Ducks roaming through the yard are a charming sight, especially when they happily gobble up food scraps or treats offered by admiring animal lovers. But what about commercially sold scratch grains made for chickens – can ducks eat those too?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, ducks can eat most scratch grains made for chickens. These grain mixes provide fiber, carbs, and protein that ducks need. But duck-specific food is still best to meet all of their nutritional requirements.

In this roughly 3000 word article, we’ll cover whether chickens and ducks have similar nutritional needs, which specific scratch grain ingredients ducks can and cannot eat, what percentage of their diet scratch grains should make up, and potential issues to watch out for when supplementing duck diets with scratch.

Nutritional Similarities And Differences Between Ducks And Chickens

Ducks Need More Niacin

Ducks require higher levels of the B vitamin niacin than chickens do. Niacin helps ducks properly digest and metabolize the proteins and fats in their diet. Without enough niacin, ducks can develop symptoms like diarrhea, weakness, and loss of appetite (source).

Most commercial duck feeds are fortified with extra niacin to meet ducks’ needs.

Ducks Need More Protein And Fat

On a percentage basis, ducks need diets with higher protein and fat contents compared to chickens. Ducks naturally eat a diet rich in aquatic invertebrates, fish, and aquatic plants in the wild, which provides them with high levels of protein and fat.

Here’s a comparison of typical diet requirements (figures are percentages of total diet):

Protein Fat
Ducks 16-20% 5-8%
Chickens 14-16% 3-5%

Feeding ducks a diet formulated specifically for their needs allows them to grow well and be healthy.

Metabolism and Digestion Differences

Ducks and chickens have some metabolic and digestive differences as well. For example, ducks absorb and retain certain nutrients like amino acids and calcium more efficiently than chickens do (source).

Additionally, ducks have a longer digestive tract compared to similar sized chickens, which gives their feed more time to be digested and nutrients absorbed. Ducks also have differences in how their gut microbiome and liver metabolize and detoxify feed ingredients.

Vitamins and Minerals

Ducks and chickens also differ in their vitamin and mineral requirements, as duck diets tend to be higher in things like vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, calcium, and phosphorus compared to chicken diets.

On the other hand, chickens often need slightly more supplemental salt added to their feed compared to ducks.

With some differences in their nutritional needs, it’s important ducks and chickens each receive a species-specific feed to support good health and growth. Checking feed tags and using feeds specifically formulated for ducks or chickens is the way to go.

Scratch Grain Ingredients For Ducks

Grains Ducks Can Eat

When it comes to feeding ducks scratch grains, there are several healthy options to choose from. Here are some of the best grains to offer ducks:

  • Whole corn – An excellent source of carbohydrates and energy. Corn contains linoleic acid, which helps ducks produce fatty oils for waterproofing their feathers.
  • Wheat – A good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Wheat contains vitamin E which is essential for duck reproduction and boosting the immune system.
  • Milo – Provides protein, energy, and essential amino acids like lysine. Milo supports muscle growth and egg production in ducks.
  • Oats – High in fiber to support digestion. Oats also provide B vitamins, iron, zinc, and selenium.
  • Barley – An easily digestible grain rich in phosphorus for bone health. Barley also supplies beta-glucans to reinforce the immune system.

When buying scratch grains for ducks, look for whole, unprocessed grains without artificial colors or preservatives. Feed scratch in moderation along with poultry feed to meet all of a duck’s nutritional needs.

Foods To Avoid In Duck Diets

While most grains are fine for ducks, there are some ingredients to avoid in scratch mixes and treats:

  • Cracked corn – The sharp edges can irritate a duck’s digestive tract.
  • Unsprouted legumes – Raw soybeans, peas, beans, and peanuts contain compounds that can be toxic to ducks.
  • Moldy grains – Can cause dangerous mycotoxins to build up in the duck’s system.
  • Meat scraps – Increase the risk of bacterial contamination.
  • Processed snacks – Pretzels, chips, popcorn and other salty snacks have low nutritional value.
  • Chocolate – Contains toxic theobromine that ducks cannot metabolize.

It’s also wise to limit scratch grain portions to no more than 30% of the total diet. Too much scratch can lead to obesity and related health problems in ducks. Focus on quality poultry feed, fresh greens, vegetables, fruits, and healthy table scraps to meet your duck’s needs.

How Much Scratch Can Ducks Have

When it comes to feeding ducks scratch grains, moderation is key. Here are some guidelines on how much scratch ducks can safely consume:

Scratch as a Treat

Scratch grains like corn, wheat, milo, oats, and barley make great supplemental treats for ducks. They provide extra calories and nutrients. However, scratch should be fed sparingly, not as a dietary staple. As a general rule, ducks should get no more than 1-2 ounces of scratch per bird per day.

Potential Dangers of Too Much Scratch

Feeding ducks too much scratch can lead to health problems:

  • Overweight birds – Scratch is very high in carbohydrates which can quickly lead to obesity if overfed.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – Too much scratch displaces more nutritious feed like pellets and produce.
  • Angel wing – Excessive calories from scratch have been linked to angel wing, a condition where a duck’s wing feathers grow out improperly.

Best Practices

To safely incorporate scratch into your ducks’ diet:

  • Always control portion sizes – dole out scratch instead of offering it free choice.
  • Provide adequate space for exercise.
  • Mix scratch with pellets to encourage foraging.
  • Use scratch as a training treat, not a main food source.

The Bottom Line

Used responsibly, scratch can be a fun, beneficial supplement for ducks. But more than 1-2 ounces per duck per day can quickly lead to obesity and other health issues. It’s important to feed scratch in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Potential Concerns With Feeding Scratch Grains

When caring for domestic ducks, proper nutrition is crucial. While scratch grains may seem like an easy supplemental feed, overdoing it can potentially lead to some health issues that duck owners should be aware of.

Angel Wing Disorder

One condition that can arise from feeding too much scratch grain is angel wing. This disorder causes a duck’s last couple of wing feathers to twist upwards and outwards, giving them an appearance like angels’ wings.

While it may look cute, it unfortunately prevents the duck from being able to fly properly.

Angel wing typically develops when ducklings eat feed that is too high in protein or calories while their wing feathers are still growing. The rapid growth caused by the rich diet distorts the feather shape.

Scratch grain, with its mixture of corn, oats, wheat, and other grains, usually has a higher protein and calorie content than poultry starter feed. Ducklings that fill up on the scratch can quickly run into wing problems.

According to avian veterinarians, 90% of angel wing cases are caused by nutritional errors. The key is moderation – scratch grains make excellent supplemental treats or snacks, but ducklings under 6 weeks should not receive more than 30% of their daily food intake from scratch in order to prevent malformations.

Fatty Liver Disease

Another disorder that can result from overfeeding ducks grains is hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. Just as the name implies, this illness causes a dangerous amount of fat to accumulate in the liver.

Ducks normally store some fat in their liver, but the levels can spike to over 50% with a poor diet.

Fatty liver disease often strikes ducks that eat very large amounts of dense, carbohydrate-rich foods – with scratch grain being a prime culprit. All those calories surpass what their liver can process, and the excess gets deposited as fat in that organ.

This fat disrupts normal liver function and usually proves fatal if left untreated.

Luckily, adjusting the diet can reverse the onset of fatty liver if caught early. Eliminating scratch grain and other carbohydrate-heavy feed allows the duck’s body to start burning off that stored fat and return enzyme levels to normal.

However, liver damage and death can occur rapidly once birds start showing outward symptoms like lethargy, weight loss, and diarrhea. So prevention is key!

The ASPCA recommends feeding no more than 30-50% scratch or other grains to adult ducks’ daily diet. This allows them to enjoy the treat while maintaining balanced nutrition and normal fat processing.

While scratch grains can provide beneficial calories and nutrition to ducks in moderation, overfeeding it seems to correlate strongly with dangerous health conditions. Understanding proper amounts, as well as the risks of angel wing and fatty liver disease, allows duck owners to harness the pros of these supplemental feeds while avoiding the cons.


In conclusion, most scratch grains made for chickens can safely make up a moderate part of pet ducks’ diets. Many of the grains, seeds, vegetable matter, and supplements in the mixes provide important protein, carbs, fiber, vitamins and minerals ducks need.

But duck-specific food, plus treats like dark leafy greens, sprouted seeds, and mealworms should comprise most of their intake since that best supports their nutritional needs.

Following duck feeding guidelines, avoiding potentially dangerous ingredients, and monitoring birds for signs of illness allows duck and chicken owners alike to share the joy of healthy, thriving poultry.