“I hope you’re sitting down for this,” said the super nice lady from www.ducksforbackyards.com. She was about to give me the price for overnight express shipping on non-medicated poultry feed of which, all of a sudden, we were running short. Weeks before the hatchlings arrived, I had scouted lower Westchester County, trying to track down organic grower feed. There were a couple of problems with this search. One, as a first-time duck raiser, I got lost in the variety of descriptions used for the possible feeds and the different age ranges they covered. (To tell you the truth, I’m still not an expert.) Two, it did not occur to me at the time (late winter) that April is high season for poultry raising and there might be a run on feed just when I needed it….
Here’s how I got in this mess, Stanley. When we ordered the ducks and their handy-dandy start-up kit (the brooder pen, lamp and stand), we also ordered the appropriate bag of feed. Said bag was 5 pounds (2.27 kg) and said ducklings were only a couple of ounces each. What I didn’t quite get despite hearing from multiple sources is THEY GROW FAST. Translation: THEY EAT A LOT OF FOOD. (Also, their food gets wet easily and for fear of mold growth, I threw a lot out. Probably too much.) Blame it on jet lag, lack of sleep, dumb-headedness, whatever the reason, I didn’t get around to thinking about that next bag of food until the middle of the second week of their life.* Having checked out our usual pet store in February and finding a variety of organic poultry foods, I guess I figured I had a fallback nearby.
And here’s where it got tricky. What exactly was I looking for now that they were almost two weeks old? Do I want the same thing, especially since this stuff tends to come in 50# bags??? But first, the overview on feeding ducklings.
Some duck experts recommend a starter feed for the first 2-3 weeks, others the same for first two weeks. This “starter” feed, generally in easy to eat crumble form, contains 18-20% protein. Next comes a “grower” feed which contains 16-18% protein and is given after the starter feed until about 7 weeks, after which you can introduce a “developer” feed until about 20. (Cherie Langlois, however, suggests that fast-growing ducklings from 3-8 weeks can be switched to this 15-16% protein diet to reduce the incidence of developmental problems.) At around 9 weeks, Langlois also says that the birds can be moved to a 14% protein diet if they are kept as non-laying pets. Dave Holderread has his own schedule and continues in great detail (like I’ve said, his book is my duck-raising Bible). There are also decisions like crumble vs. pellet vs. mash at various weeks plus the notion that some of the birds will be outside with access to forage as well. As I said, it’s complex.
Where it really gets complicated, though, is when the manufacturer labels don’t quite match up to these specific descriptions. Add in, you’re looking for organic feed, you want to make sure the food is free of antibiotics and you’re talking about ducks not chickens…my head was spinning.
So when I found out that our regular pet supply place no longer had all those bags of organic feed in various sizes now that I needed them (and I would have to order it if I did indeed want it), I kinda sorta panicked. I packed Pamela into the car and we headed out to Bennie’s Feed Barn, the best place I knew but a very long drive. (We called first and confirmed the presence of “organic duckling food”.) We picked up (no, actually, one of the guys there picked it up—fifty pounds of bird food!) a bag of Nature’s Best, Pullet Grower/Developer Crumbles and thanked the lady profusely. It wasn’t until I got home and read the label carefully that I began to wonder if my girls were ready for “developer” crumble. It did indeed say “certified organic” so that made me happy. But what I thought I really wanted was more starter food, preferably the same exact product I already had.
By now you’re thinking, why not just call the website you got the first bag from and re-order? Well, that would make sense, right? But silly me is thinking I would save money by getting it locally, not to mention get it faster since that bag was depleting before my eyes. Cut to: The next day I drag my house-guest to the pet supply place to see if I can’t come up with something else, ask a different person, you know the drill. There was indeed another person but they told me something rather alarming: if the tag on a poultry bag was orange, not white, it was medicated feed. Yikes! The organic feed had an orange tag! How could this be? All the guy had in stock was a bag of non-organic crumbles which he assured me would work fine for our almost two-week old ducklings. I thanked him and took home yet another 50# bag of feed. And, no, I had not gotten the other one out of the back of my car yet so now it was both weighted down and starting to smell like duck food.
My friend and I got home and I tear the labels off both bags and take them inside. I get out the magnifiers and check the fine print. The bag he sold me clearly said “layer” crumbles—a seeming non sequitur to me, if it’s layer why would it still be crumbles? Oh well. The tag was not orange, so far so good, but then I read the Really Fine Print and under Feeding Directions it says, “feed as sole ration beginning at 16 weeks.” Ok. Definitely doesn’t apply here. And was the organic feed really possibly medicated? If he was wrong about the ok to feed this to 2-week-old ducklings, could he be wrong about the ostensible color codes of the poultry feeding community? (And he sounded so sure of himself, my friend shook her head.) By now, it’s Friday night, I have maybe two days worth of the first bag left, max, and the website (in Texas) would still be open but would have to ship it to me express. Overnight. Saturday may or may not be a possibility. Did I mention I thought I was saving money?
There’s one last option before platinum level Fed-Ex**–I call the manufacturer of the organic feed. They’re in neighboring Pennsylvania and it’s really close to 5 PM but what the heck. The kind woman who listened to my bizarre and anxious question (is your organic feed medicated or not medicated and if not medicated is it suitable for 2 week old ducklings?) was, unfortunately, not the right person. That person was out at the site with the actual grain and might or might not be able to call me back in time before but she’d definitely ask. I left a message. And waited, just a little bit…then called Texas.
P.S. After paying $49.99 for one 5# bag of bird food, we went out for a while and when we got back, there was a message from the grain company—absolutely okay to feed the organic crumbles to the ducklings. No medication whatsoever—it’s organic! Have a great weekend!
I went and fed the ducks.
*In my semi-lame defense, I did have a house-guest and a dinner party that same week. And you’re thinking, what kind of wacko has a house-guest, a dinner party and a bunch of baby ducks in the garage all in the same week? That, folks, would be me.
**They ended up sending UPS Next Day Air. Have no idea if that was any cheaper. (Cheeper?) (Bada bing!)
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes