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?
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