Feeding Ducks and Chickens

Learn the best feed mixes to produce high-quality eggs from your backyard poultry flock.

| December 2012

  • Ducks Eating
    You can feed ducks in your backyard garden flock simply and effectively with tips from "The Resiliant Gardener" by Carol Deppe.
    Photo By Fotolia/goodluz
  • The Resilient Gardener By Carol Deppe
    Scientist and gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields — resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health and medicine. In the last half of “The Resilient Gardener,” Deppe extends and illustrates these principles with detailed information about growing and using five key crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash and eggs.
    Cover Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

  • Ducks Eating
  • The Resilient Gardener By Carol Deppe

Ducks are wonderful creatures that add value and resilience to any garden, plant scientist Carol Deppe writes. In her practical and thorough book The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing 2012), Deppe explains the joy of raising ducks and chickens for self-reliant food production and garden pest control. To get those great eggs, though, you have to understand the art of feeding ducks and chickens. In this excerpt from “The Laying Flock,” a chapter of The Resilient Gardener, find tips on how to keep your flock well-fed, even in hard times. 

Buy this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.

Feeding the Free-Range Ducks and Free-Range Chickens in Ordinary Times

I assume you have access to commercial feeds. I also assume you have a relatively small flock—anything from a handful to a hundred or so layers. (For bigger flocks, you will be milling your own feeds or having them custom-milled to your specification.) In the next section I’ll talk about “hard times” poultry feeding—feeding poultry with little or no access to commercial feeds.

First, I suggest feeding free-range ducks commercial chicken chow, not commercial duck chow. Duck chow is a specialized product that costs more. The chicken chow usually turns over faster in the feed store, thus is fresher. Free-range birds with decent forage get enough vitamins and minerals so that the difference in the exact needs between ducks and chickens is not an issue. (Ducklings do need extra niacin, though.)

However, do not feed medicated chicken chow to ducks. Some chicken medicines kill ducks. Also, do not feed ducks chow with fish meal in it. Fish meal gives duck eggs a fishy or off-flavor. I advise against using chows with animal by-products in them. (People, cattle, and sheep can get mad cow disease from animal by-products in poultry chow.)

Your basic duck or chicken book will have at least one chapter on feeding ducks and chicken and separate information on feeding babies. However, everything will be oriented toward the flock that is fully confined and that is fed the commercial chow as 100 percent of their diet. The usual advice is to feed adult laying birds a 16 percent protein laying chow (which has high calcium to support eggshell production). However, the chow has a fixed amount of energy and protein. When birds are running around outdoors their needs change from day to day depending upon the forage and the weather. In addition, free-range birds dilute the total calcium in their diet with their foraging and lay soft-shelled eggs. You can correct the latter problem by giving the birds oyster shell grit free choice. But it’s more useful to take a completely different approach with free-range poultry. I’ll describe the smorgasbord feeding pattern I use with my ducks. The same pattern is used by people with free-range chicken laying flocks.

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