How to Feed Your Baby Ducks

two ducklings laying in the grass

Very few baby animals are cuter than baby ducks. Baby goats might have a very slight edge on the cuteness scale, but baby ducks are right near the top!! It is really hard to resist baby ducks when we see them in our local farm stores. Their little quacks and their adorable little duck feet are an automatic draw for most people perusing the baby chick aisle. I know I’m always tempted to pick them up and I know my kids ALWAYS ask if we can get some ducks!

What Is Different Between Raising Baby Ducks and Raising Baby Chicks?

If you have raised chicks in the past, then you will be well prepared for everything it takes to feed and care for baby ducks. Raising baby ducks is very similar to raising baby chicks. You can use most of the same feeders, waterers, brooder boxes, etc. The biggest difference in feeding baby ducks vs. baby chicks is the type of duck feed they eat and amount of water they will consume.

Unique Nutrient Requirements of Baby Ducks

Ducks do have some unique nutritional requirements. Compared to baby chicks, ducks grow exceptionally fast. Even in egg-laying breeds, it only takes a few short weeks for baby ducks to reach a mature size. Because of their exceptional growth, ducks require a lot of energy and a lot of extra nutrients in their duck feed to maintain their structure, bone strength, and body confirmation. If ducks do not receive proper nutrition in their first few weeks of life, they can be susceptible to poor leg development. The most common nutrient that you will hear about as a duck owner is niacin. Niacin is a B-vitamin; Vitamin B3 to be exact. Most animals can easily convert tryptophan – an essential amino acid – into niacin. However, waterfowl, including ducks, are not very good at this process. So, they require a lot more niacin from their feed. Ducks suffering from niacin deficiency may have legs that swell at the hock or become bowed. If not treated properly, it will eventually become very difficult and uncomfortable for these ducks to walk.

Feed Recommendations for Baby Ducks

To make sure your baby ducks get off to the perfect start, look for feeds that are specifically formulated and labeled to include ducks. These feeds will be fortified with all of the essential nutrients, including additional niacin, that ducks need to grow and thrive in their first few weeks. Check the tag of any feed product that you are considering for baby ducks. If you can’t find a niacin guarantee on your tag, call and ask the feed company if that product has enough niacin for ducks. It is always safer to ask and make sure you have the best product for your ducks. Believe me, we get asked this question all of the time and we are always happy to help give you peace of mind! In fact, at Kalmbach Feeds, we add a niacin guarantee to all of our feeds that are formulated and tailored for ducks!

Baby Ducks and Pellets

Another way that baby ducks differ from baby chickens is in the shape of their beaks. A baby chick’s beak is so small that they need a crumble or a mash feed in the first few weeks. However, since a duck’s bill is so much larger, most baby ducks can actually eat pellets from the first day that they hatch! Our 18% Duck & Goose feed is a mini pellet and it works great for ducks of all ages. I used it on the last group of baby ducks that I raised and they looked great! It also definitely helps that all of our mixed flock feeds and Duck & Goose feed contain LifeGuard® to naturally support a healthy gut and a strong immune system.

Ducks Love Water!

Water! Oh, the water! Anyone who has raised baby ducks can tell you that water is their FAVORITE thing. They will splash and spill and make a big mess in their water. However, this has a lot to do with how ducks eat and digest feed. Remember, they are waterfowl, so water is a quintessential part of their nutrition and digestion.

As we discussed in our Duck Nutrition article, young ducks will actually use water to consume and digest their feed. If you have ever watched a duck eat and drink, they are different from chicks because they will dunk their entire beak into their water source. They will also move between their feeder and their waterer while eating. Since their beak is wet, that moisture is transferred to their feed. Since their feed gets wet and sticky, they need to head back to the water to clean their beak! It’s a messy process and it does mean that you will be filling waterers and cleaning feeders for baby ducks more often than you need to with baby chicks.

Having Fun With Those Baby Ducks

As I mentioned earlier, raising baby ducks is very similar to raising baby chicks. You may be tempted to see your babies swim, but you should wait until ducklings have developed a full set of feathers, which usually takes 2-4 weeks, depending on breed. Without proper feathering, baby ducks cannot shed water well and could get chilled if they get wet. Once you see those feathers start to develop, start shopping for a nice kiddie pool! My ducks LOVE swimming in their kiddie pool, but the clean, clear water will turn murky in no time! I find the kiddie pool to be the most convenient “swimming hole” because I can easily empty it each day. I used to have a large water trough for the ducks, but it was too heavy to empty regularly and it would get quite unsanitary. Unless you have a large pond, the kiddie pool is probably the easiest and cleanest option for our water-loving, feathered friends! Remember, have fun and enjoy your ducks. A flock of ducks during the first spring rain is top-notch entertainment!


Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Jefferson has been a member of the Nutrition and Technical Services team at Kalmbach Feeds since 2013. She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2008 and has worked in the feed industry for over 15 years. She lives on a farm in Crown City, OH with her husband, John, and their children. Dr. Jefferson is a passionate poultry enthusiast and loves her chickens! Together, she and her family raise beef cattle and she keeps an ever-growing flock of backyard chickens.