Growing your own duck food may not only save you an enormous amount of money over time, but will also provide both a sustainable and more natural diet for your meat and egg birds.
It is possible to do away with store-bought commercial feed entirely if you cultivate aquatic and ground food plots for your ducks.
If you don’t keep ducks for meat and eggs, but want to attract wild ducks to your pond for hunting purposes, growing these foods on this list will help achieve that goal, as well.
When you hear the term “food plot” you most likely conjure up images of intentionally grown conventional crops for either wild animals or livestock that only venture to water to get a cool drink.
But, cultivating food plots for ducks, especially aquatic ones, is just as simple and inexpensive as growing the feed that sustains the other animals on the homestead or courts in deer and turkey.
While having a large pond is ideal, you can (and should) grow at least a portion of the feed in buckets or in baby pools.
There is no heavy, time consuming, or dirty work involved with transplanting aquatic plants from a bucket or kiddie pool into a pond or another kiddie pool inside of the duck run.
Simply use your hands or a swimming pool net to scoop some of the plants out of their growing water, and place them in a space where the ducks are roaming.
Top 10 Foods to Grow For Ducks
Duckweed is known to be one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. Duckweed (genus Lemma) is also the smallest flowering plant known to exist.
Each tiny plant boasts just one oval and flat leaf that is no longer than one fourth of an inch:
Duckweed floats on the water surface in ponds, lakes, and even in culverts or sloughs. It can easily be grown in a bucket, tub, or baby pool.
When grown in a bucket or shallow container, expect the duckweed to double in size in the matter of just a few days.
Depending upon where you live, duckweed should remain a viable food source outdoors long into the late weeks of fall and in some locations, it can go slightly dormant and then spring back into rapid growth spurts come spring.
Allowing duckweed to grow freely in your pond will permit it to grow rapidly and provide a constant source of food for ducks. But, too much duckweed can cause water conditions that are toxic for turtles, fish, and some plants.
While I have never personally had a problem with duckweed taking over to such an extent because of our large flock of ducks that love to eat it, the fact is something which anyone thinking about growing it does need to be aware of beforehand.
Scooping out a daily amount of duckweed with a net to feed the ducks in the pond will prevent any of the little flowers from being left to grow out of control.
In my experience, duckweed actually helps to clean the water when I put enough in to allow it to both grow and be eaten.
Because duckweed grows so rapidly, it beats the algae in the race for space, oxygen, and nutrients.
If any duckweed plants live long enough to die on their own and not get eaten, the phosphates and nitrogen they used are returned to the water once again.
Not only do ducks love it, koi fish seem to as well. Chickens will converge around the pond bank or dip their beaks into the poultry run kiddie pool to steal some away from their web-footed friends because they too really enjoy the taste.
Fairy Moss Fairy moss looks a lot like duckweed, but it is three-eighths of an inch to one inch long. It too can take over a pond quickly if left to grow without being fed upon by ducks.
Azolla Caroliniana was used to feed not just ducks, but other poultry birds and waterfowl in Peru beginning in the 18th century due to its potent amount of nutrients and consistent high yield.
When planted alongside rice crops, fairy moss is an excellent companion plant and helps to increase the yield.
Water hyacinth is a close second to duckweed in growing speed. Both of these poultry bird and waterfowl edibles make great companion plants for each other or for fairy moss. This edible pond plant, like duckweed, can double in size in as few as one to five days, on average.
When dehydrated to preserve water hyacinth for winter duck flock feeding, water hyacinths have roughly the same protein content as soybeans.
Water hyacinths not only grow but thrive in water that many other aquatic plants would kill when both phosphorus and nitrogen levels become too intense.
This plant cannot be wintered over outdoors like duckweed can in most growing zones. Water hyacinth and fairy moss both tend to die when exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees.
You can grow water hyacinth in a shallow plastic tub or baby pool, and simply toss it to the chickens as you would any other fresh green. Trust me, it will not last long enough to mildew inside the poultry run.
This tiny grain is the same stuff that is sold for far too much in pet stores to feed to parrots, cockatiels, and other caged birds.
I first discovered how easy it was to grow millet when tossing the leavings from a millet treat my Sun Conures left on the bottom of their tray into the compost pile – we never bought millet from a pet store again.
Both Japanese and Golden varieties of millet grow rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that in my growing zone (USDA Zone 6) we get three full crops per year. Millet is a “plant it and forget it” type of self-seeding crops.
We sow millet into the moist soil along the banks of our pond so all of the poultry birds can forage for it together in their main free ranging area.
As long as the area where millet is planted will not get flooded, it truly can be grown in about any dirt – including the compost pile inside of the poultry run.
This nutritional aquatic plant is a favorite of domesticated ducks and wild waterfowl alike. The birds eat every last bit of it.
The seeds, tubers, stems, leaves, and roots can all be consumed. The lizards and fish you might also be cultivating as a part of poultry bird food plot also uses sago pondweed as a favorite food source.
This pondweed grows from densely matted rhizomes. All of its leaves are grown beneath the surface of the water, and fan out from the stem in a stiff and narrow manner.
Sago pondweed leaves are approximately one-sixteenth of an inch wide, and grow to between two to twelve inches long.Little nutlets develop on the plant and give the appearance of tiny beads on a piece of string. Little green flowers also blossom above the water on the pondweed plant, and are shaped like dainty spikes.
Sago pondweed cannot grow until the water in the pond or container hits at a minimum of 60 degrees.
This aquatic grain rice will often help improve pond water clarity and quality. Wild rice will self-seed quite well once the crop has been successfully established.
Depending upon your climate, wild rice is most often planted in the fall in the sediment layer of a waterway so it can over winter there.
If the seed took, plants should be visible growing under the water by the following May. When the plant matures, usually by September, it will stand between two to eight feet above the water surface, on average.
Will the ducks try to eat upon the wild rice plants before they are mature? Sometimes. While doing so will not typically harm them, it will reduce the number of viable plants.
This aquatic plant generates buds that will prompt a lot of underwater diving by the happy ducks to reach. Unlike duckweed, fairy moss, and water hyacinth that grow superbly even in shallow water, wild celery needs at least 18 inches to three feet deep water in order to thrive.
Wild celery not only provides a sustainable food source for ducks, but serves as a shade plant to give them a spot to rest away from the sunshine when out enjoying the pond, and foraging for food.
This aquatic plant was named for Antonio Vallisneria, an Italian botanist. The Vallisneria plant nickname, wild celery, was given because the meat from ducks that ate it carries a decidedly celery-like flavoring.
Ducks tend to prefer the rhizomes or roots of the wild celery plant, but will also readily feast upon the seeds that are released during the fall.
Milo – Sorghum
Milo, or sorghum as it is most commonly called on homesteads, farms, and ranches, has long been a grain staple in livestock feed. Typically, sorghum crops are grown to feed cattle, but ducks are attracted to this nutrient-rich plant, as well.
There are multiple cultivars of sorghum, the milo variety that ducks are most attracted to is “sorghum bicolor.” The plants can grow up to 10 feet tall and then be chopped up and used as feed.
Widgeon grass is often dubbed a weed because of its wild and sometimes invasive nature. Ducks not only like to eat this grass, but they also use it to nest in and rest after a pond swim or busy day of free ranging for bugs.
Widgeon grass is a freshwater plant but has been known to survive in somewhat brackish water. This plant is also commonly called “ditch grass” or “widgeonweeds.”
Unfortunately, I have never seen widgeongrass for sale, even at large aquatic shops.
If you want to grow this plant for your duck food plot you will need to get a start from someone who already has it growing wild in their pond or legally harvest it from a ditch, lake, or other waterway where doing so is not prohibited.
Never forage any plant that you are not 100% sure has not been treated with chemical pesticides, or with other possible contaminants.
This plant is often grown at fisheries and waterfowl hatcheries to provide a natural source of food for the wildlife. The leaves and the seeds are consumed by ducks, and so are the insects that are drawn to the coontail plants.
Small fish and tadpoles have also been known to congregate among coontail plants, making them a buffet of sorts for your flock of ducks. This aquatic plant is also often referred to as “hornwort.”
The nickname comes from the hairy or needle like leaves that appear on the tall and lanky stems of the plant. These leaves also make the plant look like a furry tail – hence the most common nickname – coontail.
Although hornwort plants do not grow as rapidly as duckweed, water hyacinth, or fairy moss, it does reproduce robustly, and is a hardy aquatic plant that ducks enjoy eating in its entirety.
Other Food Options for Your Ducks
Ducks are true omnivores – they readily dine upon both plants and animals. Tadpoles do not stand a chance of growing into annoyingly loud frogs in your pond if the duck flock is turned out to enjoy the same water.
While this article is focused on what you can cultivate in a food plot for your ducks to eat, a savvy homesteader should also consider stocking the pond with other small wildlife and crops for the flock to consume at will.
Even if you don’t want to find or buy salamanders to beef up their population around your pond to feed the ducks, consider not running them off, killing them, or using them all for other purposes so they can reproduce naturally to help feed your flock.
Top 10 Meat Sources for Your Ducks
- Small Crustaceans
- Fish Eggs
- Small Fish
- Small Lizards
Top 10 Conventional Crops For a Duck Food Plot
- Sun Flowers
You can get even more duck feed ideas here.
All breeds of ducks have a rather varied diet, and are largely opportunistic eaters.
If your ducks have only eaten or primarily eaten commercially manufactured feed, it may take a little bit for them to adjust to a straight foraging diet.
But, once that first duck nibbles on the aquatic plants and ground plants that you have so lovingly grown for them, they will never want to return to hard little pellet feed again.