Feeding ducks properly is a challenging act of balancing animal needs, production methods, productivity, local tradition and feeding costs. Commercial table duckling production is increasing worldwide, not only in India, China and Southeast Asia, where duck meat is consumed widely, but also in Europe and the United States, where duck meat is considered a delicacy and an alternative to poultry and pork.
The form of duck feed is one of the first decisions to be made when designing a new feeding program for table duckling production. Currently, there are three major feeding systems available to commercial duck growers.
Meal is the traditional form of duck feed, the same as employed in feeding chickens. Only, in the case of ducks, the lack of access to open water deprives then the opportunity to clean their bills and feathers from sticky feed remnants. This results in reduced feed intake and consequently reduced growth. Nevertheless, feeding a complete feed in the form of meal is a traditional method preferred by many duck producers, because it is simple and less expensive (per kilogram of feed) than available alternatives. It is also the preferred method for home-mixers, who prefer to buy a protein/mineral/vitamin concentrate and mix it with homegrown or locally bought cereals.
Feeding pelleted complete feed offers the benefits of an improved feed conversion rate and does not create the problems of sticky meal remnants, and it offers further benefits in logistics. But, in exchange, pelleted feed is more expensive per kilogram of feed. Nevertheless, most large-scale commercial growers appear to appreciate the benefits of pelleted feed and widely use it, especially if ducks are raised exclusively indoors. It should be noted that ducks appear to prefer pellets not only over meal but also over whole grain. When intermixed, the ducks spend considerable effort in discarding the grain in preference of the pellets.
3. Whole grain and supplement
As is the case with chicken, ducks can use whole grains without much loss in feed efficiency. Feeding ducks with whole grain continues to capture the interest of all growers as it reduces the need and expense for cereal grinding and enables the use of home grown or locally bought cereals.
For this method to succeed, ducks should be fed a protein/mineral/vitamin supplement (in meal or pelleted form, with the above pros and cons). This balance provides them with a complete diet suitable to sustain their full growth potential. And, here lies the challenge because achieving the right balance between cereal grain and supplement is quite difficult. This method has not been researched sufficiently, and when ducks are fed ad libitum, they tend to over consume one of the two parts (usually the more granular part) resulting either in over fattening or excessive feed costs.
Clearly, each duck feeding option has its proponents, but none can claim being completely problem-free. Indeed, it is up to each farm to select the right feeding system that suits its facilities, goals and technical expertise. Nevertheless, it should be evident that ducks require a different nutrition approach than chicken. Ducks deserve more research regarding their nutritional requirements, in accordance with their increasing importance worldwide.