If you need to know how to feed chickens in the winter, you need to first understand what chickens eat.
Chickens, you might be surprised to hear, are not vegetarians. Besides their voracious appetites for bugs, chickens will also gladly eat mice, lizards, snakes or most any other form of meat they can get their beaks on.
As a matter of fact, chickens will even hunt this food.
Nothing causes as much joy for these feathered fiends as a mouse in the hen house.
Feathers will fly as the entire flock goes wild chasing it and then fighting each other over the spoils. The Buckeye breed of chicken is even famous for its mice hunting abilities, said to be as good as a barn cat.
There is more to chicken winter care than feeding them, such as using the deep litter method. Still, a chicken and deal with a very rough winter environment with the proper food.
Chickens in the winter need protein
Really this makes sense.
With all the egg laying going on, chickens need a lot of protein and protein is difficult to get from purely vegetarian sources (ask any vegetarian).
While the outside of an egg is mostly calcium, the inside is protein and fat. If you’re asking your chickens to lay an egg every day or two, they need the right nutrients to keep producing.
In the summertime, it is easy for your chickens to get enough protein. There are bugs everywhere and even if you don’t see them, your chickens still do.
In the winter though, the pests have mostly disappeared (to the happiness of humans). Unfortunately, this combined with the lack of light means that your hens may go on an egg laying strike.
Feeding chickens in the winter before commercial feeds
Back before commercial feeds became popular, it was often the responsibility of the little boys of the household to take their slingshots out and hunt mice, squirrels, lizards, small birds and anything else that could be fed to chickens.
This not only got the little ones out from underfoot, but gave them an important responsibility that would help keep the family supplied in eggs throughout the winter.
If you have no little kids or slingshots available and more money than time, you can purchase a higher protein feed such as game feed. However, there is one fantastic way to supplement your chickens that is not only free, but takes hardly any time and is super effective.
How to feed chickens in the winter for cheap
Food 1: Homemade suet
Don’t ever, ever, ever throw away any grease when you’re done cooking.
Many households struggle with what to do with this “waste product.” You aren’t supposed to compost it because it attracts critters and throwing it away is just wasteful.
You can feed a bit of it to your dogs, but they can’t eat much of it without bowel issues.
And unlike my great-grandmother whose favorite meal was a lard sandwich, we don’t like to reuse or eat leftover grease like we did in the olden days.
However, your chickens will be so grateful to help you solve this dilemma.
What is suet?
Suet is the loin or kidney fat from cow or sheep, traditionally used for candle making.
Really though any fat is great for making a homemade suet block. Leftover grease is useful for making homemade suet blocks. Do go easy on bacon grease because it is often high in salts and nitrates.
A suet recipe is a very easy thing. Every time you cook, simply drain and save the grease, bits of meat and all.
Don’t be afraid of getting any extras in it such as herbs or veggies, the chickens will love these as well.
Store this grease in a container in the freezer. Any extras you have such as bread crumbs, cut veggie leftovers, nuts, raisins, chunks of leftover meat, etc. just toss into the container.
Next time you cook, pour the grease overtop. You’ll end up with a chicken loving block of greasy goodness.
You can purchase a suet feeder to put your concoction into or just set it in a feed container or even on an empty feed bag. Chickens don’t need anything fancy, but it would be wise to keep the block out of the dirt.
Ideally, you should save grease all throughout the warmer months in order to keep your chickens well-supplied throughout the winter. If chickens can have regular access to suet blocks, they should be able to meet their winter protein needs and you should stay well-supplied with winter eggs.
Food 2: Cracked Corn
You can’t feed chickens a ton of corn, but it does make a great treat for winter warmth.
We like to give our chickens corn on cold evenings for a nice boost of body heat.
Science says that carbohydrates and fat produce body heat. This is why cracked corn is a good winter feed. It’s why suet is even better. If you are already feeding your chickens suet then please don’t give them corn on top of it.
If your chickens are eating lots of corn, they aren’t eating their nutrient dense feed. You may end up causing a nutritional imbalance if you overfeed.
Food 3: Mealworms
Mealworms are high in protein and fat. They are living creatures that fulfill chicken’s carnivorous eating needs.
You’ll find that your chickens will go absolutely bonkers for meal worms. You’ll not only be giving them excellent nutrients, but you’ll fill them up psychologically too.
The only downside to mealworms is, unless you plan on raising them, they have to be purchased. Suet is usually made out of leftovers, so it’s basically free.
Summary of how to feed chickens in the winter
- Chickens are omnivorous so you have to keep in mind their fat and protein needs
- Chickens hunt small animals and their protein needs increase during the winter
- You have to provide them this extra protein since they can’t get out and hunt
- There are three foods that make excellent winter feed supplements: Suet, Corn and Mealworms
- Suet is the best option since it provides both fat and protein and is also free
Good luck with your winter chicken care!
What do you feed your chickens in the winter to keep them warm and healthy?
Hey! This post might have some affiliate links. That means if you click a link and buy something, we make money-and it doesn’t even cost you anything! Pretty cool right?
Lauren Arcuri Ware runs a small farm and family homestead on 25 acres in Vermont. Her experience includes raising chickens for eggs and meat, growing vegetables, harvesting apples, keeping bees, and canning, freezing, drying, pickling, and preserving food. She’s covered those topics for The Spruce for seven years.
The Spruce / Steven Merkel
For new chicken owners, winter can be a scary time. You may be wondering if your chickens will be warm enough or if they will still keep laying eggs. Don’t worry—these tips will keep your hens happy and healthy in even the coldest months.
Chickens Don’t Need a Heater
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Don’t put a heater in your chicken coop for winter warmth. Think of all that bedding—you’re asking for a fire. Plus, chickens don’t need it. They huddle together for warmth. And don’t seal up the coop completely. Ventilation is key to prevent moisture buildup.
Use Deep Litter to Keep Them Warm
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
The deep litter method is a way of allowing bedding material and chicken poop to build up in the coop over the spring, summer, and fall so that by winter you have roughly a foot of composting material on the floor of the coop. This composting poop and bedding will give off heat, warming the coop naturally.
They May Not Lay Unless You Supplement Light
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Some birds are great layers right through the winter. Buff Orpingtons seem to lay no matter how short the days. But in general, supplemental light is required if you want to keep your family or customers in eggs all winter long. However, there are some downsides to supplementing light—it stresses the birds and can shorten their laying life. So consider both pros and cons.
Feed Them Corn in the Evening to Keep Them Warm All Night
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Giving your chickens a nice feeding of cracked corn before bed gives them something to digest during the night, keeping them warmer. It’s their favorite food, and they’ll be happier with full bellies.
Hang a Head of Cabbage for a Chicken Play Toy
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Just like humans, chickens can get a little bored and stir-crazy in the winter. They sure seem to enjoy a head of cabbage on a string in the coop. They go wild pecking at it while it bobs around. Give this simple trick a try to keep your hens happy.
Make Them a Nice Sunroom
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
If you’re worried about your girls not having enough space in the coop, you can build a kind of cold frame or greenhouse-style addition to your structure, covering it in clear plastic. They will wander out into it and have a bit more space on nice days, and you can rest easy knowing they aren’t too cramped and are getting some fresh air.
Petroleum Jelly on Combs and Wattles Protects from Frostbite
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
In the coldest winter climates, you may find that breeds with large combs and wattles are prone to frostbite. To protect them, you can smear their combs and wattles with petroleum jelly. However, if your chickens do get frostbite, it is usually nothing serious as just the tips of the combs are affected—but it can look a little icky.
Chickens Don’t Like Snow
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Generally speaking, once temperatures are in the 20 degrees Fahrenheit range, chickens won’t walk out into the snow. You can scatter hay or straw on the ground and this will make it more palatable for them. When the temperature is a little higher in the low 30s, they don’t seem to mind walking on the snow as much.
Chickens Don’t Have to Be Put Inside in Bad Weather
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Johner Images / Getty Images
If chickens don’t want to be outdoors, they’ll head into the coop. Just let them do what they want. They’re hardier than you might think and aren’t as averse to cold as people often assume. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to shoo them indoors during rain or snow.
Roosts Are Key
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The Spruce / Steven Merkel
Chickens will roost together and fluff themselves out. This is what keeps them warm. It also keeps them off the cold ground—roost should be raised at least 2 or 3 feet above the earth. So make sure you have plenty of space for all your chickens to comfortably roost. Check on them in the evening with a flashlight—if a bird is on the ground, there’s not enough space.
Hopefully, these tips will put your mind at ease, and keep your chickens happy and entertained during the coldest months. If you haven’t built your coop yet, be sure to visit others in your area during winter to see firsthand how the birds take to cooler temperatures.
Resources and insights for a happy, healthy flock
The days are getting shorter, the girls are finishing up their molts, and you are getting less eggs as winter approaches. You might be wondering, “is this normal?” The answer is, yes, it’s perfectly normal.
Chickens need about 16 hours of light per day to produce eggs, with the exception of some over-eager first year hens who may lay throughout winter. But with the shortened daylight hours, and the cold weather requiring more of their energy resources be directed to keeping their body temperatures where the need to be, egg production will go down.
Just because your ladies have slowed down on their egg production, or even stopped, however, doesn’t mean they need less nutrition. Continuing to feed a quality, nutritious, energy-providing diet, just like you would through the warmer months, will help your girls continue some egg production and provide them the energy reserves they require to stay warm and fit. It will also help them show up next spring in prime condition to start laying regularly again.
You may hear some chicken owners say they feed a cheap layer feed, or even nothing but scratch in winter, because it is cheaper and “they aren’t laying anyway”. If you pay attention, these are often the same folks that lose birds in the winter, or their birds look pretty rough come spring time. Scratch grains should never make up more than 10% of any birds diet – or what they can clean up in about 5 minutes.
Don’t forget to provide grit throughout the winter as well, as they may not be able to find it on their own due to snow and mud.
The main problem with poultry in winter isn’t actually food, the problem is ensuring they have access to drinking water. Drinkers and ponds can freeze and chickens can’t eat ice or ducks swim in it!
A warm breakfast will help them maintain body heat and condition in the coldest part of winter but you need to be careful to maintain the right balance of vitamins and minerals in the food.
Winter Poultry Feeders & Drinkers
Once the weather becomes freezing you will notice in the morning that you drinkers and ponds freeze over and if very cold they can refreeze during the day. The drinkers can be wrapped up in a layer of bubble wrap to help prevent freezing and adding slightly warmer water in the morning helps to keep in unfrozen for longer.
In winter I don’t fill the drinkers to the top so that when the water freezes and then defrosts the expansion doesn’t split the drinker making it un-useable. Proper drinker covers can be purchased online as well to keep the water liquid throughout the winter.
What to Feed Chickens in Winter
Come winter poultry often enjoy warm treats which help to keep their body temperature up. Remember that treats should only be given later afternoon as they still need the nutrients from their main feed in the winter.
I make up a mash porridge in the morning for them by adding warm water and a small handful of porridge oats to a large portion of their pellets and give them this to start them off for the day as well as feeding adlib pellets. In late afternoon I scatter a handful of corn for them to peck at as this helps keep them warm overnight.
Some people like to feed a porridge for the hen’s breakfast just made from oats but the danger is that the hens will fill up on this and not get all the vitamins they require. Layers pellets and mash are formulated to contain all their requirements.
This article is part one of a 3 part series on looking after your chickens and poultry in winter.
- The first part, Keeping Your Chickens Warm in Winter, discusses housing and has a number of tips for dealing with very cold weather.
- The second part, The Chicken’s Garden in Winter, covers ways to keep the garden in some sort of order during winter when the hens can turn it into a mud bath.
- The third part, What & How to Feed Chickens in Winter, covers how to ensure your poultry have enough of the right things to eat and drink in Winter.
Starting a Flock : Considering Chickens
Starting a Flock : Environment
Starting a Flock : Caring for Chicks
Flock Management : Flock Health
Flock Management : Layer Nutrition
Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions
There’s nothing as cozy and snug as your hens in their winter chicken coop. But many flock raisers wonder how to keep chickens warm in winter. Follow our 10 cold weather flock tips and know a bird’s thick feathers are a natural protective coat, so most breeds are well-equipped for winter without the need for a chicken coop heater.
Here are 10 common questions about how to keep chickens warm in winter:
1. Is a heat lamp and chicken coop heater necessary?
There’s no need to buy expensive heat lamps or a chicken coop heater for your flock. Chickens, especially cold-weather chicken breeds (see breed suggestions below), can withstand winter temperatures without supplemental heat. A chicken’s body temperature is around 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and they have their own protective layer of feathers to keep them warm.
If you feel it is necessary to provide a chicken coop heater, only provide enough heat to raise the temperature a few degrees. The hens will adjust to the cold temperature, but if it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the coop and 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the run, birds will not be able to regulate their body temperature.
2. What to feed chickens in winter?
A common myth is to feed oatmeal to birds in the winter. This is not a beneficial treat for chickens. Oats contain types of fiber that chickens can’t digest, which can cause the contents of the digestive tract to thicken. This leads to a reduction in the bird’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Greens are also unnecessary. Hens may pick at hay and spread it around, but they are not going to eat it.
Choosing a layer feed with the Purina ® Oyster Strong ® System will help your hens lay strong and stay strong all winter long. Which layer feed Oyster Strong ® System is right for your flock?
- Purina ® Layena ® pelletsorcrumbles – Our most popular layer feeds
- Purina ® Layena ® Omega-3 – Includes added omega-3 fatty acids for your health
- Purina ® Layena ® Free Range – Includes insect protein
- Purina ® Organic Layer Feed – Certified USDA Organic
3. How do you keep feed and water from freezing?
4. Can chickens stay outside in the winter?
Birds can tolerate snow, cold air and ice. There is very little muscle in the lower part of bird legs and feet. The movements are controlled by tendons that stretch from the upper part of the legs down to the toes.
Secondly, the blood entering the lower legs and feet is cooled by the blood returning to the heart. The blood returning is thus warmed by the blood going to the toes. The tissue receives just enough heat to avoid frostbite while also providing enough oxygen to keep their system functioning. So yes, let your chickens stay outside in the winter and enjoy the snow!
5. Do chickens lay eggs in winter?
The shorter days of winter often signal time for an egg-laying break. Your ladies may stop laying eggs, lose old feathers and grow new ones. This annual slowdown is known as molt. Molt can last 8 to 12 weeks, and you’ll notice a decrease in egg production. Check out these three tips to help your molting chickens.
For sustained egg production, provide at least 16 hours of light per day. Use one incandescent 25-watt or LED 3- to 9-watt bulb per 100 square feet of coop space on an automatic timer.
6. Do chicken eggs freeze?
7. Should a winter chicken coop be draft-free?
8. Should the winter chicken coop be dry?
9. Do chickens need more coop activities in winter?
10. What are some good cold weather chicken breeds?
If you live in a very cold climate, consider a cold-tolerant chicken breed like Araucana, Australorp, Silkie Bantam, Minorca, Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, New Hampshire Red, Delaware or Wyandotte. Your chicken’s thick feathers are a natural protective coat, so most breeds are well-equipped for winter weather.
Now that you know how to keep chickens warm in winter, you’re ready to level up your flock with Oyster Strong ® . Sign-up for our Feed Greatness ® Challenge and receive $6 worth of feed coupons.
Feeding chickens in the winter is a little different than feeding chickens during the rest of the year. During nice weather, chickens love to forage and free range in the pasture looking for the choicest bits of protein and green roughage. They are so happy and content and their minds are fully occupied. In the winter, however, there are limited opportunities to free range. They do not like snow and in Minnesota their chance of finding bugs is slim to none.
Hens that are laying eggs need extra protein all year round and its not just the right kind of food but the right amount of food that is important as well. As winter approaches , a chicken’s feed consumption will be 1.5 times the amount they eat in the spring and summer. You will notice an increase in your feed bill and you will be filling those feeding dish more often.
This increase in food consumption is due to the fact that they are coming off of their fall molt and need energy to regrow feathers. They are also using more energy in order to keep warm in the winter. They can’t just put on another sweater. They have to generate body heat to keep themselves from freezing. If they were free rangers they no longer have access to free food in the form of bugs and greens. Instead they will be increasing their feed consumption in their feeding bowls.
The most important thing to remember when feeding in the winter is to make sure that they are getting plenty of their regular, nutritious feed. Some people have their hens on layer food which has calcium in it. It is around 16% protein. I like to feed mine a Gamebird feed which has a higher percent of protein. I think that silkies benefit all year round from that higher 24% protein. These basic feeds are created to give your bird the correct amount of vitamins and minerals that they need. This is what they should be eating most of the day. Add Oyster shell to the feed for eggshell development. I also put vitamins in their water because I think that silkies need that extra amount of nutrients.
Carbohydrate treats help to keep your birds warm especially on exceptionally cold days. The best sources are what you would find in chicken scratch. Cracked corn, oats and wheat. Scratch scattered around the coop or run will also give the birds something to do and keep them occupied. Remember to offer grit with the scratch. In the winter the small rocks in your run may be covered in snow not allowing the chickens to find their own grit. They need the grit in their crops in order to grind up these scratch grains.
Some people make a nice bowl of warm oatmeal for their chickens on cold mornings. It is a great treat to warm up their insides. Just use regular breakfast oatmeal but make sure that you are not serving it too hot. Cracked corn is a wonderful winter treat. I give mine to my silkies right before bedtime. They will go to bed with a full crop and be warm all night. Watch out for cracked corn turning white silkie’s feathers a yellow tinge on their necks and crests. I usually feed oatmeal instead of corn to the whites. Also, be aware that too many carbohydrates will make your chickens overweight. A heavy hen is not a good layer so be careful with the amount of treats. Treats should be given later in the day as the birds need the nutrients from their main feed first.
Sprouting grains and fodder is a great way to bring the goodness of the outdoor summer pasture all year round. Sprouting grains can increase the enzyme, vitamin and protein content of any seed. I have sprouted and fed my birds both oats and wheat. If you would like to learn how to sprout check out “Sprouting Grains and Growing Fodder” in our blog archives.
Live mealworms can be grown at home or ordered as a fun protein treat. You can grow them using wheat bran as bedding. If you are not sure that you want to deal with live mealworms, they also have the dried form which the birds also enjoy. You can also order live crickets which your hens will have no trouble gobbling up. There are freeze dried crickets as well.
Boredom is common during the winter in the coop. You don’t want the birds to turn on each other in desperation for something new and interesting to do. Try hanging a cabbage or head of lettuce in one of these treat balls. They will spend hours trying to get at those leafy vegetables. Be sure and feed extra greens such as kale, collard, chard and spinach. Leftovers from your salads are great for them as are any kitchen scraps.
Flock Blocks are popular because they lasts a long time. Chickens have an instinct to peck at things. Better to have them pecking at a flock block than pecking at each other during the winter months.
If you are offering treats to your flock outside in the winter, make sure that you are placing it in some kind of bowl or feeding dish. The ground can be very wet outside in the winter. If you sprinkle food on the ground it will get soggy. Birds do not like soggy food. Make sure you clean up any left over food and pellets. If you don’t it will attract pests such as mice. Store extra food safely in sealable containers so you don’t attract predators.
This page is part of IGN’s Stardew Valley Wiki guide and details everything you need to know about feeding Chickens, including how to get Chickens, what do Chickens eat, as well as how to feed your Chickens hay and grass.
How To Get Chickens
Chickens are a type of coop dwelling animal you can get by purchasing them from Marnie’s Ranch (open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm every day except for Mondays and Tuesdays). Chickens can be bought for 800 gold each or by using a chicken egg on an incubator and are unlocked by having Robin build you a coop.
What Do Chickens Eat
Chickens need two things to be happy and lay eggs: attention and food. You can take care of the first one by interacting with your Chickens every day. As for food, Chickens eat hay or fresh grass.
Feeding Hay To Your Chickens
To feed your Chickens hay, you’ll have to take the food from your inventory and then place it on the feeding bench inside coops. But, If you have a silo on your farm, all you’ll have to do is withdrawn hay from the hay hopper inside your coop and place it on top of the feeding bench.
There are multiple ways of obtaining hay in Stardew Valley, for example:
- By Purchasing it from Marnie’s ranch or from the Desert Trader.
- By planting Wheat Seeds and harvesting hay using a Scythe.
- By asking Robin to build you a silo and then harvesting hay from grass using a Scythe.
- By cutting weeds using any melee weapon enchanted with haymaker.
Moreover, if you have the Big Coop, the Autofeed System will automatically pull hay from the Hay Hopper into the Feeding bench.
Feeding Fresh Grass To Your Chickens
To feed fresh grass to your Chickens, all you need to do is open the door that’s outside coops and let the animals roam free until they find grass to eat.
Every Chicken should be inside the Coop before you close the door, or the animal will be stuck outside at night; this will make them grumpy and leave them vulnerable to wild animal attacks.
If you use this method to feed your Chickens, keep in mind that all grass on your farm will disappear during winter, so letting the Chickens out to feed on themselves won’t be possible.
Welcome winter. The cold air has arrived, the day length has shortened, and you and your chickens are preparing for the cold months ahead. With a few helpful tips, winter can be enjoyed by both humans and our feathered friends.
The Feathered Furnace
As the cold weather settles in for a few months, you may begin to worry about your chickens and how they will handle the change in season. Chickens are remarkably adaptable creatures and can naturally acclimate to cold weather. The internal body temperature of a chicken is much higher than humans, 103-105ºF vs. 98.6ºF. In addition, chickens are equipped with one of nature’s best insulators – the feather. Feathers, just like fur, insulate and help maintain proper body temperature by trapping air against the body. This air is then warmed by the higher body temperature of the bird. The more air a chicken can trap, the better insulated the bird will be, which is why many birds will fluff their feathers during periods of cold weather. This action creates more space for air to be trapped against the skin and, thus, more insulation against the colder temperatures.
Chickens, just like humans, use energy to generate and maintain a consistent internal body temperature. The act of metabolizing feed generates heat and is often the reason why you can expect your chickens to consume more feed in the winter months and less feed in the summer months. Each gram of protein and each gram of carbohydrate consumed will provide four calories. Each gram of fat consumed will provide nine calories. This is true, whether we are talking about humans, chickens, dogs, or elephants.
A chicken can produce a surprising amount of heat through metabolism and activity alone. A 4.5-pound laying hen may generate 10.5 watts of heat per hour. When you factor in the heat generated by the rest of your chickens, a small flock of 10 hens has the potential to produce more heat per hour than a 100-watt light bulb. You can now see why chickens are remarkably able to adapt and thrive in colder temperatures.
The amount of heat generated during metabolism is related to the quantity and the quality of feed consumed. A chicken will regulate body temperature to make up for heat loss by internally modifying how quickly they burn fats and carbohydrates for energy. Providing a well-balanced complete feed to your chickens at all times will allow each bird to consume as much or as little feed as she needs to maintain the proper body temperature and stay comfortable based on the conditions for that particular day. Most of us can expect our hens to lay fewer eggs in the winter months, but that does not mean we should change feeding programs or stop providing a complete layer feed. A nutritionally-sound and well-balanced complete feed is always the best option to choose when feeding your hens. Complete feeds contain all of the vitamins and minerals a hen needs to stay healthy and strong during the cold winter months.
Do Extra Calories Equal Extra Comfort?
We all think of winter as the perfect opportunity to enjoy our favorite comfort foods and you may feel tempted to provide the same for your chickens. Many times, you will hear recommendations for feeding scratch grains and cracked corn to your hens to provide extra calories during the winter months. Scratch grains and corn will provide extra calories but they also contain high levels of carbohydrates. If your hens eat too much scratch or cracked corn, they may not eat enough of the nutritionally-balanced complete feed . Even though the temperature has dropped, it is still a good idea to consider scratch grains and cracked corn as treats and to limit consumption to no more than 10% of the total feed intake. Remember, each gram of carbohydrate consumed will provide four calories but each gram of fat consumed will provide nine calories – 125% more energy than carbohydrates. Providing access to your complete feed at all times is a better balance of nutrients for your hens. The average hen will eat 0.25 to 0.45 pounds per day, so if you are throwing out an entire coffee can of scratch grains, you may be providing too many treats to your flock and causing an imbalance in their nutrient intake. Save the scratch grains and cracked corn for the coldest days of winter and resist providing them as an everyday treat.
Water Is Still Important in Winter
During the cold winter months, we are often tempted to focus on other nutrient requirements and forget about the importance of water. There are six classes of nutrients – protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and, arguably the most important, water. Water is essential to necessitate metabolism and maintain proper body temperature. Since water is such an essential part of metabolism, it may help to understand how chickens will use and produce water during digestion. A chicken may produce 0.14 grams of water for each calorie that she metabolizes. If that hen consumes 300 calories per day, she will produce 42 grams of water. This explains why chicken manure is often 60-80% moisture. This is an incredible amount of water for one tiny chicken and is one of the reasons why birds need access to fresh, never frozen, water during the colder months.
If one chicken can produce 42 grams of water each day, a small flock of 10 hens can produce 420 grams, or just shy of one pound, of water each day during digestion alone. Additionally, your flock will produce even more water vapor while breathing. Therefore, it is very important to remember to ventilate chicken coops even in the cold winter months. A build-up of moisture inside a chicken house has a number of negative health consequences including respiratory disease, increased prevalence of frost bite, and ammonia gas build-up. Keep a window cracked or your access door open during the daylight hours so the water vapor has a chance to dissipate and fresh air can enter your coop . Cold, dry air is always better for your flock than cold, moist air.
Managing water in the winter can be a challenge, but it is necessary in order to maintain a healthy and active flock during the cold winter months. Make sure a fresh source of water is available to your hens during the hours they are awake and active. For example, if your hens are on a natural light cycle, make sure you have water available during all daylight hours. If you do not have electricity in your chicken house, it is okay to empty or bring your waterer inside during the night so the water does not freeze. Just make sure you put fresh water back in the coop in the morning for your hens. On very cold days, you may need to replace your water multiple times to keep it from freezing.
Enjoy the Season
While we may be tempted to worry about our flocks during the winter months, remember that chickens are incredibly adaptable creatures covered in one of nature’s best insulators. They will thrive and do well in cold weather if given a safe place to live, a nutritionally-balanced chicken feed , and the opportunity to adapt to the dropping temperatures. If your hens are active, eating well, and look healthy, then they are likely content and have adjusted well to the change in season. Enjoy!
*Note = for the purpose of readability, each calorie referenced in this article is equal to 1 kilocalorie.
Welcome to The Definitive Guide To Keeping Chickens In Winter. Raising chickens during winter can be a challenging time for backyard chicken owners. With those dark cold mornings and the drop in egg production, it’s no wonder we don’t like this time of year!
So I decided to write this guide as an aid for all backyard chicken owners, and to answer all your questions about how to care for your chickens during winter: how to keep them warm, how to stop predators, how to keep your egg production high… you will find all the answers here.
Each chapter can be read as a standalone guide on a specific topic; however you should make sure you try and read the entire guide to get the most out of it. You can drop in and out of it as needed, or you can read the entire guide cover to cover right now!
As each Chapter is a quite in-depth article, the full chapter’s are available via the link!
Winterizing Your Coop
In the first chapter of our definitive winter guide, we are going to look at how to prepare your coop so it’s ready for winter.
Mother Nature built the chicken to withstand some fairly extreme environments. The layers of downy feathers under the visible plumage can be puffed up to catch air against the body, providing extra warmth in cold climates. This gives them insulation against cold air.
However during the darkest days in winter these feathers aren’t enough to keep your chickens warm, which is why you provide them with a coop to roost in during nighttime.
The ideal coop should be warm, secure and draft proof; however it should also provide ventilation for your girls. Let’s take a look at each point in turn.
Keep Egg Laying High During Winter
One of the biggest problems backyard chicken owners face during the winter months is keeping their egg supply going. If you’ve kept chickens during the winter months before, you will know that unfortunately, if you let nature take its course, your hens will stop laying completely during this period.
I’ve raised chickens for over 7 years, and know just how bad it feels to see your egg production go down from 12 fresh eggs every day to 1 or 2 eggs… if you’re lucky!
Keeping your hens laying during winter can be difficult and you will definitely need more than just additional lighting. However, after reading the second chapter of our definitive guide, you will know exactly what it takes to keep your supply of fresh eggs during the winter months.
Feeding Chickens In Winter
During the wintertime your hens’ dietary requirements will change as they molt and prepare for the cold, dark winter whilst their body recuperates for next spring.
Not only will their dietary requirements change but the volume of food they eat will also change during the winter. It’s important that during these changes you keep an eye on your hens and provide them with not only the right food but the right amount of food.
In this chapter of the definitive guide to keeping chickens in winter, we will explain what types of food you should feed your chickens during winter and also how much food you should give them.
Stop Your Chickens’ Water Freezing
During the winter periods your hens don’t need as much water as they do in the summer; however it’s still vitally important that they get an adequate supply.
On average their water intake will decrease by around 3 times during winter when compared to summertime.
Depending on where you live, wintertime for your chickens can be anything from a mild discomfort to an absolute nightmare! Trudging back and forth to the hen house two or three times a day, carrying buckets of water, in heavy snow is not for the faint of heart!
In this chapter we’re going to look at why chickens need water, how much water they need, and how to supply your chickens with fresh water during the winter months.
Chickens Molting During Winter
In the fifth chapter of The Definitive Guide To Keeping Chickens In Winter, we look at molting.
So, you opened up the hen house in the morning and thought it was a crime scene from CSI. Feathers strewn around the floor in heaps…you think the worst!
A predator killed the girls, but no, they are all calmly perched on their roosts chirping away to themselves. What happened??
The molt has started.
What is the molt? Why does it happen? How does it affect your hens? These are just some of the questions we will answer here for you today.
Every year along with the leaves falling and the days’ shortening, chickens over the age of twelve months will molt their old, worn out feathers to grow new ones.
Winterizing Your Run
In this chapter we will discuss how to make sure your chickens’ run is ready for the winter.
During the winter you shouldn’t let your chickens free range: they should be kept in the coop/run area, and this is why it’s important that their run is ready for the wintertime.
The most important aspect of the run is to keep them safe from predators, but it should also help keep them warm.
Let’s first look at how to make sure your run is predator proof.
For those learning to keep chickens, the winter months are a time of change for your feathered friends in the coop.
During wintertime, a chicken’s dietary requirements change as they molt and prepare for colder temperatures and shorter, darker days. Whether you own a farm/ranch or keep a coop in the backyard, your chickens need more protein in winter. They will expend a considerable amount of energy to stay warm, and will therefore, eat more feed. Because of this, it’s important to feed your flock a quality, higher-protein feed from November to March.
Here are a few tips for feeding your birds in winter that will help them be healthy, happy and productive.
Why do your chickens need more protein?
Protein is a vital nutrient for poultry and other classes of animals. During the winter months, the additional amino acids play a significant role in maintaining daily egg production, adaptation to the environment and feather growth for warmth, along with other biological functions. Added protein helps younger birds with muscle and skeletal development, and your whole flock when they’re molting (re-growing feathers). Molting is driven by the season and usually occurs in the fall when the hours of sunlight decrease. This feather loss first happens when your chickens are approximately 18 months old and then occurs annually. Increasing protein in your chicken’s diet helps them better prepare for winter as they re-grow quality feathers.
In short, additional protein helps keep your chickens warm in the winter months, keeps their body condition up, and improves their overall health. Plus, chickens eat to meet their daily nutrient requirements. If you’re providing a higher protein, nutritionally balanced feed, your chickens will decrease total feed intake. When they’re consuming less feed, your flock has more time to pick at treats, and, as an added bonus, you don’t need to buy as much.
Look for the percentage noted on the front of each bag of IFA poultry feed. This number lists the protein level inside the bag.
How can treats & supplements help in winter?
Along with higher protein feed, supplement your chicken’s diet with high carbohydrate treats such as scratch, or whole grains and corn. This is especially good in the evening or on cold days in the winter months. Treats help keep the bird’s metabolism running at a high rate and increases body temperature.
Mealworms and our IFA Flock Block are great treats as well. Mealworms are a popular option and an additional source of protein. IFA Flock Block contains whole seeds that help keep the birds warm as they continue to digest through the cold nights. Both options help break up the boredom among chickens, giving them something to peck at rather than each other.
Supplements also provide another source of nutrition, many with a specific purpose.
- Grit aids in the digestion of feed sources, such as corn and scratch, helping to break down corn and other grains.
- Oyster Shell helps maintain the proper calcium levels so the eggs being produced have a hard and healthy shell.
- Probiotics and vitamins in your chicken’s water helps maintain and/or increase egg production, growth and overall health.
Keep in mind, when you’re providing treats and supplements, they should account for less than 10% of your laying hens overall diet. The layer feed provides levels of vitamins and minerals that scratch grains and mealworms simply don’t contain.
Should the protein level change after winter?
Customers often ask if you should switch back to a lower percentage of protein in the spring, but we don’t recommend it. Egg production will increase as the days grow longer and warmer, so your hens will need the protein to continue producing efficiently.
The final choice is up to you. A decision to drop the protein level will likely lead to your chickens naturally eating more feed to make up the difference. Observe their daily activities and feeding habits, and, as always, continue to monitor your chicken’s overall health.
For additional information, visit your local IFA Country Store and talk with one of our knowledgeable employees. It’s our goal to help you keep your chickens healthy and thriving through the winter months and all year round.
Gold brahma hens in winter. Photograph: Andy Cawthray
Gold brahma hens in winter. Photograph: Andy Cawthray
Winter can present its challenges for any animal, and it’s no different for chickens. The prolonged sub-zero temperatures of last year look likely to repeat this coming winter (if some weather reports are to be believed), and ensuring your poultry are catered for will be appreciated by your chickens and will make your life easier.
No matter what season it is, providing the optimum conditions for your flock is essential. They may not be producing eggs right now, but invest effort in their upkeep and they will start the new laying period in prime condition.
Despite the chicken’s origin as a jungle bird, its evolution and domestication over the centuries has created a hardy creature that can survive our winters. Granted, on some days they will elect to spend the majority of the day inside the coop, but I put that down to them having a few more brain cells than my ducks, who seem to relish the winter weather.
Below are the first 10 of my top 20 tips on how to help your flock through the winter months.
1. Ventilation in the house is essential for your poultry throughout the year, so don’t be tempted to block up every hole in the house in the belief it will keep the birds warm when the wild weather comes along. The chickens will be spend longer roosting due to the shorter daylight hours, but during this time they will still need a flow of air through the house. Roosting birds produce a lot of moisture and if this allowed to become condensation on the walls and ceiling of the house, it will create cold and damp conditions which are far from ideal for your birds. Do carry out any repairs on the house to block out any drafts, as these can kill a roosting bird, but ensure there is a way for warm air to depart and fresh air to enter.
2. Bedding and litter should be of an adequate depth to provide a level of insulation but don’t be tempted to stuff the house full of straw thinking it will create a cosy house. Straw can look clean and dry, but it is not particularly absorbent and has a habit of “sweating” when soiled with droppings or muddy feet. This can quickly give rise to fungal growth and the resulting spores can lead to respiratory illnesses in the chickens. If possible it’s far better to use shavings or some of the other biodegradable litter products on the market.
3. This should be at least a weekly task, but during the winter you may need to increase the frequency due to the birds spending longer in the house (and therefore fouling the litter more). If you are unable to increase the frequency of your cleaning regime then try a quick spot of ‘poo picking’ each morning or place a sheet of newspaper under the perch that can be removed when you let the birds out each day. It will prolong the life of the litter and help keep the house clean.
4. The weather will also mean that the chickens will be traipsing mud or snow into the house from the outdoors. This can be reduced by providing a dry porch area next to the pop hole and by putting a slightly raised area at the entrance using a pallet or section of pallet. It may be a little unsightly but it gets the birds off the ground near the pop hole which will be getting poached in wet weather, and it can be cheaply and easily replaced or cleaned when it becomes too dirty.
5. Dampness can occur on the floor of the chicken houses despite your best efforts, so winter is a good time to invest in a powder-type disinfectant such as Stalosan F. Sprinkling this on the floor of the house after it has been cleared and before the new litter is applied, it will not only act as a disinfectant, but it will prevent smells and help dry the floor of the coop.
Feed and water
6. Disinfect the feeders and drinkers every week using a good quality antibacterial liquid or disinfectant, but always be sure to give them a good rinse and dry before refilling them. Also check the grit pots are not soiled and clean them too if required.
7. It’s worth considering giving your chickens free access to feed during the day as opposed to measuring out a specific amount, because their consumption rate will vary depending on the weather. If you use mash as opposed to a compound pellet feed, then mixing it with a little warm water when you feed them in the morning will be appreciated by the chickens, but mind that the mash doesn’t freeze during the day. And ensure the food is removed at night if you use outdoor feeders otherwise you run the risk of attracting vermin.
8. A handful of corn or other “slow-burn” grain given as a scratch feed an hour or so before your flock goes in to roost will provide some extra energy to keep the birds warm during the night.
9. Bring drinkers indoors at night or empty them completely. It’s far easier to fill an empty drinker in the morning than wander around with a kettle of boiling water trying to defrost a solid drinker – besides, in a really heavy freeze the drinker stands a good chance of being broken by the expanding ice.
10. On some days the temperature may not get above zero and any water put out first thing could quickly freeze over. Your chickens need constant access to water as even on cold days they will drink a significant amount. If you are around during the day, it may simply be a case of breaking any ice that forms; otherwise consider putting the drinker in a sheltered spot or positioning the drinker on a heat source running at a very low setting just to keep the edge off. I’ve seen people place drinkers on an upturned flower pot that has a tea light or candle inside – it seemed to work very well but obviously be aware of any potential fire risk. Don’t be tempted to add anything to the water to stop it freezing, daft as it may seem there have been cases of salt or even antifreeze being added to stop the water freezing.
Next month: tips 11-20 covering maintenance of the chicken run, winter pests and how to give the birds a bit of a boost
This post is part of a regular series on poultry keeping from Andy Cawthray, a self confessed chickeneer who writes for a number of magazines, provides talks & courses on keeping poultry at home and shares his experiences on his personal blog TheChickenStreet.
Resources and insights for a happy, healthy flock
Chickens love to drink. Fortunately, their favorite beverage is cool clean water. During summer’s inferno their panting helps them stay cool but to stay hydrated they need to drink plenty of water.
Come winter’s chill their need to drink declines but doesn’t disappear. Even during extreme cold they must drink several times every day. That poses a problem.
Chickens can’t hydrate from ice or snow and must have liquid water available. During extreme cold a bucket or waterer freezes solid in just a few hours.
For centuries cold climate chicken keepers had to deliver buckets of water to the coop several times a day then retrieve, and thaw ice filled containers. That remains an effective way to keep liquid water in the coop but constantly delivering water several times a day is wearisome.
Fortunately, there are easier ways to keep coop water liquid no matter how low the temperature sinks.
Let Electricity Do the Work
By far the easiest way to keep ice at bay is to let electricity do the work. Many types of electrically heated water founts are sold in stores that sell baby chicks, feed, and supplies. They all work.
Most have a thermostat that only warms water when the temperature drops below freezing. Thermostats soften the electric bill.
A somewhat less expensive and more widely available heated waterer is designed for dogs.
These have heating coils beneath a plastic bowl. They work well with chickens but are low to the ground, allowing birds to scratch litter into them and foul the water.
A simple homemade cradle of scrap lumber elevates the bowl a few inches above the litter and stabilizes it. Hens easily drink without fouling or tipping over the water.
Electrically heating waterers need special care to reduce fire danger and shocks.
It’s important to keep wires out of reach of chickens and away from flammable litter.
Many backyard coops lack electricity, but there are few items as useful in managing chickens.
Power in the coop allows chicks to be brooded there and lets the owner switch on lights to check on the birds or complete chores after sunset. It also allows lighting the coop early mornings on dark winter days to stimulate egg production.
Hiring an electrical company to run a safe wire to the coop may not be expensive and makes keeping chickens more convenient.
If There’s No Electricity
Most small backyard coops lack electricity, but several techniques help keep drinking water from freezing and some can even help slightly warm the coop, keeping hens comfortable.
Here are a few possibilities:
- Take advantage of free heat from the sun. Many lightweight backyard coops can be easily moved. Set the coop so its window faces south. Put a water bucket just inside the window so the sun’s warmth helps keep it ice free. Black absorbs solar energy effectively, so a black bucket or black painted waterer set in the sun will stay ice-free longer than a silvery one. Black rubber buckets sold in farm supply stores are flexible, making it make it rather easy to crack and dump out ice that forms inside. They are much more convenient than metal pails.
- Insulate the coop. A few inches of insulation keeps waterers inside ice-free longer on cold nights and makes the coop’s interior warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Comfortable chickens are productive and pleasant.
- Make a freeze resistant waterer. There are several ways to do this. Probably the easiest is to buy a small plastic camping or picnicking cooler. They are well insulated and small ones are just the right size for chickens to drink from. Either use a saber-type saw to cut a two- or three-inch diameter hole in the lid or put a weighted board over most of the cooler, leaving a small water surface exposed so the hens can drink. Simply fill the cooler with warm water, secure the lid, and place it in the coop. Chickens quickly learn to drink from the small hole. A cinder block placed next to the cooler will help the birds reach water.
Another way to create an inexpensive freeze-resistant waterer is to buy a Styrofoam bait bucket sold in northern fishing supply stores.
They are made to keep water that holds minnows stay liquid when out on a frozen lake.
Insulated buckets only cost a few dollars, and some are made to fit snugly inside a plastic five-gallon plastic pail.
Insulated bait buckets come with a Styrofoam lid.
Chickens will peck and destroy Styrofoam, so it needs to be protected.
Either a plastic pail lid or piece of quarter inch plywood with a two to three inch diameter hole cut in it will let chickens drink while protecting the Styrofoam from their pecking.
Styrofoam isn’t completely leak proof.
Water oozes slowly through it, so lining the inside of the bucket with a plastic bag makes it watertight.
When an icy wind blows remember the girls in the coop. They get thirsty on even the coldest days and need a drink.
Fortunately, there are many ways to keep water from freezing during even the chilliest winder days.
Adding Mealworms for Chickens to Winter Oatmeal Can Increase Protein
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Can chickens eat oatmeal? Yes. They certainly can! Oatmeal for chickens is one of my favorite treats to serve my flock in the winter. Warm oatmeal for chickens is a nutritious, energizing snack for them. Chickens love oats, which are an excellent source of vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. Raw or cooked, oats provide essential vitamins and nutrients including calcium, choline, copper, iron, magnesium, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and zinc.
According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, feeding chickens oatmeal has been shown to improve the general health of chickens. And adding a three percent ration of oats to chickens’ diets can reduce pecking and cannibalism, both of which can be problems during the cold months when your chickens might be “cooped up” more than normal.
Baby chicks also benefit from oats. They will grow up healthier than chicks that aren’t offered oats and adding ground raw oats to your chick feed can help clear up pasty butt in baby chicks which is a potentially life-threatening condition.
How to Make Oatmeal for Chickens
Making oatmeal for chickens is simple and you don’t need to feed them much. I measure out about a tablespoon per hen. The oats don’t need to be cooked; I just pour warm water over them. Use enough water to moisten them, but not so that they’re soupy. Let them cool and bit and then serve to your chickens.
Plain oats are fine, but it’s also fun to mix a few things into the oatmeal. Scratch grains, unsalted nuts or cracked corn provide good fats that will help to keep your chickens warm in the winter. If you’ve been growing sunflowers from seed, stir some of them into the oatmeal.
Fresh or dried berries are also a nutritious addition to oatmeal for chickens. Try cranberries, blueberries or chopped strawberries. Raisins or mealworms are other things you can add to the oatmeal that your chickens will love.
What Vegetables Can Chickens Eat?
Chopped vegetables are another great add-in for oatmeal for chickens. Beets, carrots, corn, green beans, peas or sweet potato are all great choices. Fresh or dried herbs are another nutritious add-in. Try basil, oregano, parsley, sage or thyme for added health benefits for your chickens.
More Beneficial Add-ins
Chicken frostbite is a concern in the winter. Good circulation is important to prevent frostbite. Cayenne pepper improves circulatory system health by increasing blood flow to a chicken’s comb, wattles, feet, and legs, which can reduce the risk of frostbite. So adding a bit of cayenne to your oatmeal for chickens can help to prevent frostbite. No worries about the cayenne pepper bothering a chicken’s palette. Chickens don’t have nearly as many taste buds as humans, so they aren’t bothered by the “spicy hot” in the cayenne.
Respiratory issues are also common in chickens, especially when they aren’t outside as much in the fresh air. Cinnamon helps to keep mucus membranes in tiptop shape. So adding a sprinkle of cinnamon to the oatmeal can also be extremely beneficial to your flock.
This winter, treat your chickens to some warm oatmeal on cold days. They’ll enjoy it and also benefit from the nutritious snack. Do you feed your chickens winter treats? Let us know in the comments below.
A few wise strategies can keep your hens comfortable and producing eggs all winter long!
With a thick layer of snow on theground, it seems as though winter is sure to be long and cold. As an owner of backyard chickens there are a number of simple strategies to keep your birds safe and productive. Below are some tips by Michigan State University Extension for you to follow this winter.
Keep your birds well fed! Consider allowing your birds’ free-choice access to feed during the winter months. The chickens will adjust their consumption rate depending on the temperature. Another option is to offer the birds’ additional high energy feed such as corn or sunflower seeds to help meet their increased caloric needs in the cold weather. A good tactic is to provide this additional feed in the evening to help birds manage the overnight drop in temperatures more efficiently. If you normally feed the birds outside, avoid attracting vermin by bringing the food inside in the evening.
Access to water is critical. All animals must have a consistent source of water to survive. Keeping the water from freezing during the cold winter months can be a real chore. A number of water heaters are available on the retail market and there are even plans for designing your own on the web. Another option for those who do not have electricity in their coop is to utilize aluminum or rubber buckets, which do not split like plastic when the water freezes. By purchasing at least two buckets you are sure to have one available for watering your birds when you bring the second one in to thaw out.
A well light coop maintains egg production. Consider adding plastic insets into windows. Windows must be closed; no screens or drafty windows. Keeping as much light as possible in coops will maximize egg production during the long winter months. By incorporating supplemental lighting, with ideally 16 hours of light per 24 hours, hens will lay the maximum number of eggs. The light should be on a timer to turn on in the middle of the night and off at day break. This will ensure that the hens get on their roost as the sun is setting in the evening.
Ventilation is important. Adequate ventilation, but no drafts, is necessary in the chicken coop to minimize excess moisture which can lead to mold and respiratory issues.
Bedding provides insulation. By keeping a thick layer of bedding, up to a foot in depth, the coop will provide your birds a comfortable environment. Turn your bedding weekly with a pitchfork, adding more as needed.
Active birds are happy birds. Allowing birds to keep themselves busy by foraging will keep them from activities like pecking each other. Scattering corn or sunflower seeds in your coop at your evening feeding will allow birds the opportunity to scratch for these treats. Consider suspending a head of cabbage in your coop to keep birds entertained. Toss loose straw or add corn stalks, wood chips or brush to your run area; your birds will forage for any bugs that may find a home in the degrading surface.
Chicken ownership can be an enjoyable experience any time of year. Michigan 4-H Youth Development has numerous resources to help youth gain valuable knowledge and skills in order to successfully raise poultry. Contact your local MSU Extension office to learn what clubs are available in your area or to start your own 4-H poultry club.4-H can provide you with a valuable opportunity to gain skills while working with young people.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit https://extension.msu.edu/experts, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
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Image source: cityboyhens
We love our little flock of backyard chickens like they were our own children. That’s why I get a little nervous when wintertime comes – I want to make sure they are healthy and happy, despite the colder temperatures outdoors. We’ve been raising our own chickens here on our little one-acre homestead for about three years now. I’ve learned a few helpful tips along the way on how to best care for your chickens in the colder months.
1. Some breeds fare better than others
Most grown chickens will survive the winter, even in colder climates. They may not like the cold weather quite as much, but they will do just fine. Some breeds of chickens are hardier than others, and more adapted to the cold temperatures. If you live in a cold climate, you should take this into account before setting up your flock. My favorite cold-hardy chickens are Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Barred Rocks.
2. Daylight has an impact
Chickens tend to lay fewer eggs as the days get shorter. Most hens prefer 13-14 hours of daylight to produce eggs in a regular cycle. As the amount of daylight drops, so will egg production, in most breeds. Cold-hardy breeds like those mentioned above tend to continue laying well even in the shorter hours of daylight. Other breeds may continue to lay regularly if you add a light to the henhouse. If egg production is your primary goal with your backyard chicken flock, I’d highly suggest you use supplemental lighting. Make sure you buy a light that is rated for outdoor use, and you’ll probably want to use a timer as well. As daylight hours increase again, so will egg production.
Even with shorter daylight, my chickens still produce an egg every other day, if not every single day, with the exception of my Americaunas and Easter Egger chickens. They are very random layers in the cold months, even with supplemental light. (We call them our “picky” chickens.)
3. Heater or no heater?
Some backyard chicken enthusiasts worry about providing a heater for their chickens. Most experts advise against this. Chickens will fare better than you think in the cold weather, and the risk of fire is increased when you use a heater outdoors (especially if there are drop cords involved). Not to mention, it can get pricey to run a heater or heat lamp for the entire winter.
But the most practical reason to avoid using a heater is that your chickens can get too used to the warmth. This could spell trouble in a power outage. Ice storms and snowstorms are notorious for knocking out the power, sometimes for days. It’s also extremely difficult for your chickens to go from a warm and cozy coop into the extreme outdoor elements without developing a natural adaptation to the cold. Don’t forget – chickens were meant to be outside.
The best thing you can do to provide warmth for your chickens is to insulate your coop or hen house well. If temperatures are extreme or the winter winds are extra-cold, you can close the chickens up into their well-insulated coop for the best, most natural protection. Most cold-hardy chickens will do fine, even with the temperatures around zero.
However, because we have a mix of hardy and non-hardy breeds, and because we live in a moderate winter climate, we choose to shut our “girls” up in their house when the nighttime temperatures fall into the low twenties or teens. They will huddle up in the cold and keep each other much warmer than you might expect.
If you close your chickens up in the cold, make sure your coop or hen house has adequate ventilation. Air circulation is necessary, especially for larger numbers of chickens, and proper ventilation will keep moisture from accumulating.
In a potentially life-threatening cold snap, we will use a supplemental heater only as necessary, or we will bring the chickens into the garage or basement as a last resort, keeping them in a few dog crates. (A perk of having a small flock of only 11 hens.)
4. Water is critical
Even in the cold winter, fresh water is critical for chickens. Nothing will kill a chicken quicker than dehydration. Frozen water can be a potential life-threatening problem for backyard chicken flocks. Unless you plan to haul fresh water out several times a day, even in the coldest temperatures, you will need to provide a way to keep fresh water flowing. Options include heated water dishes and freeze-free chicken waterers.
5. Food treats keep them happy
Providing your chickens a few treats in the winter is a nice way to keep them happy and healthy. Our hens eat like queens in the summer with all the extra produce from the garden and the wide array of worms and bugs available. In the winter, these things are quite limited. In addition to their regular diet of non-antibiotic chicken feed and scratch, we will give them little treats like oatmeal, freeze-dried mealworms, and even some sunflower seeds. We try to let them out as much as possible even in the cold winter so they can still forage and eat what God intended chickens to eat.
6. They don’t like now and ice
Most chickens do not like snow and ice. Don’t be surprised if they don’t want to “play” in it. If your chickens have to be in the snow or ice, keep an eye out for frostbite. Their combs and feet can get frostbitten. A little Vaseline can help – but good luck applying it to the chickens!
7. Chicks need special care
Wintertime can be especially hard on baby chicks. If you have chicks outdoors when a cold snap hits, you will need to check on them more regularly. If they show signs of huddling and peeping loudly, this means they are too cold and supplemental heat will need to be provided.
For newborn chicks, you can put them in a brooder, or you can bring them indoors or to a warmer location. Either way, you will probably need to use a heat lamp with the chicks for a few weeks. A cheap, non-digital thermometer is another very valuable tool when raising new chicks in the winter. While you are protecting against the cold, you don’t want to overheat the chicks either. First-born chicks need a temperature of around 95 degrees the first week or two. You can then drop the temperature a few degrees each week, by raising the heat lamp a little more, until they are hardy enough to be out in the elements.
Make sure your brooder is in a draft-free, warm area. Always provide a few inches of insulation between the chicks and the floor, especially if the area has cement floors. We use several inches of shavings or bedding for our insulation. The few times we’ve had newborn chicks in cold weather, we’ve brought the brooder indoors. (We love our chickens a little too much, sometimes.)
Animal Forage told how to use hydroponically sprouted greens to increase egg production from chickens in winter. We tried it here in New Mexico, and it worked . . . dramatically. By experimenting with the method over the past three years, we’ve developed our own variation on forage sprouting, and I’d like to tell you about it.
We start our sprouts in heavy aluminum foil trays of the sort you find in most discount stores . . . you know, the four-for-a-buck kind (the original MOTHER EARTH NEWS method employed shallow aluminum cake pans). For extra stiffness, we nest two trays together and then punch nail holes in the bottoms to insure good drainage.
We’ve sprouted mostly barley seeds (partly because we favor their sprouts for our own salads), but the cluckers really go for oat and rye shoots, too. No matter what you choose, just pour enough seed into the tray to line the bottom to a depth of about half an inch. Once you’ve got the correct measure for your pans, transfer the entire batch into a large jar for the first stage of growth. Run water into the container until the seed is completely covered, then stash the jar in a warm, dark place–sans lid–for a couple of days. (We’ve had excellent results without adding nutrients to the water.)
After about 48 hours, give the seed a thorough rinsing in its container, then pour the whole amount back into the tray, covering it with a moist cloth. Rinse the seed twice a day so that it doesn’t get a chance to dry out (and, consequently, die). Except for this cleansing, leave the little forage factory alone: The sprouts will grow faster if undisturbed.
When the greens have reached a height of about half an inch, remove the cloth and place the tray next to a sunny window during the day. But since sprouts need to be at about room temperature for optimum growth, you’ll want to take them away from the window at night to a warm spot . . . maybe near a stove or heater.
When you’ve got what looks like a miniature forest on your hands (we let the plants get about five inches tall), it’s dinnertime! You can feed your flock directly from the sprouting pans, but we stretch our supply–and save our pans from getting torn up–by yanking out a patch of greens each day. If you start a new batch of seed every few days, you’ll have a continuous supply of wintertime forage for your feathered egg-factories.
Our hens really go for the “taste of springtime” on those snowy, overcast days in January and February. It’s almost as if they’re grateful, and they work extra hard to produce as many eggs in winter as they do in June and July. Winter forage sprouting is fun, inexpensive, and darned rewarding in breakfast omelets . . . so give it a go!
No, “Chicken Tips” isn’t some fancy recipe for sauteed boilers … but it is a recipe, of sorts. In going through MOTHER EARTH NEWS to see what words of winter-egg-production wisdom had been offered to and by readers, we realized just how much of a concern low off-season production is for many “egg growers” living in the chillier climes of the country … and how many good hints had been sent in over the years to combat the problem.
So we gathered a few of the best “oldies” and strung them them together in the form of Chicken Tips. Let us know how they work for you … or if you have any time-tested methods of your own to share.
Toasted shells: a treat hens love to eat!
Reverend Larry D. Jones, Lyndon, Kansas
Most folks have heard about feeding eggshells to their original owners as an excellent sources of vital nutrients, especially calcium. But for added crispness–which makes it easier to grind the shells into a form the “girls” can eat–I toast the empty omelet housings. My layers just love these browned treats.
To make them, I use a microwave oven set on high, for about 8 minutes … but a standard gas, electric, or wood oven–or even a skillet over low heat on a range top–works as well. Just experiment until you hit on the right time/temperature combination. I serve the hens their toasted treats first thing in the morning, about 15 minutes before they get their usual feed of grain. With this recycling method, my layers have been giving 100% production year round.
Bleach that water for healthier winter layers.
James DeKorne, El Rito, New Mexico
Homesteaders I know who water their chickens from an open container during the colder months (to help keep the liquid from freezing) say that a capful of bleach per 2 gallons of water will purify it effectively. Chickens are messy critters, and this technique helps keep their drinking water from becoming a medium for disease-causing organisms. Also, more drinking water means more eggs! (Once freezing water is over, it’s best to return to using a covered container.)
Carnivorous cacklers just love to lay.
“Carl”, Durango, Colorado
To stimulate my hens to lay in cold weather (and it gets plenty cold here!), I’ve had excellent results by giving them warm drinking water, and feeding them meat and fat scraps. Especially good is the “dust” from a meat saw. Any large supermarket with a meat-cutting department has plenty of these bonemeal-rich leavings. Some stores charge a small amount for the shavings, and some give the stuff away … but in either case, it’s less expensive than high-protein commercial feed, and it nets the same results. This diet raises the body temperature of the hens, which helps put them back into production.
En-lightened hens make better layers.
Kathleen Gordinier, Walworth, New York
One of the best tricks I’ve found to up the output of my hens in winter is to increase the hours of light they receive each day. When that season rolls around and the days grow short, I use an overhead bulb to extend the “daylight” to 14 hours.
I’ve got a few other health- and production-promoting tricks in my bag, too … such as mixing in 1/4 cup of homemade apply cider vinegar with each gallon of water I give my poultry. The added acid, it seems, aids in balancing the layers’ body chemicals.
Moreover, I let my chickens wander in and out of the barn (except during blizzards, of course), so they have plenty of opportunity to scratch. And just in case that’s not enough exercise for the birds, I tie a few pieces of stale bread together with a string and hang it above their heads … a trick that’s sure to keep them jumping. These silly-sounding things must be working, because in all the time we’ve had homestead fowl, we’ve never lost a chicken or had to go without eggs!
Flock Management : Flock Health
Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions
Backyard chickens often begin molting in the fall. Molting lasts 8 to 12 weeks and can cause a decrease in egg production. A high-protein feed can help molting chickens with feather regrowth.
For backyard chickens across the country, shorter days often signal time for a break. Birds may stop laying farm fresh eggs eggs, lose old feathers and experience feather regrowth. This annual vacation from egg laying is called molt.
Molt is driven by season and usually occurs in the fall when the hours of sunlight decrease. For our birds, fall means it’s time to prepare for winter, which requires quality feathers. That’s why hens take a vacation from laying eggs and redirect their energy to feather regrowth.
How long do chickens molt?
This feather loss phenomenon first happens around 18 months old and occurs annually. Backyard flock owners should expect about eight weeks of feather loss and regrowth but could take up to 16 weeks for some birds. The onset and length of molt looks different for each bird.
Many factors determine how long chickens molt. Age, nutrition and the environment all contribute to how long a chicken molts. Feathers may first lose their sheen. Hens may then gradually lose a few feathers, or it could happen overnight. We’ve noticed that more productive egg-layers and younger hens recover from molt more quickly than older or less productive hens. In any case, proper nutrients and management can help birds through molt.
Three tips for molting chickens
1. Pack the protein
Just like humans, birds need a different diet depending on their current activity or life stage. Protein is the key nutrient in a flock’s diet during molt. Feathers are made of 80-85 percent protein, whereas eggshells are primarily calcium.
When you notice your chickens losing feathers, switch to a complete feed with 20% protein, probiotics, prebiotics and key vitamins and minerals. Purina ® Flock Raiser ® is a great option for molting chicken feed. A high-protein complete feed can help hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth and get back to laying eggs.
For organic flocks, try switching hens to Purina ® Organic Starter-Grower when molting begins in order to maintain organic status and provide a higher level of nutrition for feather regrowth.
2. Keep stress low
While on vacation, people generally want plenty of comfort and room to relax. It isn’t so different inside the coop during molt. Keep molting chickens comfortable by preventing stress.
During molt, the area where the feather shaft meets the skin can be very sensitive, so reduce handling and provide plenty of clean bedding. Offer enough space for your birds to rest and relax in private. For each bird, four square feet inside the coop and 10 square feet outside of the coop can keep them comfortable.
In addition, provide access to plenty of fresh, clean water and proper air ventilation. Hydration and ventilation can help keep the backyard coop spa-like for feather regrowth. Avoid introducing new flock members during this time, as adding in new friends and potentially re-shuffling the pecking order could add stress.
3. Transition back to layer feed
Once birds are ready to return from vacation and begin producing eggs, it’s time to adjust the nutrient profile to match their energy needs once again.
When hens begin laying eggs, transition back to a complete layer feed that matches your goals. Gradually mix the complete layer feed with the high-protein feed over 7-10 days. This can help avoid digestive upsets and allows birds to get used to the taste and texture of their new feed. Once they’re back on a complete layer feed and have vibrant new feathers, get ready again for farm fresh eggs for your family.
February 28, 2020
Warming chicken food can be a great help to your chickens during the winter. When the temperature gets really cold, don’t be afraid to give your chickens a warm breakfast to help them stay warm all day.
If you’re wondering what sort of warm treats your chickens might like, here are three warm snacks they will really appreciate during the winter!
Oatmeal is great source of carbohydrates to give your chickens. You don’t actually have cook the oatmeal for your chickens: simply add hot water to oats and let them soften slightly. Dump it outside for your girls and watch them go crazy. You could also add hot water to soften up their feed as well.
Cooked Squash / Pumpkins
Another treat chickens love is cooked squash or pumpkins. If you grew any in your garden or bought any for décor that have gone over-ripe in the winter, here’s what to do. Take of the stem, poke a few holes in the squash and bake at 350 for an hour. After they cooled to the touch (half hour or so) toss them out to the chickens. I bet you’ll even get a few wild birds coming over for this delicious treat!
Cooked Eggs with Shells
Here’s the rub – during the winter those deadbeat chickens take a break from laying eggs so they’re harder to come by, but your chickens would really appreciate a warm snack of cooked eggs if you’re so inclined. Just scramble up the eggs and then for an added bonus, toss in the crushed eggshell as well. By the way, save the salt and pepper for your own eggs – the chickens don’t need the sodium.
In addition to the warm breakfasts, it’s also a good idea to give your chickens a handful of cracked corn at bedtime. Digesting that corn through the night will help their little bodies stay warmer. And don’t forget that warm water is also a nice thing to provide your chickens during the cold winter months.
What warm snacks have you found that your chickens devour?
First thing you’ll need is a bag of seed. I’ve been using winter wheat for a few weeks since that’s what my feed store has right now. A 50lb bag was $12. Barley also works well if you can get it. (here’s a smaller bag you can order online if you don’t have a feed store near you)
Then you’ll need a big cup to pour water and a strainer (I had extras in the kitchen, the dollar store has them) At first I used whatever extra containers I had laying around, but this gave me various sizes of finished feed. So one day I would have a lot ready and the next pan, not as much.
I wanted more consistency so I switched to aluminum baking pans from the dollar store. A 2 pack of 13X9 disposable baking pans was only $1. I also use a plant sprayer that I bought at Walgreens last Summer for $1.
I set the whole thing up on the top of my dryer in the laundry room. You need a temperature of about 60-70 for fodder to grow well, my laundry room stays about 60 in the winter. I think my husband would kill me if I tried to set up in any other room though!
Equipment needed for fodder:
Bag of winter wheat seed, rye or barley
7 baking pans, plastic shoe keepers etc all the same size. (1 for each day of the week)
The directions are pretty simple. Pour some seed in the bottom of a pan and cover with water. Let sit about 12 hours and rinse. Drain excess water. Rinse it through the strainer and just toss whatever falls out back in. Rinse a few times a day for 7-9 days then feed to the chickens.
I found it’s harder to rinse the first few days until the seeds start to form a ‘mat’ of roots. In the first few days I use the plant sprayer to mist several times a day and only rinse twice a day so as not to disturb them too much.
Just toss back in whatever falls in the strainer. Once they have a good root mat and about 1/2 inch of growth I rinse a few times a day and just tip them to drain.
I move them out of the laundry room around day 6 or 7 and put them in my office window to finish up. Plants give off oxygen, right? I figure they do me some good sitting in a room I always use, plus seeing something green keeps me from having the winter blahs!
The final cost of growing your own fodder
This whole thing cost me about $20 including the seed. When I weighed the pan at the start it was less than 1lb. on day 9 it was 6lbs! That’s a big change. Think about that. it’s over 5 lbs of ‘free’ feed!
I go through 3 bags of feed a week this time of year, so any dent I can put in the feed bill is much appreciated. Fodder was a huge part of how How I Saved $450 On My Feed Bill in 2016!
Wheat fodder is an excellent source of nutritious greens for your chickens. In fact, your cat will love it too! Check out this post: Growing Cat grass.
If you’re on a health kick, you can even make wheat grass juice for yourself. I think I’ll just feed it to the chickens though!
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Maybe your pasture
grew up in annual weeds, which you lopped off to
leave bare ground .
Maybe the chickens made that bare ground for you
by scratching up the grass in over-grazed pastures. Or perhaps you’re
trying to turn high perennial weeds into something your chickens will
enjoy . Either
way, if you’re going into winter without plenty of good pasture for
your chickens, you can fill in the gap by planting annual forage
Most of the plants you’d use
as winter cover crops in your garden can work as
forage crops, but they have varying utility for chickens. For
grazing as late into the winter as possible, you’ll want to choose rye,
although this grain might be less tasty to your flock than the more
cold sensitive wheat and barley. Wheat is problematic in our area
since you have to plant
it late to escape Hessian fly damage , which doesn’t give the
plants long enough to produce much leaf matter for your chickens.
Barley leaves are perhaps the easiest to digest of the winter grains,
but barley plants aren’t as winter hardy, so you can’t graze them as
close or as often.
If you don’t graze wheat,
barley, or rye too hard, the plants will survive the winter and will
produce some grain in the spring. Although I thought this was a
good idea last year, I discovered that growing grains in your pasture
isn’t the best use of limited space — chickens don’t get much out of
the plants once they start to shoot up and flower, so you’ll basically
be putting your pasture out of commission for the spring and
summer. Instead of dealing with killing winter hardy grains
before they become unpalatable to your flock, you might choose to plant
oats if you live in zone 6 or colder — oats will winterkill in our
climate, leaving a nice mulch that I can rake back and plant a
perennial pasture grass or summer annual into in the spring.
It’s also worth looking
beyond the grasses to plants that might be more nutritious to your
chickens. Austrian winter peas are a cold hardy variety of field
peas that can be mixed in with your winter grains to give your chickens
more protein. The cold sensitivity of Austrian winter peas lies
midway between oats and barley, so factor that into your plans for late
winter grazing and early spring killing. While you’re at it, why
not plant a few patches of leafy greens like mustard? Chickens
enjoy most tender vegetables that people eat, so it’s worth
experimenting with whatever grows well in the winter in your climate.
After the soil
preparation shown in the photos above, I’ve had pretty good luck
tossing seeds of all of these plants
directly on top of bare soil and scattering a very light mulch of straw
on top. You can plant most or all of these crops between the
beginning of August
and mid September in zone 6, but keep in mind that the earlier you
plant, the more time your crops will have to get established and resist
winter’s cold (and chicken feet.) The most winter hardy forage
crops, like rye, can actually be planted after your first frost, but
you might not get to graze late planted rye until spring.
Plan your pasture rotation so
that you can get your chickens to work up the ground right before
planting, then keep the flock out of the forage plot until your crops
are six to eight inches tall. Once the forage has grown that
much, let your chickens eat the greenery down to two to three inches
and then rest the pasture again until it is six to eight inches
tall. As winter cold hits, you’ll need to give the pasture longer
between each bout of grazing, and you may eventually decide to just let
the flock stay in and kill what’s left so that you don’t have to deal
with it in the spring.
I’m just experimenting
with planting annual winter forage for our flock, so I’d love to hear
from anyone who has already tried it. My hope is that my pastures
of oats, rye, Austrian winter peas, oilseed radish, mustard, and
chicory will give the flock a winter pick-me-up and help prevent the
bare, muddy ground we ended up with last winter. I’ll keep you
posted on how the chickens respond once the forage crops are tall
enough to try out.
As far as the hens are concerned, it’s not cold until it’s below freezing. When the hens are exposed to daytime highs below freezing, egg production usually plummets. However, it has to get a lot colder than that before the hens’ health begins to suffer.
During freezing weather, egg production and hen comfort will be increased if they have plenty of (non-frozen) water to drink. If you don’t have piped water to the henhouse, I recommend using 10 qt. galvanized buckets as waterers. Fill them with warm water and take them out to the hens. Take the frozen buckets from last time back indoors with you. Galvanized buckets are good because plastic buckets split when they freeze and poultry founts are hard to open when they’re partly frozen. Rubber buckets and pans are also good.
The hens will be warmer during the day if they exercise. They’ll be warmer at night if they go to bed with a crop full of grain. The two can be combined by putting a thick layer of loose hay or straw in their pen and scattering a light feeding of grain in the morning and a heavy feeding of grain in the afternoon. Around the turn of the century it was common to have a “scratching shed” attached to the henhouse, which was a substitute for range during the winter. The scratching shed was usually open-fronted (that is, walled on three sides only, with chicken wire on the fourth side), with a thick layer of loose straw on the floor. Grain is fed in the scratching shed, which is where the birds get their fresh air, exercise, and sunshine.
More winter care tips:
- Read this blog entry for an example of what I did on my farm during an unusually long period of cold and snow.
- Ways to keep your chickens’ water from freezing . This blog entry talks about different techniques of keeping the water flowing. (Electric birdbath heaters are surprisingly effective!)
- What about totally open housing — with no walls at all? I cover this in one of my newsletters .
Don’t try to keep the house warm
I live in a very mild climate where it’s very rare for daytime highs to be below freezing for more than a few days running. My housing is very open and is highly ventilated. Cold snaps as low as 10�F-20�F reduce egg production but the birds remain healthy and active. My reading indiates that open-front housing is suitable for winter quarters even in New England.
In “Poultry Breeding and Management,” Professor Dryden gives these rules of thumb (page 178):
The wide-open front is impracticable in sections where the temperature gets much below zero. In a section where the minimum temperature is zero, one side of the house may be practically all open. In such a climate sufficient ventilation for fifty fowls will be obtained by an opening 3×8 feet or 24 square feet of opening, equal to about one-half square foot per fowl. In colder climates, with a temperature of 20 below zero, the opening may be decreased to a fourth or a fifth the size. A small opening in a cold climate will give better ventilation than a larger opening in a warm climate. In summer the opening should be larger than in the winter.
These recommendations result in vastly more ventilation than people usually give their chickens, but give better results.
- Higher egg production can be obtained with heated quarters, but it rarely pays. Don’t bother.
- Egg production can be maintained if the hens can be convinced to eat enough to cover both their need for warmth and egg production. Feeding wet mash (pouring warm water over the feed trough at the rate of about 1 quart per 100 birds) will increase feed consumption for 1-2 weeks before the birds get jaded. If you normally feed mash, a light feeding of pellets on top of the mash once a day tends to increase the birds’ interest in feed.
- Never let the hens run out of feed in cold weather.
- Use of lights to extend the day helps the hens to eat more feed in cold weather, since they rarely leave the roosts to eat in the dark. (See also my writeup on lights in an issue of my newsletter.)
- The use of lots of glass in a henhouse causes the temperature to go through enormous swings in the course of the day, and is probably a bad idea.
- If you let your chickens out during the rest of the year, let them out in the winter, too.
- Chickens will learn to eat snow, but I think liquid water works better.
- Feeding them grain in the afternoon lets them go to roost with a full crop, and they can digest during the long winter night, preventing them from running short on calories. I don’t know if any research has been done on this, but it’s plausible.
- Scattering scratch grain in the litter keeps the chickens busy and helps prevent them from pecking at each other out of boredom.
- I’ve reprinted Prince T. Woods’ excellent book, Fresh-Air Poultry Houses, which covers winter housing and winter care in great detail. Follow the link and read the sample chapter. It will help. Buy the book if you want to learn more.
Depending on how many chickens you have and what you choose to feed them, feeding chickens can get expensive, and you’ll soon start wondering if those home-grown organic eggs are worth the cost. One of the main reasons that most of us raise chickens at home is for the healthy, free-range eggs that they provide us with, so it makes sense to feed them the best-quality food possible.
Making your own homemade chicken feed is not as difficult as it sounds and can even save you money in the long run. Additionally, you’ll have the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going into your chicken’s food, and you’ll have full control over their health. Of course, this can be stressful too, so you want to be sure your birds are getting all the vital nutrients that they need to thrive.
In this article, we share six chicken feed recipes that won’t break the bank, will give your birds all the required nutrition that they need, and are easy to make. Let’s get started!
Nutritional needs of chickens
Before we get into the recipes, it’s vital to be aware of the nutritional requirements that chickens need to thrive. Although chickens are generally hardy birds and expert foragers, they still need a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals to grow properly, stay healthy, and produce healthy, delicious eggs.
Humans have been selectively breeding and keeping chickens for centuries, and most chickens are bred and fed to grow as big as possible, as quickly as possible. This is likely the reason that you got your own backyard flock, to avoid this commercial production. The commercial diet fed to such chickens is different from that of backyard flocks. You want your chickens to grow at a steady, natural rate without getting overweight, using feed that will enhance their health.
Image Credit: Natalya Sergeeva, Shutterstock
To produce a healthy, nutrient-rich feed for your flock, you’ll need a good balance of the following:
Vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of the health and growth of chickens, and they’ll usually get plenty from greens and foraging, but it’s a good idea to include vitamin-rich foods into their feed too, especially if they are not free-range.
For a basic chicken feed recipe that includes all the grains, vitamins, and minerals that your chickens need, the following ratios are ideal:
Salt or mineral salts (depending on pasture access, not required for free-range chickens)
Now that you have a good idea of what your chicken needs to thrive, let’s dive into the recipes!
Molasses is a syrupy byproduct of sugar extractions from cane sugar and beets. It’s dark and sweet and comes in several different varieties.
Blackstrap molasses, the result of the third boiling process, contains the most vitamins and minerals, which is why it’s used with fermented chicken feed.
If you’re new to chicken feed fermentation, you might be unsure about using molasses in this process. In this article, I’ll cover all the bases regarding fermenting chicken feed with molasses, including all the significant benefits of this combination and some areas that require more attention.
Table of Contents
How Does Molasses Affect Chicken Feed Fermentation?
When molasses ferments, yeast sugar is consumed, and the byproduct contains alcohol and often gases. For this reason, the molasses doesn’t ferment with the chicken feed, but it’s added right before the feeding.
The fermented chicken feed already has numerous health benefits. If you add high-quality blackstrap molasses, it makes it even more nutritionally rich. Poultry farmers prepare their fermented chicken feed by adding water to pellets, whole grain, or other standard chicken feed and leave it for up to three days to ferment.
When it’s ready, depending on the fermented feed’s quantity, they’ll add several tablespoons of molasses and stir it gently. The goal is to add the molasses just before the feeding time and not let it sit too long in the fermented feed.
Will Molasses Hurt Chickens?
If you’re wary of incorporating blackstrap molasses into your chickens’ diet because you heard that it’s harmful, let’s put your mind at ease.
The most common issue with using molasses with fermented chicken feed is that it could cause diarrhea. However, this can only happen if you give a high dose of molasses to the chickens.
The key is not to overdo it. Another crucial factor in avoiding diarrhea is to use molasses with fermented feed for adult chickens and those laying eggs.
Something that novice chicken owners might question is whether the sweetness of molasses will cause harm to the chickens.
While it’s true that blackstrap molasses will add some sweetness to the fermented chicken feed, this variant of the molasses is the least sweet of them all.
Compared to blackstrap molasses, light and medium molasses are sweeter and less nutritional. Even though blackstrap molasses has a deeper and somewhat spicy flavor, it will add more palatability to fermented chicken feed.
Benefits of Molasses for Chickens
In moderation, molasses is an excellent supplement for your chicken feed. It contains high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
It’s also a fantastic energy source, which is why it’s used as a binder for many livestock types. Let’s go over some of the reasons why having a bottle of blackstrap molasses on hand is great if you have chickens.
Flushes Out the Toxins
If your chickens are free-range, they may eat something that could poison them or cause an intestinal issue of some kind.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some of your chickens acting strangely and suspect food poisoning. Giving them molasses can flush out the toxins. In any case, it’s not going to hurt them, so it’s an excellent system to apply.
Replaces Lost Vitamins and Minerals
If your chickens have gone through a health crisis of some kind, even diarrhea, molasses is the quickest way to replace lost minerals and vitamins. When it comes to intestinal issues, in particular, molasses is incredibly beneficial for poultry.
Additionally, if you have chickens that are feeling sick or don’t have any appetite, adding molasses even to dry chicken feed will increase the feed’s palatability and encourage them to eat.
Bulks Up the Weight of Chickens
If you’re a poultry farmer and need the healthiest recipe to promote weight gain in your chickens, molasses is one of the best options. The key is to add the right combination of vitamin-powered foods with protein content, and of course, blackstrap molasses for extra palatability.
Botulism is a fatal disease chickens and ducks can contract by consuming stagnant water or moldy feed. Unless there’s a quick reaction, birds can die within hours of getting the disease.
As an emergency action, you can use molasses for the purpose of “laxative flush.” That means using molasses to give the chickens diarrhea intentionally.
The laxative flush can absorb the toxins and flush them out of the water. There are no guarantees that this will work every time, but molasses can be a lifesaver if your chickens get botulism.
Shipped Chicks Recovery
Mixing molasses with fermented chicken feed is only for adult chickens. However, there are times when adding a little molasses to water is beneficial for baby chicks.
When chicks are shipped, it can be very stressful for them. The water with molasses mixture can give them the energy and nutrient boost they need.
Great Addition to Cleansing Mash for Chickens
Even if you have a perfectly healthy flock of chickens, you might want to offer them a cleansing mash from time to time. It will have a positive impact on their intestines and the entire digestive tract.
When molasses is combined with fermented feed, it will provide good bacteria to their guts as well. But how do you make a cleansing mash with molasses?
You can use grated or pureed apples with some unflavored yogurt and add a bit of blackstrap molasses. Make sure only to give it to grown hens.
If you regularly use fermented chicken feed for your poultry, you’ve probably seen the many benefits. Eggs are heavier, and eggshells are harder. On top of that, your birds probably love the fermented feed even more than dry grains or pellets.
When you add blackstrap molasses to the fermented mix, it becomes a good treat for them. But it’s not just about palatability, which has plenty of value on its own. It’s about providing the best possible feed for your chickens, and fermented feed with molasses certainly delivers.
Home » Guides » Stardew Valley: How to Feed Chickens
How to Get a Chicken in Stardew Valley
In Stardew Valley, you’ll be able to raise up an assortment of farm livestock that will do your sweet, sweet bidding for you. One such animal is the chicken.
These cute little fowls can give you an egg every day, so long as you keep them healthy and happy of course.
After building your first Coop thanks to the help of the village Carpenter, Robin, you’ll have a lovely home for some chickens.
Once that’s all ready – it will take her a couple of days – you’re good to go over to Marnie’s Ranch south of your farm and buy yourself a chick. Yep, 800 gold will net you a cute little chick that will flourish into a powerful, egg laying monster.
She will immediately transfer over your new baby chick once you name it and you can find it scurrying around their house’s general vicinity. This allows the chicken to graze on grass.
A good tactic is to have a patch (bought for 100g at Pierre’s Shop) next to coop with a fence around to keep the chickens there.
How to Feed Your Chickens Right
In order to feed it within the coop, on let’s say a rainy day, you’re going to need hay.
This can be purchased from Marnie’s for 50 gold each and can be stored up within a Silo (which you’ll need to build) once you cut blades of grass with your scythe.
The Silo auto fills up the contraption with your hay, so it’s definitely nifty to own.
Once you have hay, simply go in and walk over to the wooden area where it looks like animals would feed from on the upper right corner of the room.
Place the hay there (can place up to four hay stacks) and your chickens will be equipped to live.
They’ll feed on it themselves whenever they need to, so just make sure to check back in and see if there’s any need for more.
This method gets very expensive, of course. So the best way to feed them is still to just have patches of grass and letting them free.
Low-impact exercise + a healthy snack = happy chickens.
Do you have a bunch of bored, out-of-shape chickens on your hands? Then this could be the DIY solution you’ve been looking for. Chicken owners have been making their own hanging cabbages to place in their chicken coops or runs, which are designed to stimulate chickens’ natural foraging instincts and help them get a workout by offering a challenging feeding source. They’re especially useful during the winter when your chickens are all cooped up, so to speak.
It’s actually super easy to make your own hanging cabbage; you just need to gather up a cabbage, a drill, and a piece of rope, according to a tutorial from the blog City Girl Farming, which calls the set-up a “low tech chicken gym.”
Additionally, a forum on BackyardChickens.com has some alternative DIY ideas, including using an apple corer, a metal coat hanger, and a landscape nail.
Here’s What You’ll Need to Make it Happen 🐔🛠
This DIY comes with an important warning, though: You may want to supervise your chickens when they’re using a hanging cabbage, as some commenters have reported that they’ve seen chickens eat twine used to hang cabbages, or become tangled in the rope. One commenter on BackyardChickens.com wrote:
“I went to a chicken chat at the local grange & the avian vet shared a story about a chicken w/ a dislocated wing. The owner left the chicken unsupervised & found the bird tangled in the string & hanging by a wing, unable to touch the ground (possibly all day). Unfortunately by the time they got the poor thing to the vet, it died on the table. I’m not saying don’t do it, just be nearby & keep an eye on them.”
Or, if you want to avoid using rope or are simply not into the DIY route, you can buy a treat ball, like this one from Precision Pet, available on Amazon.
Just fill with cabbage and clip to the top of the coop—the bell even provides some extra entertainment for your chickens!
Last month I posted about the current legislation on feeding kitchen scraps to chickens, pointing out that it’s against the law unless your “food preparation area” is registered or vegan. A number of people contacted me wanting to know more about how folks fed their backyard flocks prior to this law.
Kitchen scraps were widely used by backyard keepers; less palatable food we would not eat ourselves (which today at best would be composted, at worst thrown away into a landfill site). This “waste” in turn would then be converted by the chicken into something far more appealing – eggs or meat – and of course manure. It’s a simple, frugal, sensible and rapid way of recycling.
As I’ve mentioned before, within the EU the feeding of kitchen scraps to livestock is regulated and strict guidance is provided on what can and cannot be fed to animals that sit within our food chain. However the backyard recycling of kitchen scraps is not the root cause of the need for such laws. Going back 100 years, it was commonplace to feed scraps to chickens, and in fact was publicly encouraged as an economical way to convert kitchen byproduct into eggs and meat.
Back then, common sense would be applied and no meat (other than fish), or any non-meat product that had come into to direct contact with meat would be fed to the chickens. Most raw vegetables would be minced first before being used and a few such as potato peelings would be cooked or steamed first in order to make them more palatable. Even the water from this cooking would be given to the flock (often mixed in with the feed to create a “mash”), as it contained valuable vitamins and minerals. All sound and sensible advice, and a bit of shame we didn’t remember it when we started to intensively factory farm chickens 50 years ago.
These days, if you want to avoid buying in commercial feeds or at least provide something to supplement the pellets, you can grow your own chicken feed. Legumes such as peas and broad, French and runner beans are particularly beneficial, being high in protein and popular with chickens. It is best to dry them and then mince or grind them before adding them to the feed. Other vegetables such as maize, brassicas (sprouts, cabbages and kale) all provide an excellent source of supplements, with more ornamental plants like sunflower and millet providing a good source of seeds.
During the winter, feeding sprouted seeds provides another excellent source of protein for your chickens. If you elect to grow your own chicken feed, make sure you weigh up the space taken to grow the plants against the value of the food you get in return from the chickens. That’s why in the past we made the best use of the waste from allotments and vegetable plots; it’s economical and sensible.
This post is part of a series on poultry keeping from Andy Cawthray, a self confessed chickeneer who writes for a number of magazines, provides talks & courses on keeping poultry at home and shares his experiences on his personal blog TheChickenStreet.