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November 30, 2011

Can Medicated Feed Be Used for Waterfowl?

Can medicated feed be given to ducks and geese?  Many people say No.  I will explain why I feel the answer is Yes.

First of all, there are four drugs (medicines) that are approved by the USDA for the use in ducks.  These have been used successfully for years to control a variety of waterfowl diseases.   They are Chlorotetracycline, Neomycin,  Novobiocin and Rofenaid. 

The bigger concern, however, is sacked feed sold at your local feed store.  Some of these sacked feeds (especially starter feeds) have medications in them to control coccidiosis.  Coccidiosis is an internal protozoa parasite that can harm chickens, turkeys, game birds and occasionally waterfowl.  As coccidiosis is a common problem, and most people have chickens, the feed manufacturers will often include medication in starter feed to better control this disease.   But what about waterfowl?  Will it harm them?

Non-medicated Starter Feed by Ace Hi - though I would prefer a starter as a crumble, not a mash

We have contacted all the feed mills that we could find that make sacked poultry feed in the US.  From material they have sent us or from their website, we have learned that these 29 mills make 59 different starter feeds for chickens, waterfowl and game birds.  Of these 59 starter feeds, 19 have a medication in them to control coccidiosis.

Four drugs are used.  Fifteen of the feeds contain Amprolium, 1 has Monensin, 1 has Lasolocid and 1 has BMD (Bacitracin methylene disalicylate).

Medicated Starter Feed with amprolium by Kalmbach Feeds

To investigate this further, I asked for the assistance of Dr. Larry McDougal of the University of Georgia and Dr. Alison Martin of the Livestock Conservancy.  Both of these individuals have done extensive work with coccidiosis.  They found research that had been done here in the United States and abroad on the effect of these four drugs on waterfowl.   As Dr. McDougal said “Not one of these papers described any harmful effects to waterfowl except where the normal dosage was significantly overdosed.” 

Non-medicated Grower feed by Southern States

Many of you have heard of Dave Holderread, of Holderread’s Waterfowl Farm in Oregon.  Dave is an expert on waterfowl and an ultimate waterfowl breeder.  He conducted research on coccidiostats with Oregon State University in 1982 (1).   His paper states “Frequently publications pertaining to waterfowl state that medicated feeds should not be fed to ducklings and goslings.  In some localities, producers and hobbyists who raise a small number of ducklings and goslings can only purchase medicated chick, turkey or game bird starter and grower feeds.  Because of the lack of documented information on this subject and the numerous requests for advice on this matter, anticoccidial drugs zoalene, sulfaquinoxaline and amprolium were mixed in mash feed and fed to ducks up to four weeks of age.”

His conclusion was “From this experiment, it appears that sulfaquinoxaline, zoalene, or amprolium at the manufacturers' use levels for chickens and turkeys did not cause mortality, stunted growth or cripples when fed to Khaki Campbell ducklings to 4 weeks of age."

Therefore, it appears research shows these drugs do not harm waterfowl if used at the rates commonly used with chickens and turkeys.

Medicated Chick Starter using amprolium by Lone Star Mills

Have there been coccidiostats used in the past that were harmful to waterfowl?  Probably and that is why the myth began. But those drugs are no longer allowed or no longer used in the United States.

What if you have the choice of medicated or non-medicated starter feed of equal nutritional value?  My recommendation would be to use the non-medicated feed.  There is no point in feeding medication when it is not needed.

HOWEVER, if the choice is nutritionally correct medicated starter feed (20%+ protein) or non-medicated feed that does not meet the nutritional needs of the ducklings and goslings, I would definitely recommend the nutritionally correct, medicated starter feed.  Research shows the medication will not harm the waterfowl.

(1) Holderread, D., Nakaue, H.S., Arscott, G.H. 1983 Poultry Science 62:1125-1127


  1. Thank you very much for posting this article. We live in an area in Maine that until recently only offered medicated starter locally. We've always had to plan a trip to a far off (50 miles) feed store to get non-medicated feed for the ducklings. Looking forward to ordering our Cayuga and Black & Blue Swede ducklings in the spring!

  2. Thanks John for the latest info on using medications for waterfowl. The only comment I would like to add is that medications delivered in feed are more "controllable" whereas medications delivered in drinking water can be over consumed.
    We duck keepers know how much water ducks consume compared to other fowl and so it seems prudent to be very careful when administering medication in their drinking water lest they o.d.
    Can you comment further on this aspect John ?
    Thanks , Mark

  3. Good comment. I am not sure, however, if waterfowl use more water or drink more water. I will do some research on water consumption levels of waterfowl vs. chickens vs. turkeys per pound body weight and see how much they vary.

  4. i really enjoyed your blog.i was really interested in your incubators.mine is a converted freezer with a thermostat for vivariums and a small space heater and a few tiny great but people keep asking if they can have it for the metal to recycle.that usually turns into a long conversation and a new freind or two along the way

  5. Thanks for the blog, and information provided. We are new to raising poultry, and are starting with just a few birds, 12 chicks, and two ducklings. The feed advice is very helpful.

  6. One of our volunteer accidentally put medicated feed in one of our feed bins. We started having birds get sick and die. Our turkey was also dying and after many vet visits we finally started narrowing it down to Amprolium poisoning. They free range during the day and eat feed at night and in the mornings. Thankfully we figured it out and switched them off before we had significant mortality. I will no longer even keep it here because I almost lost some of my best birds to an accidental switch of the feed. Its very easy to overdose on medications and in our case we saw health problems develop almost immediately. We cant say for sure how long they had the medicated feed but it wasn't that long. We threw all the food away and had to give thiamine injections until it cleared up. Just my experience of course.

    1. If the research suggests that coccidiostats are not the problem you suggest, then perhaps something else affected your birds. Certainly, is should not have affected your turkeys, at all. However, I have recently experienced similar tragedy with bagged feed with no medication at all! My conclusion, based upon my only remedy of the second, which was to dribble as much vinegar rich water down their throats, since some could barely lift their heads at the time, was that the feed was tainted, possibly with mold or other toxins. After hydrating nearly a dozen geese and ducks with vinegar water, I didn't loose one of them. The ducks, i fact, began to get up and move again after about 4 hours of treatment. THAT, was astounding, to me. Again, there were NO medications in the feed.

    2. The blood work showed Amprolium poisoning. So it can't be attributed to anything else.

  7. Is it safe to give ducklings Tetroxy HCA-280??

  8. John,
    I have 4 ducks (2 weeks old). I was told I HAVE to feed ducks niacin? If so how much per day per duck? Is there a brand you like? Also I have them on a 24% protein pellet, how long should they be on that high of protein? Thanks!!

  9. Hello I really hope some one can help me, I am out of the duck food and only have medicated, would it be ok to give them the medicated feed just one meal?

  10. Thanks for the article and for your research. Bill

  11. I have a goose and I'm feeding it the chick starter that is medicated is that ok

  12. I have a goose and I'm feeding it chick starter that has medicated in it is that ok

  13. Hello ~~~

    THANK YOU so much for taking the time to research this issue & write up your findings.

    I have heard that medicated chick starter should not be used for Ducks or Goslings. Having just bought 3 Cotton Patch goslings, I decided to see if I could get to the bottom of this question.

    I feel that what you have presented here can be seen as the definitive word on the topic considering your experience & references.

    Thank You!

  14. I love being able to come here and get answers to questions and KNOWING the answers are right! Thanks John.

  15. I have an adult pekin hen who has slowly started displaying symptoms of being sick. We have tried a lot of different things. The vet gave an antibiotic- no change, though no tests were done. She initially started not being able to keep up with the group and frequently finding a spot to lay down. This has progressed to drooping head and wings, loss of appetite- she got to a point where she would only eat earth worms now she is not eating and we fear we will lose her. It seems she may have some blood in her stool I see some discoloration by her vent which seems like blood residue. She has a staggery gate at this stage. This is about 2+ weeks of illness - could be longer that we did not notice. We have tried, wormer, antobiotic, molassis water, charcoal capsules is what we are giving her now. She is 4 yrs old and was big fat and healthy but has whittled down to a waif compared to her former self. Wondering if it could be coccidiosis because of the stool and tonight I noticed the blood? We do not have an avian vet in this area. We dont have many birds 17, 3 chickens, 2 geese ( from Metzer) 8 ducks (Metzer) then I have 4 other ducks all 4 years old not from you - she is one of them. Can you make any suggestion? Our coop is picked out daily. Our fenced area can get a small puddle of standing water from them playing in the pool. They are not confined to that area the entire day they do get to walk the yard for several hours in the afternoon. We have had her separated to a dog kennal in the house since she has been really ill. Please help! Thank you. Melinda Rhodes

    1. Cocci is a possibility but I think remote. Rarely are waterfowl affected by coccidiosis. Treating would probably do no harm though. I am wondering if she ate something that cannot pass - like a piece of wire or other metal. Unfortunately this can only be diagnosed with an xray - and then what do you do if it is found? Surgery? You can phone a diagnostic lab listed on our website that is in your state. My experience is they will help as much as they can over the phone. Usually they will not prescribe a drug but may have an idea that you have not considered. Good luck.