Your Backyard Chickens dietary requirements will vary depending on the seasons. During late Autumn and Winter is a time for your chickens to rejuvenate and get ready for Spring and laying a lot of eggs.
So it is important that during these colder months that you feed them the right kind of food and and the right amount.
Chickens, particularly hens, need to be fed more during the colder winter months. They also have increased needs for protein and carbohydrates.
Egg production can diminish in winter, as chickens get cues from sunlight to release a yolk and hence produce an egg. This reduces dramatically in winter and is, in part, a mechanism for survival as baby chicks naturally have little chance of survival if hatched in winter.
Laying is also very stressful on the body of a hen and winter gives her a reprieve. This is why protein and carbohydrates in winter are so important, even more so if you wish to keep your hens laying eggs.
What to Feed Free-Range Chickens in Winter
Chickens need more protein content in winter. This helps them grow the additional winter feathers they require to keep warm. Protein is also crucial for egg development, and if you want them to keep laying over winter, they will need added protein.
They also need good sources of carbohydrates, which help keep them warm in cold weather and provide them with more energy.
10 Steps on how to Feed Chickens in Winter
1. Be Guided by how much your Chickens are willing to Consume
- chickens do not tend to be over eaters, so if there is leftover food in their feeder in the morning, they probably don’t need to be given quite as much.
2. Feed your Chickens from a Trough
- This is easier to clean and helps to protect the food and keep it dry. Don’t sprinkle chicken feed pellets on the ground during winter as they can become wet, soggy, and unpalatable.
3. Feed more than you do in the Warmer Months
- During winter, your birds wind down from their production of eggs and lay less eggs then what they do during spring and summer. A good guide is to increase the volume of food you offer them by half what you feed in spring and summer, that means feeding them one and a half times more during late autumn and winter.
4. Switch your Regular Chicken Feed to Grower Feed for Game Birds
- This has more protein. Also, add a little cracked corn as an evening snack. Offer scratched grains in moderation. You’ll also need to offer grit once a fortnight.
5. Add Leafy Greens
- Such as spinach, kale, and chard, as these are rich in nutrients and help replace natural plants that don’t grow as well in your yard during winter.
6. Feed Chickens Oatmeal
- Chickens love warm oatmeal in winter, and if you add a little maple syrup and bananas they will be very happy! Spread the oatmeal evenly throughout the feeder to help prevent fights over this delicious meal.
7. Consider adding some Dry Cat Food
- (if you have a cat) to your chickens’ diet, as this provides a safe source (in moderation) of additional protein. Remember to ensure the cat can’t access the coop as he may become predatory when seeking food from the same area. Chickens can also be very aggressive, and the cat will not always win.
8. Lay a Chicken-Safe Board on the Floor of the Coop;
- Bugs may accumulate under the boards and the chickens will eat them. Bugs are great (and scrumptious) protein sources.
9. Offer Plenty of Fresh Clean Water.
- Your birds should always have access to this, and it should be replaced daily. Consider purchasing a heated water bowl to prevent freezing. You can add supplements to the water, including dried herbs, vegetable stock, or a vet-recommended poultry supplement.
10. Store their Food Securely so that Rodents are not Attracted to the Coop
- Store in a seal-able tin or bucket with a lid; bags and boxes can be eaten through by rats and mice – as well as by your chickens!
Free-range chickens will not overeat – and they will continue to forage for grubs during the day. If the night feeder has food left in the morning, you’re feeding them too much so you can reduce the volume you offer a little.
Finally, a great winter treat is a tether ball of cabbage – hang a cabbage up slightly off the ground on a string and let them have fun pecking at it.
Remember to clean up leftover food or pellets from the floor of the coop each day to reduce the likelihood of attracting rats and mice and to keep the chickens’ diet palatable.
Healthy chickens are happy chickens! With some extra love and care they will be all set for spring and an abundance of eggs!