Getting ducks was not my first intention when we started homesteading! I’ve always been more of a chicken person and as our property lacks a pond I always assumed that ducks wouldn’t be very happy here. Thankfully I was wrong on all accounts and we now have ducks! Niacin deficiency in ducklings is not a problem I anticipated having although my research has led me to believe that it is a fairly common problem in some breeds! Despite having to deal with this issue I have to say that adding ducks to the homestead has been a fun adventure!
Niacin Deficiency in Ducklings, the story of Megalodon.
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What Is Niacin?
Niacin is a water-soluble B Vitamin. It is also known as B3 and is the generic name for nicotinic acid. Niacin is present in many foods including but not limited to:
- chicken breast
Why Is Niacin Important For Ducklings?
Niacin is important for bone development in young ducklings. Without the proper levels of Niacin, your ducklings may develop leg issues such as bowing or splaying. Ducklings grow very quickly and without the proper vitamin levels it’s possible that they can grow so fast that their legs will be unable to keep up and support the weight. What can happen if niacin deficiency rears it’s ugly head? Read Megalodon’s story below!
The Story of Megalodon
Megalodon was one of the first ducks we added to our homestead! Whenever we add new animals to the homestead I try to do as much research as possible beforehand so that I am prepared to take care of them properly. As a result, I had read about niacin deficiency in passing BUT I had also read that the food we were using for our flock was sufficient for ducklings – so I didn’t think anything more about it!
At first, everything seemed to be going well, the ducklings were horrifically messy because they enjoyed playing in their water but they seemed happy and healthy! They grew like weeds and ate like tiny piglets. We also discovered that they would chase a tennis ball if you rolled it across the ground which was a fun game to play with them.
Imagine my surprise when I walked in one morning and found that one of our ducklings refused to move. Megalodon didn’t appear to have any obvious injuries, he was just reluctant to move. When he didn’t seem to get better after a day or so of rest I started looking for more answers. Since the popular forums Backyard Chickens had served me so well in the past I elected to look there first. While they are primarily a chicken forum they have resources for many types of poultry! Chickens tend to be a gateway bird for many homesteaders and a lot of people branch out into other birds over time, including, Ducks, Quail, Geese, and Turkeys!
Diagnosis – Niacin Deficiency
As usual, Backyard Chickens didn’t let me down! My research led me to either Niacin deficiency or a slipped tendon. Both seemed to be common problems with young ducklings, especially Pekins, which I suspected Megalodon to be! An examination of his leg led me to believe that the problem was not a slipped tendon which left me with Niacin Deficiency.
I was actually pretty happy with this because a slipped tendon is much harder to treat with less of a chance for recovery. Unfortunately, it also meant that all of our problems with Meg could have been avoided if I had added additional Niacin to their feed.
With Niacin deficiency the cure is pretty much to provide the missing vitamins. Although our feed stated that it had the proper amounts for ducklings it seems that some ducks need even more. It is also possible that some ducks have more trouble absorbing Niacin than others. This is likely genetic and I suspect that this was Meg’s problem as all of our other ducklings grew without trouble.
To help Meg immediately I began to add Brewers yeast to their feed morning and night. Many people reported that this is often enough to help. After a few days it became apparent that Meg’s problem was more severe, the brewer’s yeast did not seem to be helping and his legs were getting worse. At this point, he could no longer walk at all and his legs crossed underneath him like an X. Because he had trouble getting to the feed and water the other ducklings quickly outgrew him and I wound up having to separate him from the others. Ducks are social creatures so I made him a new home in a laundry basket next to his friends. They could still see and hear each other but Megalodon would have access to his own feed and water without having to walk around a large pen.
Since the brewer’s yeast did not seem to be helping I searched for other options. I purchased some liquid B3 from the store and tried that – however, we found out afterward that it was ‘flush free’ which made it useless for ducks, whose high metabolism does not process this fast enough. I could not find any of the recommended B3 vitamins or poultry aids in our local feed stores which meant I had to order them online.
Since I had to wait for shipping I continued to give Meg Brewer’s yeast in hopes that it would keep him from getting even worse and also started to supplement his diet with peas which are high in Niacin. For the next two days, I watched Meg get worse and worse.
I started to believe that his recovery may not be possible and prepared the kids for this by explaining that we could not ethically keep him alive if he could not walk well enough to get into the shelter from bad weather, hot sun, or predators. However, Meg was still fighting and as long as he was willing to keep trying I told them that we would also keep trying. At least keeping him separated meant that he was no longer losing weight. We started water therapy by carrying him to the pool three times a day and letting him swim around for 10-15 minutes or until he got tired or cold.
By the time the vitamins got to us Megalodon could do nothing but spin in a circle, he used his wings to help balance and I had to bandage the tips to keep him from rubbing them raw. His legs were severely bowed inwards but the swimming seemed to have helped keep things from getting worse.
The Niacin vitamins I received came in 500MG capsules. To make sure that he was getting the full dose I mixed half of a capsule into a handful of peas. This was nearly double the recommended dose but some of the powder didn’t stick, got stuck to the container and ducks are messy, half of what they eat gets dropped on the ground. From my research, it seemed that there was a more immediate danger to Meg if he didn’t get enough then the slim possibility that he would overdose (Ducks can tolerate a pretty high amount of Niacin and there was no way he was getting the whole 250 mg).
Road to Recovery
Megalodon’s case seemed to be pretty severe. His legs seemed to be worse than many of the cases I read about online. While slight cases of Niacin deficiency seem to be cured almost overnight more severe cases can take a few weeks to correct – and the longer the duckling has leg issues the less the chance for a full recovery.
Since the smaller doses of niacin did not help Meg and we had lost time messing with flush free vitamins and shipping times I was pretty sure that Meg’s legs would never be completely normal – but as long as he could get around pain-free then I was okay with that!
I added Poultry aid to our duck’s water which gave them some added vitamins and continued the regimen of peas and niacin powder for several days before I started to see some improvement. While Meg spent most of his day snoozing in the sun I noticed that he was trying to stand and preen one morning. While this was barely an improvement it was something! Unfortunately, it seemed his legs were very weak and he had trouble balancing.
Duck Physical Therapy
So we started what I called Duck physical therapy. Several times a day we carried Meg to the water and let him swim. Once he got out he usually wanted to try and preen. We helped him relearn to balance and stand by sitting beside him, putting his feet in the right position, and placing a hand over the webbing to help him balance when he wobbled slightly. After a few days, he could stand for several minutes all by himself and balance while preening his feathers.
Spending so much time with Meg made him into a pretty friendly duck. He quacked when he saw us, tried to groom our arms when we sat beside him, and often fell asleep in our laps. He loved to be scratched between the eyes and everyone fell in love with him.
Falling for Meg just made me all the more determined to save him. despite his improvements, I knew he still wasn’t well enough to survive on the homestead long term. Since he still could not walk he relied on us to move him to and from the food, into the shelter, and to the pool for his daily swims. It would be cruel and unethical to keep him knowing that it would only be a matter of time before I wouldn’t be around some day when a storm or hawk showed up and left him at its mercy.
We redoubled our efforts and when Meg could stand and preen without any help from us at all we started helping him take a few steps. At first, this required us to physically move his legs for him. He was wobbly and got tired quickly so we only did a couple of steps at a time but after a while, he started to try on his own and I encouraged these attempts when I saw them with extra pea treats and head scratches.
It took about 2 weeks before Meg could make it 10 or 20 yards by himself. It wasn’t very far and his stride was far from perfect but he could get to and from the water and from the sun to the shade. Since he was doing so well I moved him back in the other ducks which seemed to please everyone!
By this time the ducklings were all big enough that they should have been living outside full time – I had been putting it off due to Meg but it was time to bite the bullet. We built a duck house with no ramps and very minimal steps for Meg to navigate over and moved them out.
The transition went great and he’s often the first duck to waddle out in the mornings! I have continued to give him extra vitamins and will do so until he is at least 10 weeks old.
The Way Forward
Megalodon will never be 100%. It’s likely that he will always need a little bit of help now and then, especially navigating large steps or obstacles. He’s a bit slower than the other ducks so I wait for him to catch up before feeding and sometimes I carry him to the duck house at night after herding everyone else in. But! He’s perfectly capable of moving himself undercover and once we built the permanent duck pond next spring he won’t need help going swimming either.
It’s unlikely that Meg will ever have a duck girlfriend as I don’t think he will be able to catch any of the females (but that’s okay too because it’s likely that his inability to absorb Niacin as well as the other ducks is genetic) but he’s happy, he’s not in pain and he’s able to live a relatively normal duck life. Obviously, I wish I had caught his problem sooner – and discovered a treatment that worked faster, but despite all of that I wouldn’t trade Meg for anything. He’s got a great personality and makes a pretty awesome lappet. Meg will have a home here for as long as he stays healthy and happy!
Helpful Tips for Dealing With Niacin Deficiency
- Add brewers yeast to your feed – even if your feed claims to have enough for healthy ducklings! Ducklings won’t be hurt by it but you might keep problems from popping up if your ducklings happen to need a bit extra. The suggested dosing is 1.5 tablespoons per cup of feed. This should be added for the first 10 weeks of a ducklings life which covers the majority of your duckling’s growth.
- Add a higher dosage of Niacin to your ducklings feed. If you can find liquid B3 it can be added to water. However, make sure the liquid you find is not flush free! Since ducklings like to play in their water and tend to waste most of it, it can be hard to make sure they are getting enough. It might be necessary to add a bit extra. I found it easier to buy capsules of powder. I broke the capsules open and sprinkled it over top of some freshly thawed frozen peas. Meg loved the peas and since I hand fed him I could make sure that he got the entire dose. The suggested dosage for ducklings is 100-150 Mg of Niacin a day. Meg however did not respond to the supplement until I nearly doubled that suggested dose. He did not seem to suffer any negative effects of the high dose and I deemed the threat to his life to be higher if he couldn’t walk then the remote potential of an overdose. I highly suggest you use your own best judgment.
- Start Swim Therapy. As soon as you notice an issue with your duckling legs go ahead and start making sure they spend a lot of time swimming. Water makes ducks happy and we all know that happy patients have better recovery odds! In addition to this water is a great way to exercise without straining joints and it can even be used as a diagnostic tool in this case! One of the ways I ruled out a slipped tendon for Meg is because I could see that his legs moved properly in water – they just couldn’t support him on land.
- Support your duckling as they relearn how to stand and walk. This might not be necessary in less severe cases but it definitely helped Meg! It can be time-consuming and some days you might not think it’s helping but keep at it and be patient! The best way I found to help Meg was to help him position his legs and then place my hand lightly over the top of his foot webbing – when he wobbled or wanted to rock back on his hocks my hand kept his feet flat and helped him rebalance. When they can balance and stand on their own move their feet forward in small steps until they start to try by themselves. They will likely get tired quickly so short sessions multiple times a day is best!
- Give them time! There were more than a few days that I watched Meg try to get around and despaired at his chances. Mentally I prepared myself for the idea of having to put him down but as long as he kept fighting I kept fighting. Meg never gave up, he never laid down and refused to eat or drink, he never stopped trying to follow his duck friends, he fought so I kept fighting. It took almost a month and a half before Meg’s condition improved to the point that I knew he would be okay. He’s still not perfect but he’s perfectly capable and that’s all I wanted!