Baby, It’s cold outside: Supplementing Your Chickens Feed in the Winter

January 29, 2016

 

Nothing beats a warm, sunny day. The kind where your chickens get to rush around in the lush, green grass, chasing bugs and other goodies. Getting all those yummy, juicy nutrients, just as nature intended…

I keep imagining this with relish as I stare out at empty, barren trees. The lawn a mix of brown, stubby grass and fallen leaves. The air has its typical winter chill–and I know I’m not the only one feeling it. The girls’ are making the best of it, certainly more than I am. Chickens are optimists, as it turns out.

IMG_4627

Hello, Loretta. Yes, you’re front and center in the shot. Don’t worry.

They are also, it seems, escape artists.

We have two main runs for the girls. One is attached to the coop, and fenced on all sides, including the top. It is this run they go into when we aren’t around to keep an eye on them. The other, while also being attached to the coop so they can go back in when they want, isn’t covered on top. Its’ a simple fence designed to give them more room to forage and do their chicken thang. Ya feel me?

And this set up has worked great since the end of August. Before we put the garden to sleep for the winter, we used to pop the girls’ right into it. It’s about 350-400 square feet of space. They loved it! We had an understanding, them and I.

Fast forward to today. It’s cold, nothing is growing, and they miss the green and the grubs. I can’t say I blame ’em. I CAN, however, blame them for realizing they can fly out of their larger run and traipse all over the yard (and the woods, AHEM.) WHY, chickens?!

Oh, right. You’re bored. Silly me.

loretta photobomb

Which brings me to the point of our darling little topic for the day: Supplementing Your Chickens Feed in the Winter.

It’s a thing, people. Definitely a thing. Especially for this urban homesteader.

The goal is simple: increase the amount of calories your birds are ingesting. By adding in foods that are higher in calories, or even by switching up the ratio of your feeds (depending on what you feed), your chicken will stay warm because its’ body is working hard to digest the food. You can go as crazy or stay as basic as you want when you’re supplementing their feed. I, personally, like to strive for simplicity, while still offering them a diverse amount of extra goodies. Take note: some of the food listed here will not have a high fat/caloric content (if any). I’ve included them anyway because my girls’ love them, and it helps satisfy their very eclectic foraging needs.

Now, this doesn’t mean all you have to do is stuff your guys/gals full of extra food and your work for the winter is done. There are still plenty of other things you should be checking daily to ensure your chickens are comfortable and safe throughout the cold season. One of the biggest being, always make sure your chickens have access to fresh water! Make sure it isn’t freezing on them. We’ll talk more about some of their other winter care needs more later on. For now, let’s focus on the feed aspect.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of different supplementation options for your flock. Keep in mind, you should evaluate this list and use your own best judgement on what is most appropriate for you and your flock based upon individual needs and geographical locations. Someone in Florida, for example, will have different “winter” feeding needs than I would, here in New England. I would strongly assume. I could be wrong — Florida chicken keepers, chime in below in the comments and bring me up to speed 😉

Note: I would consider a majority of these supplemental treats, which is fine since we’re still feeding their regular feed.

( Click here to read my disclaimer, and I’ll reiterate, I am not a veterinarian and these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. I claim no responsibility of the use of this information. Take everything you read, anywhere really, with a grain of salt. I encourage everyone to do their own research and make the most informed decision for themselves! )

CRACKED CORN

Depending on what type of diet you have your chickens on, this may or may not already be in their regular feed. It is in mine, in a pretty even ratio. I have seen it suggested many, many times to switch your feed ratio to be 2/3 corn, because it is higher in fat and calories. Both the feed and the scratch mix we use is GMO-free and organic, so I continue this theme for upping their corn consumption. They will get an extra amount of corn each day, usually fed to them at night. Timing is important here, because their bodies will continue to digest it overnight. Digesting takes work that helps to heat the body!

IMG_4621CORNBREAD

Moving right along on our corn train, next stop: Cornbread! It’s a nice, fatty little treat to offer them. It’s also an interesting treat to mix up the everyday routine. Also, YOU get to eat cornbread, if you’re so inclined. It’s a win-win in my book 😉

FRESH GREENS

The first on the list (but not last!) that isn’t a high calorie/high fat food. My girls’ are accustomed to having a large, very green-filled area to rummage around and feast to their hearts’ content. During the winter, they don’t. Have you ever seen a chicken beg? Pitiful! Sad chickens equals sad chicken keeper! So I chop up whatever fresh greens I have and give them some. I generally always have spinach, kale, escarole, or endive on hand, so I throw the girls’ some and make everyone happier. Easy peasy!

HOMEMADE SUET

Not just for wild birds anymore! It’s a pretty simple process to whip up some homemade suet for your birds. It’s a tasty treat and the fat it’s made with will definitely help keep warm in the winter! I love Jill’s, from The Prairie Homestead, recipe here. Be sure to read through the comments, as well! I always seem to find great ideas and motivation when I peruse through the comments.

MEALWORMS

These are your best friend when teaching your chickens to come when called, just FYI here. My girls’ looove mealworms. I give them mealworms pretty much year round, as it’s their most treasured treat. From what I’ve gathered from other chicken owners, most chickens simply adore them. Alas, it deserves a place on our list.

ALFALFA

Alfalfa is a great way to add a nice protein boost to your chickens’ diet. You can buy it in a bale or in pellet form, which tend to be most common. I usually grab a bale from the local feed store, though you could also grab a smaller bag from a pet shop. I find the bale to be more cost effective, but it’s totally up to you and what works best for your chickens. When I grab a bale, I like to loosen it up a bit and toss some scratch or other treat, like mealworms, in with the alfalfa. They have a blast digging through it!

HOT GRAINS

I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve talked to tons of other flock owners’ who swear by it. Try cooking up some hot grains (legumes, quinoa, rye, barley, etc) and serving it to your girls warm. It’s a great way to warm them up, with the added benefit of having a nice protein kick.

LIVE BUGS

I often toss my girls some crickets or wax worms. I own a bearded dragon, so I always have some type of live insects on hand, and I often toss the girls some once a day. Since they are constantly catching bugs themselves during the warmer months, I’m sure they appreciate the treat of chasing them down in the winter. You can grab these at most pet stores, or in more economical portions on line. You might consider, also, raising them yourself. Many chicken/reptile owners raise their own crickets, mealworms, and roaches.

FODDER

This #1 on my to-do list right now. I haven’t personally tried this one yet, but I’ve read so many awesome reviews of it! It can be a very cost effective, super nutritious way to feed your chickens during the winter months. Note: you can also feed other livestock fodder, as well! Feeding fodder is simple. Start off the grain as you would any other seedling. At about 7-10 days, when they have their first leaves, but haven’t yet grown their second, feed these sprouts to your chickens! WHAT?! Yes! It’s that simple. You can DIY your own set up, or buy one. I’m going to DIY mine, and will definitely share the process with you all! Another advantage to fodder is that there are so many different seed options to try. I like this article for a great intro to the fodder system.


So, there you have it. A few of my own tricks for helping the girls’ through our bitter New England winters. Though, I have to say, this one has’t been nearly as bad as some in the past 😉

So, what about you? How do you supplement your chickens feed in the colder months? I’d love to know! Drop a comment below!

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