and their nutritional benefits will really help you better understand how well-suited the feed is (or isn’t) for your waterfowl.

Composition of Commercial Duck Feed

Here are two common national duck feeds that you may find in your local feed store.

purina duck feed

Purina Duck Feed

Ingredients are not listed, but here are the nutrients:

  • 19% crude protein (minimum)
  • 1.1% lyside (minimum)
  • 2.3% crude fat (minimum)
  • 5% crude fiber (maximum)
  • 0.75% to 1.25% calcium

Kalmbach All Natural Duck and Goose Food

Kalmbach All Natural Duck and Goose Food

Main Ingredients (this is not a complete list):

  • Corn
  • Soybean meal
  • Corn distillers grain with solubles
  • Wheat middlings
  • Vegetable oil
  • Calcium carbonate


  • 18% crude protein (minimum)
  • 1% Lysine (minimum)
  • 3% crude fat (minimum)
  • 5% crude fiber (maximum)
  • 0.8% to 1.3% calcium

Duck Feed Main Ingredients and Nutritional Content

Grains (Carbohydrates)

Duck feed typically includes a variety of grains, such as corn, wheat, barley, and oats. These grains provide carbohydrates and serve as a primary energy source for ducks.

If you buy locally sourced duck feed, these grains will vary from region to region.

For example, corn is more readily available in the Midwest, while wheat is more common in the western states.

Grains are a carbohydrate and good calorie source, which gives fowl the energy they need.

Protein Sources

High-quality protein sources are essential in duck feed. Common protein sources include soybean meal, fish meal, and canola meal.

Protein is crucial for muscle development, egg production, and overall growth. Most duck feed ranges from 12-22% protein, depending on the duck’s age and purpose.

Vitamins and Minerals

Duck feed is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, and others.

These nutrients are vital for overall health, bone development, and eggshell formation.

Ducks need the following minerals:

  • 0.4% to 0.8% potassium
  • 0.75% to 3% calcium
  • 0.3% to 0.4% available phosphorus
  • 0.05% magnesium
  • 0.14% sodium
  • 0.12% to 0.16% chloride
  • 20 to 80 mg/kg iron
  • 50 to 70 mg/kg manganese
  • 1.5 to 8 mg/kg copper
  • 40 to 100 mg/kg of zinc

Fats and Oils

Duck feed may contain fats and oils to provide essential fatty acids and promote skin and feather health. Most ducks need up to 4-6% fat in their diet.


Rice bran and seed hulls are popular fiber sources because they are low-priced and high in fiber.

They are also incredibly low in calories. Ducks need 4-6% of fiber.


Some feeds may contain additives such as probiotics, prebiotics, or enzymes to support digestion and gut health.

waste-based chicken feed for chickens

What Is Chicken Feed Made Of?

Knowing the ingredients and nutritional value of chicken feed, and then comparing that to the needs of your ducks will make it possible for you to choose and alter chicken feed to be safe for your ducks.

Composition of Commercial Chicken Feed

Here are two common national chicken feeds that you may find in your local feed store.

Purina Flock Raiser chicken feed

Purina Flock Raiser Chicken Feed

Purina chicken feed does not list ingredients, but here is the nutrition:

  • 20% crude protein (minimum)
  • 1.1% Lysine (minimum)
  • 3.5% crude fat (minimum)
  • 5% crude fiber (maximum)
  • 0.8% to 1.3% calcium

Kalmbach Flock Maintainer Chicken Feed

Kalmbach 16% Protein Flock Maintainer Chicken Feed

Kalmbach chicken feed consists of the following ingredients (this is not a complete list):

  • Corn
  • Soybean meal
  • Dried corn distillers grains with solubles
  • Wheat middlings
  • Vegetable oil
  • Calcium carbonate


  • 17% crude protein (minimum)
  • 0.75% lysine (minimum)
  • 3% crude fat (minimum)
  • 5% crude fiber (maximum)
  • 0.75% to 1.25%  calcium

Chicken Feed Main Ingredients and Nutritional Content

Grains (Carbohydrates)

The most often used grains are corn, wheat, barley, and oats.

Protein sources

Chickens need proteins for muscle development, egg production, feather (keratin), and overall health and growth.

Soybean meal, canola oil, vegetable oil, fish meal, and animal byproducts like bone meal or meat are commonly used.

Vitamins and minerals

Chicken feed is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to ensure chickens receive the necessary nutrients for good health and egg production.

This includes vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Fats and oils

Chicken feed may contain fats and oils to provide essential fatty acids that support skin and feather health and serve as an additional energy source.


Chickens need very little fiber, but this is commonly added into mixes because it’s a cheap filler ingredient that lowers the cost of production.

This is why nutrition labels typically list the maximum amount of fiber.


Chicken feed may contain additives like probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes, or antioxidants to support digestion, gut health, and overall well-being.

This varies greatly depending on the brand or farm that mixes the feed.

What Will Happen If I Only Feed My Ducks Chicken Feed?

Ducks that are exclusively fed chicken feed are more likely to develop the following issues.

Angel Wing Syndrome

Angel wing syndrome is believed to be caused by excessive protein and calorie intake, which is very possible with how much more protein and calories there are available in chicken feed.

This is also commonly seen in “park ducks,” which are exposed to the general public and fed entirely too much human junk food like bread and crackers.

Angel wing syndrome, also known as slipped wing or airplane wing, is a condition that primarily affects waterfowl, including ducks and geese.

It is a deformity of the wing where the last joint of the wing, known as the carpal joint or wrist joint, becomes twisted or distorted, causing the wing to jut out at an unnatural angle from the body.

This deformity gives the appearance of the wingtip pointing outward, resembling an angel’s wing, hence the name “angel wing syndrome.”

The most apparent sign is the distortion of one or both wings, causing the wingtips to stick out at an abnormal angle.

Ducks and angel wing syndrome often lose their ability to fly due to the misaligned wing. This can make them vulnerable to predation and other environmental hazards.

Affected birds may also exhibit feather abnormalities in the affected wing, including twisted or frayed feathers.

Niacin Deficiencies

Niacin deficiency is a health condition that occurs when ducks do not receive an adequate amount of niacin (vitamin B3) in their diet.

After all, niacin is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in various metabolic processes within the duck’s body.

Signs of this deficiency in ducks:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Leg abnormalities, including lameness, painful and swollen joints, odd walking behavior, frequent sitting down, or other signs of discomfort.
  • Deformed beaks. If this continues for too long, the duck will curve or twist.
  • Diarrhea
  • Stunted growth
  • Lack of feathers or baldness
  • Neurological issues, like tremors, seizures, or general clumsiness


Obesity is uncomfortable for your ducks and it can decrease their quality of life while also shortening their expected lifespan.

Obese ducks tend to have a poor fat-to-muscle ratio, which makes them less active and bored, and it even makes their meat less desirable in most cases. Avoid obesity in your flock whenever possible.

duck eating duck feed

How to Make Chicken Feed Safe for Ducks to Eat

Chicken feed is cheaper than duck feed, and sometimes duck feed is more difficult to source because many feed stores don’t carry as much of it (compared to chicken feed).

And sometimes you just miscalculate how much feed you have left and run out of feed at an inconvenient time.

If any of this happens, don’t worry! Because for the most part, chicken feed is safe for short periods of time.

You can feed it for a few days, and your flock should not have any adverse reactions or issues.

If, however, you want to give chicken feed to your ducks for the long term, you’ll have to alter the feed to make it safe and sustainable for the flock.

Incorporate Brewer’s Yeast or Niacin Supplements

Brewer’s yeast (5%) is a good source of vitamin B3, and it can prevent niacin deficiencies. Niacin is not stored in the duck’s body, which is why you need to provide it on a consistent basis.

Mix about a tablespoon and a half of the yeast into every one cup of chicken feed that you give your ducks.

You could alternatively add 500mg of liquid niacin supplement to every four gallons of water.

Reduce the Protein Percent with Rolled or Crushed Oats

Chicken feed tends to have more protein than duck feed.

For ducklings, you can offer chick starters, but you’ll need to mix in some additives to reduce your protein percentage.

If you can find a 16%-18% chick starter, it is fine as is (but this is not easy to find). For chick starters with a higher protein content, mix in rolled oats.

Mix four parts of chick starter to one part rolled or crushed oats.

Juvenile ducks (ages two weeks and older) can eat 15% “flock feed” without issue.

Laying ducks will need 15%-16% protein, many laying hen (chicken) feeds contain 15%-19% protein, so your ducks can eat that without worrying about too much protein intake.

You can temporarily switch your ducks to 19% laying feed for a week or two if they are laying eggs while going through a serious molt.

Let Them Free Range or Use Natural Ponds

If you have to feed your ducks some chicken feed, give them access to free range or swim in natural ponds with lots of vegetation.

This will give them the freedom to forage for what they need and balance out nutrients on their own.

You shouldn’t fully rely on your ducks to care for themselves, but this has the potential to be more beneficial for their overall health and nutrient levels.

Want to build your own natural pond? Here is How to Build a Beautiful and Functional Duck Pond (Step by Step).

How to Observe and Identify Duck Dietary Issues

Being able to identify duck dietary issues is essential for ensuring the health and well-being of your ducks. Also, it will make you a much better and more confident duck keeper.

Here are a few signs and symptoms of duck dietary issues:

  • Slowed or stunted growth
  • Lethargy, tiredness, or dulled personalities
  • Underdeveloped or irregularly shaped feathers– or baldness
  • Lameness, clumsiness, or swollen joints
  • Curved or twisted beaks
  • Reduced or stopped egg laying
  • Obesity
  • Excessive manure production
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced mobility, tiredness, or “laziness”

How to Adjust Diets to Address Dietary Issues

  • Talk to a trusted expert, be it a seasoned duck keeper, veterinarian, or knowledgeable feed store employee. They can help you troubleshoot your issues and find the most ideal solution to helping your ducks.
  • If your duck seems to be overfed, lower the calorie intake, feed fewer fatty treats, and ensure your ducks have enough space and enrichment to exercise. Consider feeding on a schedule, or let your ducks free range more to encourage movement and foraging.
  • Supplement as needed. Angel wings, sore legs, inflammation, or curved or twisted beaks may indicate a niacin deficiency. Increase the amount of niacin offered.
  • Monitor their health and reevaluate their wellness on a weekly basis at the bare minimum. Be willing to make changes as needed.

Summary of what to feed ducks

What Can Happen If a Duck Has an Unbalanced Diet?

If a duck experiences malnutrition or an unbalanced diet, they can develop several health issues or other complications.

Some of the most common issues are:

  • Poor growth, reduced egg production
  • Key vitamin deficiencies (usually vitamin A or vitamin B3– niacin)
  • Mineral deficiencies (typically calcium or phosphorus)

These will slowly lead to weaker immune systems, blindness or weak bones, or poor bone development in general.

Obesity, digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea), lameness, deformities, angel wing syndrome, or slipped tendon are other major problems.

Reproductive failures include reduced egg production, infertile eggs, egg binding, or weak ducklings (that may or may not survive).

Ducks may start acting differently if they’re chronically malnourished or suffering from nutritional deficiencies. They may start showing signs of stress, aggression, or act disoriented.

Finally, chronic health issues typically lead to a poorer quality of life and a shortened lifespan.

Can Ducks Eat Chicken Feed? Final Thoughts

In conclusion, while ducks and chickens share some dietary similarities, it’s essential to remember that they have distinct nutritional requirements.

Ducks can consume chicken feed “as is” to some extent, but it’s not an ideal long-term solution.

Chicken feed lacks certain nutrients, like niacin, essential for ducks’ health that you will need to supplement if you want to give chicken feed over the long term.

Offering specialized duck feed or formulating a balanced diet that meets their specific needs is the best practice.

Understanding and meeting these dietary requirements will keep your ducks healthy and ensure their overall well-being, whether they are beloved pets or part of your poultry flock.

Prioritizing their nutrition is a vital step in responsible duck ownership.

Additional Resources on Duck Nutrition

Was this article helpful?

We have created plenty of free and in-depth resources on duck nutrition.

Take the time to read them and use this information to make you a better and more confident duck keeper.

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