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Just got ducks, what the heck do they eat?

 
Destiny Hagest
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Okay, that's a dumb question, I have a general idea of what ducks that have access to lots of forage space and a pond eat, but what about ducks living in my 1/2 acre sized yard, with no pond? We'll have a kiddie pool set up when the weather evens out a bit, but what can I feed them that doesn't suck?

We feed food scraps to our chickens, I'm assuming we can do the same with these guys, and we'll be starting a sunflower seed fodder system soon too. But what else? I'm sure I'll have to buy something to supplement as we get our systems in place, but does anyone have any clever suggestions?

I believe they're these handsome jumbo Pekins, we have three of them



I should mention, we live in the mountains in Montana, zone 3b
 
Miranda Converse
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They love peas!! They basically eat what chickens eat but they are pigs!! If you want to avoid store bought feed, you should look into duckweed. It's a tiny plant that grows on water and supposedly easy to grow. I tried, although not very hard, and wasn't successful. It's supposed to grow incredibly fast and has a high protein content. Probably not good for their whole diet, but could supplement a good chunk of it.
Not sure if you have a lot of frogs but they love those. Last year I had a kiddie pool that the frogs went crazy in, we had thousands of tadpoles for a couple months. The ducks loved it. Not a year round food source but still good for part of the year. I have so many birds now, I think they wiped out a majority of the frogs...

Well enjoy your new ducks, they are awesome!
 
Raven Sutherland
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in the garden area i place "duck boards" just cheapo 10 inch pine planks that
you can spray clean of duck poop and walk on to stay out of the mud.

under these boards insects seek shelter (cool and shady) and collect there so i will walk
out flip the board and sprinkle down some mash right where the board "was".
before i do this...
i also will hand pick some bugs ,collect a few worms, potato bugs ect to sprinkle down
in a straight line to condition them to hunt bugs on command essentially making them
encourage me to flip over more boards faster than i'm able to with a soft peck to my ankle.

soon they will be using their long necks to search the underside of your plants to find slugs
beetles and more importantly caterpillars that would otherwise go unnoticed ....

don't forget to provide some spots that have plastic trash can lids or other pallet rinsing water
areas for them to wash down their selections. Slugs are Slimey so keep that in mind.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Ah, thank you for that feedback! It's a little challenging, we're high altitude and such, so no amphibians up here, and insects only 4 months out of the year, unless you count this crazy El Nino we're having.

I'm going to try them with some food scraps tomorrow, the guy that gave them to us gave us a bag of chicken layer pellets he had been feeding them, but I'm not real keen on that at all. Our climate makes feeding systems tricky here.

I'm curious, do you let them free range, and do they stay in your yard well? We have them fenced in with their house in a small paddock right now, we were planning to leave them like that for a week to give them time to get acclimated with their surroundings, then let them have free run of the place. We have about an acre here. Do you think they'll stick around?
 
Dillon Nichols
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That climate does sound a bit challenging for ducks... When I was on a farm with ducks, they foraged probably 48+ weeks a year as snow/hard freezes weren't common; we did also feed them organic commercial feed year round as the areas they were in were not large enough to provide for them unaided....

My experience was with Muscovies rather than Pekins; with these, it was necessary to clip the pinion feathers of one wing if you wanted a fence to hold them. Doing this with ducklings just reaching maturity who haven't figured out how to fly *usually* meant it was never necessary again, as they don't get the idea that that it will work.

We did not let the ducks completely free-range, as we did the chickens; the chickens were protected by the roosters to a large degree, especially against aerial predators which were by far the biggest DAYTIME concern. With ducks, the drakes don't act like a rooster and look after their flock, so it was too dangerous for them to free range, and we kept them fenced in areas with a good amount of cover. Even keeping them fenced like this we lost some to an eagle, and had to increase the overhead cover with snow-fencing. (All fowl were locked up at night, as they would promptly be eaten otherwise...)

 
Miranda Converse
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I free range mine throughout the day and lock them up at night. I have about 9 acres but they tend to stay around the house for the most part. I have never clipped their wings and they always come back. The muscovies do tend to fly around a bit but it seems the older they get, the less they fly. My pekin has never flown anywhere. She's a tubby duck.
I don't have a complete perimeter fence so occasionally they will venture to the roadside to play in the drainage ditch after it rains. Pretty sure they have never attempted to cross the street though. I did have one female Muscovy that discovered one of my neighbors had a pond and decided she would rather sleep there than in the pen. She would disappear at dusk and be back by dawn. If they know where a good food source is, they don't tend to go far.
The only duck I have lost so far was at night. A raccoon found a weak spot in the fence and dug under. I always thought the ducks would be easy pickings since they are pretty slow and clumsy but the predators seem to be attracted more to the flightiness of the chickens. We've lost chickens to hawks and dogs primarily but neither of those have gotten the ducks...
 
Destiny Hagest
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Good to know - I'm thinking once we start free ranging we'll set up their kiddie pool. There's a creek across the street, but it's not within sight, hoping they stick around. They are just so darned handsome!
 
Miranda Converse
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Destiny Hagest wrote:Good to know - I'm thinking once we start free ranging we'll set up their kiddie pool. There's a creek across the street, but it's not within sight, hoping they stick around. They are just so darned handsome!


Start giving them peas now and they will never leave you alone!!
 
Destiny Hagest
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Miranda Converse wrote:

Start giving them peas now and they will never leave you alone!!


Haha, well now I'm off to go soak some peas for them! Do you feed them dry, or do you soften them first?
 
Miranda Converse
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We usually just buy unsalted frozen peas and thaw them so they are already soft.
It's the best way I've found to get untrusting ducks to warm up to us. Our first two ducks came from a bad place and were spastic if we got anywhere near them. So I spent some time just throwing peas to them from far away. I started throwing them closer and closer to me until they would eat straight out of my hands. Those two ducks are the most tame of all my ducks, even more so than the ducks that were born on my property!
 
Raven Sutherland
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my golden's love rice and chopped lettuce and steamed corn

getting big...healthy

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Nicole Alderman
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I notice a lot of people mentioning peas as duck food. And, ducks sure do love peas. BUT, according to Holderread's Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks, "Leguminous plants and their raw seeds" are toxic to ducks (page 296). In his section on making your own feed, he mentions that

Holderread wrote:"Substances they contain can inhibit digestion, be toxic and suppress development and growth, they must be used with certain precautions. Raw legume seeds of any kind should not be fed to poultry under most circumstances, especially in growing and breeding birds"
(pg 257-258 )

My ducks loved eating all my bean and pea seeds, and barely laid any eggs during that time.

According to http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/242460/the-ultimate-list-of-duck-treats-and-supplements, beans have hemagglutinin which can be toxic to ducks, and it's also in peas. Cooking, soaking and/or sprouting seems to reduce the hemagglutinin levels.

http://www.living-foods.com/articles/sproutmyths.html wrote:Soaking for 18 hours removed 65% of hemagglutinin activity in peas.Soaking for 24 hours at room temperature removed 66% of the trypsin (protease) inhibitor activity in mung bean, 93% in lentil, 59% in chickpea, and 100% in broad bean.


As for things my ducks love to eat that work as forage, they love dandelion leaves, young grass, dandelion seeds (but not flowers), grass seeds, and field oats. They also love eating berries that fall down (mulberry trees, blackberries, etc are all great for this).

Here's some other threads that may help:
http://www.permies.com/t/42858/permaculture/scratch-yard-plants-chickens-ducks,
http://www.permies.com/t/45930/plants/Easy-surface-sowing-seeds-duck,
http://www.permies.com/t/16222/ducks/critters/Growing-duck-feed

I hope that helps!!!
 
Bill Erickson
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I'm going to throw some of the experience that Justin Rhodes has shared with his vlogs. He has two ducks in with his chickens and they all eat the same things. He provides feed as needed, but he also feeds them all food scraps and excess produce from his garden. He uses the animals to prep his garden areas for the fertility they provide, as well as the work of "tilling" they do from scratching. He also uses lots of compost to keep the weeds down. Then he starts all his plants in starter flats in his little greenhouse so they have an advantage over the "weeds" when they start growing. I've been doing like him with my flock and tossing in the lamb's quarters and burdock that are in my yard, with running a 9'x9' tractor around the place instead of mowing. They are always happy at the end of the week or whenever they have wiped out what is there and I move them one length of the tractor to the next spot. Justin uses electronet and provides a larger area to forage than that, and puts his birds up in his "chickshaw" that he came up with, as well as some tractors and the like.

ETA: and his ducks are flourishing right alongside the chickens.
 
Destiny Hagest
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I'm not sure if it's because feed is all these ducks have ever known, but they act like they are just ravenously hungry if they don't get a solid 2 cups of chicken pellets a day. I only have enough food scraps for my chickens, but the ducks free range, and currently there's an abundance of grass and dandelion that they are totally passing over.

Do you guys think they're just spoiled to the pelleted food?
 
Nicole Alderman
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I don't know . My ducks range over 2 acres and they still were too skinny and not laying when I was feeding them 1/3 cup per duck per day. They now get about 2/3 cup each, and  their eggs are bigger (when they actually lay them!). All my ducks were either raised on our property free-ranging, or grew up foraging on other people's properties.

I wonder if part of it is that they want a balanced diet, and greens just don't give them that much protein, and so they clammor for the feed. My ten ducks have removed pretty much every slug on the property as well as most of the spiders, and I have about 1/3rd the dragonflies this year. So, I think they are doing a lot of foraging, but mostly for the protein sources. It's probably why they loves peas and green beans so much, as they are good sources of protein.

Also, ducks seem to have a harder time tearing things up than chickens do. They need their food to be soft or in itty bitty pieces or they don't eat it. I get the impression that chickens have no problem tearing food up with their scratching. My ducks like the tender grasses but not the hard, older grasses (they mow the lawn like crazy after a frost when the grass is tender, but barely eat it now that it is summer unless I mow so there's fresh growth).They do love eating seeds, though, and so anything you can get to grow to seed, they will love eating the seeds off of (dandelions, grass, oats). Mine do not like brassica seeds, though.

One thing I do to get them to eat more grass/weeds is to moisten or ferment their feed. And, then, when I go to feed them, I sprinkle it over the weeds or grass I want them to eat. They will generally manage to all the grass/weeds there to get every bite of feed off of it. So while they don't usually eat the tougher grasses, they will do a decent job if I put fermented feed on it.

You can also try just feeding them when you put them away (or, if you don't want a horribly poopy duck house, a little over an hour before you put them away so they poop most of it out before they go in!). But, if your ducks are like mine, they will just go to where they get fed and complain at you instead of eating, or will just sit around being hungry and try to conserve energy. I tend to feed them a few cups about four times/day to keep them happy and foraging. I have no idea if this is the best idea, though! I'm honestly still trying to figure out the easiest, most nutritious, cheapest way to feed these ducks is while still getting eggs!
 
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You might enjoy this thread - Do muscovies eat "anything"?
 
Nikki Thompson
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Destiny Hagest wrote:I'm not sure if it's because feed is all these ducks have ever known, but they act like they are just ravenously hungry if they don't get a solid 2 cups of chicken pellets a day. I only have enough food scraps for my chickens, but the ducks free range, and currently there's an abundance of grass and dandelion that they are totally passing over.

Do you guys think they're just spoiled to the pelleted food?


Hey Destiny!

We have a tiny homestead-ish thing going with ducks too. To answer your question, they act like they're starving because the feed probably has corn in it. The corn is a carb which is turned into sugar essentially and is why they, like us, crave it so badly. It is good to feed it to them to fatten them up and when you want to "train" them for whatever reason. For instance, when we are going to be gone for a while and can't let them free-range fully, we take a red cup of feed and guide them to where they need to be. Now they know 2 things: 1) When we grab the red cup, they're going to get yummies and 2) if they want the yummies, they have to go where the cup goes. Most of the time they know where to go so they beat us there and quack until we catch up, haha, but it works.

Also, I believe chicken feed is a lot higher in protein content than duck feed. Chickens require that to maintain a healthy diet, but ducks are water fowl and too much protein can actually harm them. Ducks need adequate calcium most of all though. This helps with proper bone development, feathers, eggs (the shells are supposed to be really hard and that's how they get to be hard), etc.

What is the purpose of your ducks? Companionship, food, eggs, etc.? Ours are all three, but you can care for them in different ways depending on what you're raising them for.

Here is a link to our homesteading forum if you're interested: https://permies.com/t/57360/homestead/Brandon-Nikki-Homestead
If that doesn't work for some reason just look up Brandon and Nikki's Homestead in the Homestead section.
It's not much, but it's a start!
Good luck with your ducks!!!
 
Destiny Hagest
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Nikki Thompson wrote:

Also, I believe chicken feed is a lot higher in protein content than duck feed. Chickens require that to maintain a healthy diet, but ducks are water fowl and too much protein can actually harm them. Ducks need adequate calcium most of all though. This helps with proper bone development, feathers, eggs (the shells are supposed to be really hard and that's how they get to be hard), etc.


I hate that we feed them chicken food! But I've been unable to find them actual duck food anywhere (though I confess I haven't looked online). Given our climate, supplemental feeds are pretty much essential until we have our own place, but I definitely don't like what I feed them, it feels yucky.

Nikki Thompson wrote:What is the purpose of your ducks? Companionship, food, eggs, etc.? Ours are all three, but you can care for them in different ways depending on what you're raising them for.


Their primary purpose is for egg production, though one of the three has stopped laying altogether, and the other two have tapered down recently - there are a lot of feathers around right now though, so I think this is the summer molt, and maybe that's the cause of that.

I really appreciate your help and advice! I'm so busy with household and work projects, and I would love to get a better system in place for these guys.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Destiny Hagest wrote:

I hate that we feed them chicken food! But I've been unable to find them actual duck food anywhere (though I confess I haven't looked online). Given our climate, supplemental feeds are pretty much essential until we have our own place, but I definitely don't like what I feed them, it feels yucky.


Their primary purpose is for egg production, though one of the three has stopped laying altogether, and the other two have tapered down recently - there are a lot of feathers around right now though, so I think this is the summer molt, and maybe that's the cause of that.

I really appreciate your help and advice! I'm so busy with household and work projects, and I would love to get a better system in place for these guys.



We feed ours organic poultry feed which is mainly for chickens but the key is whether it is their sole source of feed or not. If you let them free range (and we do), they get what they need as it is on their own which means that the feed is "extra." The feed gives them a boost of whatever they may be lacking, but it is also helpful to feed it to them to get them to follow a routine.

As far as nutrition goes with egg production, they need ample calcium. Their eggs are a lot thicker and harder than chicken eggs so that's why they need so much extra calcium. Another important thing is fresh water. We also have a kiddie pool that we keep up for them and as you know, they muck it up SUPER FAST! We redo ours every few days, but I'm sure that we should do it more often. If they seem groggy, I like to fix them a smaller container of water and add a little salt to it so it makes them thirsty. Then I give them a different container of water with crushed garlic in it for an immune boost. And then of course since I've done something odd to them and they were compliant, I give them treats such as crickets, worms, squash, etc. All of this is extra maintenance, but it sure makes for some healthy happy ducks and eggs.

Molts are necessary times for the birds to rest themselves. I've noticed that usually if one stops laying, they either all dwindle or stop and it takes a few months to start back.

Another factor of them not laying could be stress (temperature and predators). We've had both happen. It all levels itself back out though. 

Do yours fly? If you are around the house a lot, you could let them out to do their thing and just put them back up at night. Ours free ranged all day from 8a-8p until our neighbors across the road got poultry and they ventured over to visit and 2 got hit. (They're composting in the garden now.) Other than that they stay in the yard with us. Our muscovies still get adventurous, but they always come back. Now we still let them out at 8a and put them into a natural pool that's fenced in and let them out for a bit then put them up around 8p. It still works out though! That is at least what works for us right now. We, like you, want to have a better and easier system eventually. You just have to find what flows for you guys temporarily until it evolves into the next thing.
 
Destiny Hagest
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We actually let our ducks free range - they seem too big to fly, they can barely waddle across the yard (though they hasten their pace when they see us heading to the feed bin).

I live in central Montana, where slimy critters aren't plenty, the primary food sources right now are grass, grasshoppers, and dandelions. But of course, in a few weeks most of that will have dwindled as well, it's a tough climate to be sure.
 
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We "have" mallards  (both wild and the larger farmed varieties), Pekin, and, swans and geese. [our pond isn;t on our property, but on a park that adjoins our land, so we get visitors] Our feed store recommended dried hulled corn for all the ducks, and all, including the swans love it.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Destiny Hagest wrote:We actually let our ducks free range - they seem too big to fly, they can barely waddle across the yard (though they hasten their pace when they see us heading to the feed bin).

I live in central Montana, where slimy critters aren't plenty, the primary food sources right now are grass, grasshoppers, and dandelions. But of course, in a few weeks most of that will have dwindled as well, it's a tough climate to be sure.


Ah, haha. okay. I'm not sure about colder weather, but I've seen youtube videos and other podcasts that say the ducks just dig their bills into the snow and they find bugs that way. I'm not sure ultimately, but I do hope everything works out for the best! We have a homemade greenhouse we let ours into during the cold winter nights; they help heat the plants (and the other way) and the critters in the plants get eaten by the ducks. It got stinky pretty quickly, but we tried to keep it cleaned and we put bedding down for them too. Overall, it worked great!
 
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Mice!   I found a nest of newborn mice.   Letting them live was not an option, killing them personally was distasteful.   I put the bowl outside and the ducks/geese made short work of them.  

I don't supplement in the summer.   They find bugs, grass, creepy crawlies, frogs, spiders, etc. on their own and actually get fat off them.   In the winter, they get table scraps, crab apples, fish, goat's milk, whey.   If they are sneaky enough, they get some cat food.

What I have found they won't eat, or at least mine won't is lemon/orange rinds & lima beans.   They are not over fond of mint anything.  
 
Destiny Hagest
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Nikki Thompson wrote:We have a homemade greenhouse we let ours into during the cold winter nights; they help heat the plants (and the other way) and the critters in the plants get eaten by the ducks. It got stinky pretty quickly, but we tried to keep it cleaned and we put bedding down for them too. Overall, it worked great!


I thought about trying this actually! Our greenhouse is small, but might be big enough to house the ducks at least in the winter. I thought about having bedding and a compost heap, and then having plants on shelves during that time instead of planted into the ground (like they are now).

Did you have any issues with ducks damaging your plants?
 
Nikki Thompson
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Destiny Hagest wrote:
I thought about trying this actually!
Did you have any issues with ducks damaging your plants?


We did have problems with them tryin to eat the plants or digging them up trying to find bugs but when we put the plants up on a shelf they didn't seem as worried with them. Our (temporary) greenhouse was small too...I wanna say the bottom frame is about 6'x16' (an odd size) but they way it worked for us was to put up a mesh curtain half way so we had the plants in the back and the ducks in the front. When the cold season is over, all the bedding and duck poop makes a great mix to plant directly into!
 
Destiny Hagest
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Nikki Thompson wrote:
Destiny Hagest wrote:
I thought about trying this actually!
Did you have any issues with ducks damaging your plants?


We did have problems with them tryin to eat the plants or digging them up trying to find bugs but when we put the plants up on a shelf they didn't seem as worried with them. Our (temporary) greenhouse was small too...I wanna say the bottom frame is about 6'x16' (an odd size) but they way it worked for us was to put up a mesh curtain half way so we had the plants in the back and the ducks in the front. When the cold season is over, all the bedding and duck poop makes a great mix to plant directly into!


I love it! That really might being what we wind up doing, especially since it will help to keep our greenhouse warm. I think ours is maybe 10'x8'? We have 6 ducks, so it's definitely have to be just part of their winter setup, but I love the idea of them working on our compost while we put the plants on hanging shelves, totally doable!

Thanks for the inspiration
 
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I tried spraying plants I didn't want them to eat with tobacco sauce.   No effect.

I noticed they left my gourd leaves alone.   I made a strong tea of the gourd leaves and sprayed the plants they were eating.   It worked.   I head to keep spraying though.   As long as the plants they wanted to eat tasted like gourds, they stopped at a few nibbles.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Destiny Hagest wrote:
Thanks for the inspiration


Sure thing!!! Keep us updated on how it goes! Good luck!
 
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