Niacin Deficiency in Young Waterfowl

Different species and types of birds have different nutritional needs. This seems really simple and obvious, yet sometimes in the hubbub of feeding a group of young birds people find that they haven’t paid as much attention to what feed they are feeding which birds and why it is important. One of the more common nutritional deficiencies is niacin-deficiency in waterfowl, and it is mainly seen when young, growing waterfowl are fed a feed labeled and meant for laying chickens.

Niacin is a B-Vitamin, specifically B3. And it is a truly essential nutrient for the health and proper development of growing fowl. Waterfowl, Game Birds, and Broiler or Meat-style Chickens require higher amounts of niacin in their diets than Laying Chickens. Feeds that have been specifically formulated for waterfowl have the perfect amount of niacin in them. Some chick starter formulas for laying chickens do have enough niacin, but it is safest to use a water-fowl specific feed, especially for fast growing and developing young birds.

Signs of niacin deficiency include lack of weight gain, failure to thrive, and reluctance to walk. Eventually, leg development is affected, and the legs become bowed to the point where the waterfowl cannot walk. If not caught and corrected early, the damage from the niacin deficiency can be irreversible.

Niacin is naturally found in the muscle and organ meats of many animals and fish. Waterfowl in the wild are able to forage all sorts of animal-based foods such as insects, fish, worms, aquatic invertebrates, etc. and thus are able to acquire the correct amount of niacin. Waterfowl in captivity do not have access to these natural sources and need a feed that provides the proper amount.

Some people suggest buying a human niacin supplement for their waterfowl, but we don’t recommend this as administering the correct amount evenly, to each bird, is quite tricky. Providing your birds with a varied and diverse diet with natural and whole-food sources of niacin along with a commercial waterfowl feed is a solid way to insure they are getting optimal niacin and nutrition in general. For added niacin, consider offering small amounts of liver, dried brewer’s yeast, sardines, or salmon.