Niacin (also known at Vitamin B3) is a vital nutrient that ducklings need to grow strong & healthy bones.
Anyone who has raised ducklings knows they grow crazy fast – sometimes it seems to happen right before your eyes. In the first two weeks of life, the average duckling gains 7 times their birth weight!! As a comparison, it takes a human baby 6-7 YEARS to gain 7 times their birth weight (and you thought your human baby grew up too fast!)
This super fast growth rate means they need a super amount of nutrition. Feeding your ducklings a proper diet in the first few months really can determine the quality of the rest of their life.
The ideal feed for ducklings is to find a specific waterfowl or duck starter feed. This should have all the nutrients needed to grow healthy, strong ducks. Waterfowl starter feed can be hard to find because more people raise chickens than ducks and most chick starter feed is marketed as appropriate for all types of poultry. The problem is that ducklings need 2-3 times the amount of niacin that chicks need.
What if my duckling doesn’t get enough niacin?
Niacin is needed for your duckling to grow strong bones and the effects can particularly be seen in their leg strength. In early-stage niacin deficiency, you will notice your duckling is reluctant to walk and move around. They might take a few steps and then plop down to rest. Their legs can appear shaky and they might rock back onto their hocks.
At this stage, the deficiency can still be fixed without any permanent damage. Niacin is not a nutrient that ducks can store in their body so it is necessary for you to provide supplements every day.
The longer the deficiency goes on, the more permanent the damage can be. After a couple of weeks, your duckling will start to have bowed legs and will not want to move about very much, as walking can be painful for them.
Depending on the severity of it, their legs can become so deformed or walking so painful that the duckling can die within just a few weeks because it is too hard for the duckling to move to get food & water.
How to supplement your duckling’s diet
In the wild, mother ducks are constantly foraging for themselves & their babies. They eat a lot of fish, bugs, crustaceans, amphibians, seeds & weedy greens to get plenty of natural sources of niacin. You don’t have to spend the day foraging for your baby ducks though. There are easy-to-use dietary supplements that you can add to your duck’s feed.
This is probably the most used supplement for duck owners for extra niacin. Available widely at health stores, natural food stores, or online, brewer’s yeast is commonly used in bread making and beer brewing. It is often taken by humans as a nutritional supplement good for boosting immune & digestive health. Nursing mothers have also found it helps increase their milk supply.
For your ducklings, you can mix 1.5 tablespoons of brewer’s yeast into each cup of feed. I like to put the brewer’s yeast right on the top of the feed so they will be sure to get some before it all settles to the bottom. You can also try wetting the feed slightly so the powdery yeast will stick to it (just don’t wet too much at a time, you don’t want moldy feed!).
Niacin (or B3) is water soluble, so you can also buy it in liquid form to mix into your duck’s water. Alternatively, buy vitamin B3 tablets, open them, and sprinkle the contents into the water. You want to try and get about 500 mg of B3 per 4 gallons of water. This can be tricky because ducks waste so much water, it’s hard to know if they are splashing it around or drinking it!
If you have one bird in particular that seems to be struggling, I would get the liquid B3 and administer 10-20 mg daily to that bird to be sure they are getting what they need on top of the general water supplement.
How long do I need to supplement my duckling’s diet?
You will want to continue with the supplements until your ducks are fully grown (around 18 weeks). At this time, your ducks will be getting ready to lay their first egg and you will be switching over to layer feed. Click here to read more about feeding your ducks for life
Adult ducks still require niacin in their diet, but the needs are not as high as when they are fast-growing ducklings. If your ducks have the chance to free range, they will likely get enough niacin by eating tasty bugs all day long.
If your ducks don’t free range at all, you can add special treats of dried mealworms, crickets, peas, sweet potatoes, chicken or turkey meat, fish, and pumpkin. You can also continue to supplement their diet with brewer’s yeast or liquid B3 at about half the amounts you gave them as ducklings.