It’s great if you’ve done all the winter things that will keep your chickens dry and happy during the colder months. But there is one area that I find people often overlook with their poultry: the winter diet.
Any animal that is exposed to the elements will have different dietary needs in different seasons. While chickens aren’t bothered by the cold as much as you might think (remember, they wear down coats all year round!), they do need a little extra help when the weather gets extreme.
Keep The Water Flowing
Water is one of the basic necessities of keeping your chickens healthy in any season, but it’s oh-so-hard to keep it flowing in sub-zero temps. If you have electricity in the coop, it will be easy enough to find a device to keep the water flowing. I don’t have actual electricity in my coop, but I do run a sturdy, made-for-outdoors extension chord to a nearby outlet.
[pullquote]No matter what you do, keeping a constant supply of fresh, unfrozen water is vital for the winter![/pullquote]
Poultry keepers use different methods of keeping water unfrozen, depending on your preference and coop set-up. Some set their water on a heated base or pad, while others use a dog dish with hidden heating coils that can be plugged in. I used to use the dog dishes and they work fine, but had to be replaced every couple of years. Now I simply drop a small tank heater disc in the large black rubber pans I use for water and plug that in. Then when winter is over, I store them in small boxes for the next year.
If you don’t have electricity, you can go out to your coop three or four times a day, break the ice and add some lukewarm water to the water pans. However, that is very time intensive and not practical for many of us who work away from home for any amount of time.
No matter what you do, keeping a constant supply of fresh, unfrozen water is vital for the winter!
Food Glorious Food
Now is not the time to skimp on food. A good, high-quality layer feed for your hens will provide the protein, vitamins, and minerals that they need to replace those molted feathers and maintain their body weight during the colder months. I offer my birds food all the time and make sure the feeders are filled, as there is a distinct lack of bugs, worms and greenery for them to go after December through March.
[pullquote]Now is not the time to skimp on food.[/pullquote]
I offer my birds an additional treat in the evenings when they can use the extra carbohydrates to burn for warmth during the night. I will throw some handfuls of cracked corn around in the coop, which both gives them a quick energy snack and helps keep my coop turned over and dry.
I also offer my chickens suet cakes with seeds, the kind you get in the grocery store or farm store for wild birds. It can get a big expensive when you have a lot of chickens, but they go after those cakes like crazy. You can take advantage of the occasional sales on these, though I do get some odd looks when I buy 25 or 30 at a time. Some experienced poultry people who raise beautiful chickens do the same thing to bring out the shine in the feathers, and I’m willing to follow the experts.
A Piñata For Your Birds
There are other things you can do for your birds to supplement winter feeding. Along with less to forage comes more time in the coop — and boredom.
[pullquote]Along with less to forage comes more time in the coop — and boredom.[/pullquote]
I will often hang a cabbage in an old string onion bag at the birds’ head height. You can also place the cabbage in a large plastic pan in the middle of the coop. Either way, the birds enjoy pecking at something green and good.
You can also get suet hangers for the suet cakes. Those holders are also useful for holding other small greens, like extra brussel sprouts or kale.