Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are My Ducklings' Leg Problems Due to a Niacin Deficiency?

Originally posted by John Metzer on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 @ 03:22 PM 

Niacin is a critical vitamin required for the correct development of ducklings and goslings.  In fact, waterfowl have a higher requirement for niacin (also called nicotinic acid) than chickens.  Niacin is formed from the amino acid tryptophan and waterfowl do not synthesize niacin well from tryptophan.
What do the birds look like if there is a niacin deficiency?   If there is a lack of niacin in their feed, initially some birds are reluctant to move about.    Eventually their hocks swell and their legs develop a bowed shape.  It becomes very difficult for them to move about and they do not gain weight or thrive.




A series of pictures from the book,  Nutrition and Management of Ducks, with permission of the authors, showing a normal duckling (A) and ducklings (B,C,D) that were fed Niacin deficient diets.

How can this happen?  If you are not using a balanced chick starter designed for broiler chicks or game birds, you may have problems.  If you are using a chick starter developed exclusively for laying chickens, it probably does not have enough niacin.  Do not make their diet exclusively whole grains, like Chicken Scratch.  On very rare occasions, the lack of niacin could be from a mistake at the feed mill.

So how much niacin do waterfowl require?  It should be at least 60 parts per million (ppm).  Oftentimes this is not on the label but if you contact the manufacturer of the feed, they should tell you the minimum guaranteed level in the feed.  You can go to our website for a complete list of waterfowl nutrient requirements.

A bottle of Niacin tablets, 500 mgs per tablet.

How can I supplement niacin?  Niacin can be easily purchased at a nutrition or drug store.  Typically the pills contain 500 mgs of niacin per tablet.  Assuming a duck is eating about .35 lbs per day (this is how much a Pekin is eating at about 3 -4 weeks of age) , they need 10 milligrams (mgs) of niacin a day.  So, theoretically, one pill has enough niacin for 50 ducks.  But if you are grinding up a pill and spreading it over pelleted feed, much of it will sift to the bottom and not be consumed.  Add a little water to the feed and it will “stick” to the pellets.

An alternative is to add it to their drinking water (assuming they have no swimming water).  If they drink 100% of the water you give them, you only need to add one 500 mg tablet to every 8 gallons of water.  But we both know that does not happen.  If you think they are wasting half their water, then add one 500 mg tablet to only four gallons of water.    For your own calculations,  go to the table on our website on daily feed and water consumption of ducklings.


Two broiler chicks, the one on the left was fed a niacin deficient diet.  
Photo courtesy of DSM Nutritional Products.


Are there alternatives to pure Niacin?  If you are concerned with the possibility that other vitamins may be missing, too, you can purchase Vitamin B liquid supplements.  The GNC product I found had 20 mg of niacin per dropper full.  This is enough for two ducks that are 3-4 weeks old.  This might be the best way to administer niacin if your birds are exhibiting leg problems.  By administering the niacin to each bird,  you will know they are getting the required niacin.

A feed ingredient that is rich in niacin is dried brewers yeast.  There is about 5mg niacin per 15 grams (one tablespoon) of human grade brewers yeast.  Livestock grade brewers yeast is not as concentrated.  There is only about 1.5mg niacin for each tablespoon of livestock grade brewers yeast.

What if only a few of my birds have leg problems?  Variability within a flock is normal.  Each bird varies on how well it forms  niacin from tryptophan, either due to genetics or the different microflora  in their gut.  It would not be unusual to have a single flock of birds, with some exhibiting a niacin deficiency and others walking perfectly normally - but all eating the same feed. 

Glory, a duck that was rescued by Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary,  arrived with leg problems due to a niacin deficient diet.

How long does it take for recovery?  Except for the extreme cases such as the picture above, improvement is normally seen within several days and there can be complete recovery.

39 comments:

  1. Thank you for the greatly informative website. I'm a 4H advisor with 2 members having duck projects. Their 8 ducks all have the leg issue described in this article. I ran to GNC today to get the Vit B/niacin drops for them. We'll keep our fingers crossed!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Are there any high quality brands that have niacin? I feed them flock raiser? Does it have Niacin? Or do I have to buy it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Most commercially prepared feeds have adequate levels of niacin so I would not worry if that is what you are using. The concern is when someone tries to mix their own feed or a mistake is made at the feed mill (rare but does occur).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Can you tell me if inositol hexanicotinate (flush free niacin) will work as the niacin for ducks and geese? I heard only Nicontinic Acid or niacimide will work for them but can't find any actual info...PS.I love my 300s! They are the beautiful ducks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sarah:
    I passed your inquiry to our feed company's nutritionist (Dr. John Throckmorton of LA Hearne, King Brand Feeds). Following is his response:

    The signs of niacin deficiency related to leg problems are enlarged hock joints and slipped tendons (called perosis) so the leg splays out.

    We do know that ducks have a higher requirement for niacin than chickens. NRC requirements for ducklings = 55 mg/kg niacin compared to only 27-35 mg/kg for chicks. On top of that, the niacin in corn has a very low bioavailability; although corn contains 24 mg/kg of niacin, I use a value of 2 mg/kg for formulation.

    In your duck starter, we add 45 mg/kg of niacinamide to fortify the niacin found in raw ingredients, aiming for a total "Available Niacin" content of 90 mg/kg.

    If niacin sounds like your customer's problem, I suggest they contact their feed manufacturer & enquire as to which poultry products have a similar level of niacin fortification. If that info is not available, I would recommend that they use a Turkey Starter formula since young turkeys (0-4 wks of age) have a niacin requirement of 60 mg/kg.

    As for using "flush-free niacin", I would be skeptical & not recommend using as a replacement for niacinamide.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Where do ducks and geese in the wild get their Niacin from? Are there any natural foods that contain niacin?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Meats have the largest amounts of niacin, so for ducks that means insects, worms, snails, slugs, small fish, etc. Niacin can also be found in plant material but not as concentrated as in animal sources: wheat, rice, potato skins.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I usually have a cow liver every year. I have been boiling this up and cutting into tiny pieces to feed to my ducklings and chicks in the spring. Is there any problems with this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, that is fine as long as they don't get too much at one time.

      Delete
  9. Do adult ducks need niacin? I have a female that can't walk good, she is big and healthy but she can't keep up with the rest of the ducks,if I give her Niacin now will she improve. Also, I throw cheerios out to my ducks from time to time, will that hurt them, its plain cheerios....no sugar. I noticed the box says there is niacin in the cheerios.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes, adult ducks need niacin. If she is getting a mixed poultry feed, there is probably enough niacin in the feed. But you can always supplement as a trial to see if it helps. If she is large, it might be her weight that is causing problems with her legs. Cheerios should not be a problem as a treat as it is basically a grain.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Is it possible to give my ducklings too much niacin? I am feeding them a non-medicated chick, duck, and turkey stater feed. They also are getting electrolytes with niacin added to the water. My understanding is that niacin being a b vitamin is water soluble, and any extra is passed in the urine. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you can give too much niacin, but I don't know that level. But if your only additional niacin is in a packet of electrolytes added to the water, I doubt very much if it will be too much. Whoever formulates the electrolyte package should assume the birds are getting a normal level of niacin in their diet.

      Delete
    2. I again spoke to Dr. John Throckmorton, our feed company's nutritionist and he provided the following:

      In regards to tolerance levels on niacin, I'm going to stick with NRC's Nutrient Requirements of Poultry comments:

      "Niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid are generally tolerated at levels as great as 10- to 20-fold their nutritional requirements. NRC niacin requirements are:

      Ducks (all classes): 55 mg/kg of total diet.

      Growing Chickens: from 35 mg/kg at 0-6 weeks to 11-25 mg/kg at 6+ weeks (higher levels for broilers than pullet layers).

      Currently, we have some show poultry formulas with niacin levels at 325 mg/kg (acts as calming agent) with no problems.

      There is potential for niacin deficiency in ducks if customers are feeding a poultry feed that is formulated to minimum requirements.

      I did come across a recipe for additional niacin supplementation through the water. Dissolve 100-150 milligrams of nicotinic acid (niacin supplements have different types-stick with nicotinic acid) into 1 gallon of drinking water. That should hopefully cover an deficiency from low level diet.

      Delete
  12. I've been searching for information about niacin and ducklings, could not find what I wanted, I am a new at keeping ducks. You information helped with all of the questions I have had.
    Thank you so much, your site is a lifesaver.

    ReplyDelete
  13. can only one leg be effected by a lack of niacin? I have a muscovy duckling 1 week old (the smallest of all the ducklings) that has one leg that splays out and the other is normal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At only one week I would guess the problem is due to an injury or birth defect. I think a niacin deficiency takes a bit more time to manifest itself.

      Delete
  14. Is there any way to make niacin available to an egg?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am not sure I understand your question. Niacin is available to an egg from the female that is laying it. Niacin is deposited in the egg when it is formed in the female. I doubt if you can increase the level of niacin in an egg if the female is consuming normal amounts of niacin. If she is not consuming enough niacin herself, then she may not be putting enough in the egg. So supplemental niacin might increase the level in the egg. But if everything is normal, I doubt if she will deposit more in the egg simply because she is eating more than she needs.

    ReplyDelete
  16. how long does it take for their legs to heal? I have 20 2wk old ducklings and they all have this problem.

    ReplyDelete
  17. If they have been misshapen for more than a week, they will probably not recover - even if you provide the proper feed.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have a one 10 day old Muscovy out of flock of 170 that his foot has flipped and he is walking on the back side of it.

    Is this a niacin deficiency?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As no other birds are exhibiting leg problems, I doubt if the feed is deficient in niacin. My guess it is an injury.

      Delete
  19. I am considering getting a yearling goose that I've been told has a slipped tendon. She limps.
    I am wondering if this is something that can be passed on through breeding?
    Is there a genetic cause behind this? I realize that a lack of enough Vitamin B can cause it, but I'm wondering about breeding.
    My thoughts are that I should NOT breed the goose, as it could be passed on, and I don't want to pass on anything negative. I only want to breed better. Is my thinking right on? Or does this have nothing to do with genetics?
    And are there breeds of geese that are more susceptible? The goose I'm considering is a Sebastopol.
    Thank you in advance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I contacted our veterinarian and his response was "Yes there is a genetic tendency but this is just one of a multitude of causes of slipped tendons. A breeder person would not use this goose as you do not want to breed possible negative issues." I do not know if some breeds are more susceptible than others. I hope this helps.

      Delete
  20. I have 4 muscovy ducklings out of a hatching of 12 that seem to have a niacin issue. Also very cold here in New Jersey at night. Brought these 4 in and now away from their mother. The other 8 are doing great..running. So started niacin in water last night. However, maybe the drops would be better. Question is, the 20mg of niacin per dropper full is enough for 2 ducklings. So splitting in half, I would give each duckling 10 mg each day? My ducklings are just 2 weeks old today. Born October 15th. Thank you...Cindy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, if you have a liquid supplement with 20mg of Niacin per dropper, then each dropper is sufficient for two ducklings.

      Delete
  21. I'd like to know more about using feed-grade yeast as a supplement in duck food. What brands are available? What are the mixing instructions for supplementing niacin in this way?

    ReplyDelete
  22. You should probably involve a nutritionist in your questions. You need to know how much available niacin is in the yeast and if your ration needs supplementing. Once you know this, you can figure how much yeast to add. If you are purchasing a premixed feed, however, it rarely needs additional niacin.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you for your help. One of our three two-week-old Pekins started getting "pigeon toed" and not walking as much as the other two and after reading your information, we started a niacin supplement through the Vitamin B liquid using a half dropper per day as well as putting Brewers Yeast on their food. A week later the duck is now stronger and his legs are not as bowed as before. We're new to pet ducks, so thanks again for your help.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hi, I wonder if you could advise me. I have eight muscovy ducklings, born on the 11th April. Four of them have kept the scabby sort of skin on the webbed part of their feet, which seems to be hindering the proper growth of their feet. They do keep nibbling at this dead skin, I expect is irritating them.... is this normal. The other worry I have is that one duckling isn't walking well at all, it would rather lay down than walk, but can do when if had to. It's legs aren't splayed at all, and none of its siblings are exhibiting the same symptoms. I've just bought some 100mg niacin pills from the health food store, should I crumble a pill per gallon of drinking water for then all to drink, do you think? It seems fine when it swims.... I'm really not sure what's up. How you can help.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have a approximately 6 week old peking duck that is having some kind of leg problems. She is growing, eating, drinking, and looks healthy, but she will not walk around or follow the other birds. She will get herself to food and water, (if it's not too far), but when she walks, it is with a severe limp, and she often puts her wing out (seems like for balance), and has to take frequent breaks to lay down during the journey. She cannot get herself into the baby pool to swim, like the others we bought at the same time, so I put her in the pool to swim, and then I have to take her out as well. My husband think we should put her down, as she probably won't survive, but like I said, she seems to be healthy, just needs a little assistance at times. I am going to try the nicacin, but what do you think? I don't want to keep her in pain (if she is), just because I love her. I actually have seen a little improvement with her in the last several days. She will come out of the night-time coop/fence area into the fenced yard (which has a 1-2 inch lip of fence which sticks up in the opening) by herself. Would appreciate any advice. The other ducks are great. Oh, she also had an eye infection lately, but I used Veterycin spray, and it went away. Will she be more susceptible to disease?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would guess she is in some pain or she wouldn't be limping. I am not a physician but the reason people and other animals limp is to protect the hurting leg. I am guessing she will live many years. But she will be more susceptible to infections, predators and other health issues. You could take her to a vet and he can probably tell you if it is a injury or nutritional issue. It may be curable, it may not be. But the only way you will know is by visiting a vet. You can try niacin but that normally on corrects things if done immediately. My guess is the niacin may prevent further damage but not correct past damage - if it is niacin related. Hope this helps.

      Delete
  26. My daughter recently 'rescued' two Aylesbury ducks from a duck egg producer who was going out of business. They are about 26 weeks old and one of them had a sore leg for a few days - she would lift the foot and had trouble taking weight on it. She now walks OK although she is somewhat clumsy as the foot turns in slightly. We thought that maybe she trod on her own foot if that's how she always walks and so caused her own injury or maybe she was injured when being caught by the farmer when my daughter first collected the ducks.

    However, we have now had them for 10 days and, although she is taking the weight on her foot, we have noticed that the joint above the foot is slightly larger than on the other foot. We thought at first that it appeared larger because the joint is twisted but we are concerned. We have not handled the ducks yet as we wanted them to settle in first so we cannot tell if it is hot or tender.

    Can you tell me if the turned in foot is common; will it correct itself; is the enlarged joint a problem; should we take her to a vet? She is eating well and goes into a splash pool to clean and preen. We re complete novices and would appreciate any advice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The turned in foot is not common. I doubt if it will correct itself. I am sure the swelling will go down and she will probably be able to move around well in the future. Legs are the weak part in ducks and it is not uncommon for them to injure their leg joints.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for the advice. We obviously want to do our best for the ducks and your re-assurance is most welcome.

      Delete
  27. I have a cayuga several months old. It was born fine but within the past month started limping and now walks on its heels with feet facing up. Often gets feet caught behind its wings. Now sure what I can do for it. I keep it alone on soft bedding and swim it a few times a day. It is eating and drinking but of course now it HATES me! My vet suggested a sling of some sort but not sure how to do that. Another told me to wrap legs in a normal position and keep it confined. Only out to swim. Suggestions? One foot turned in. Diet has not changed and niacin is in the feed.

    ReplyDelete