Winter brings unique challenges in feeding chickens, especially pastured chickens. This article explores practical, cost-saving strategies to effectively feed your chickens during the colder months, focusing on maintaining their health and your budget.
If you're going to use artificial means to keep chickens laying in winter, you should also carefully consider adding more nutritious extras into their diet to keep them healthy.
Raising Pastured Chickens in Winter
When the temperatures are forecasted to get really low, I'll give them meat, fish scraps, and extra scrambled eggs, too. Some people will even give their chicken's cat food.
Winter becomes a real challenge without the several acres of varied and nutritious green grasses, weeds, and clover that my chickens usually have access to for hunting insects and bugs.
I'm left with no choice but to depend more on their commercial feed to help them get through the cold, barren months.
And that can get expensive.
So how can I feed my pastured chicken during the winter in a way that saves money, diversifies their diet, and makes it healthier and more natural?
As it turns out, there are many ways to do that.
Ferment Their Feed
Fermenting chicken feed is an effective method to boost nutrition while reducing consumption. This process makes nutrients more bioavailable for your flock and is surprisingly simple - it's basically adding water to the feed.
In winter, the cooler temperatures significantly lower the risk of mold and toxins, making it easier to maintain fermented feed compared to the humid summer months.
If you've been hesitant about fermenting feed, winter is an ideal time to start, enhancing your chickens' diet in a more nutritious way.
We keep fermented feed buckets tucked away underneath the laundry room sink during winter so that the microbial activity can still take place.
Fodder, which is any feed grown and fed to livestock, is a great addition to your chickens' winter diet. Examples include sprouted grains like oats, barley, and legumes like peas.
These are simple to grow in trays and provide your chickens with the fresh greens they crave, mimicking their summer foraging habits.
While some keepers worry about fodder leading to impacted crops, this is less of a concern for pastured birds used to long grass.
Sprout Grains & Seeds
Sprouting grains and seeds, although similar to fodder, involves a shorter growth period, usually not exceeding 4 inches in height. Despite this difference, sprouted grains and fodder are nutritious and incredibly healthy for chickens.
The sprouting process enhances enzyme activity and makes the food easier to digest, also reducing anti-nutrients found in grains and seeds.
Don't overlook the value of kitchen scraps. Feeding your chickens daily with leftovers is an excellent way to reduce feed costs in winter. Be cautious of harmful items like moldy food, large quantities of onions, raw beans, green potato peels, or avocado pits and peels.
You might also consider collecting scraps from neighbors, family, friends, or even local restaurants, providing them with containers for convenience.
I will boil scraps like potato, cabbage, and carrot peels — even banana peels — to increase the palatability and chances they will eat them.
Feed Some of Your Surplus Stored Eggs
In winter, feeding chickens scrambled eggs is more than a treat; it's a vital source of protein, fat, and nutrients. During the colder months, chickens naturally reduce egg production or stop laying entirely.
You can store excess eggs by freezing cracked and mixed eggs in plastic bags and cook them directly from frozen to feed your chickens. They especially appreciate this extra protein and fat to stay warm and healthy.
Roasted Root Vegetables & Produce
Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots are great for winter feeding. Purchasing them at reduced prices, especially towards the end of the day at farmers' markets, can be economical.
Roasting these vegetables can be a practical way to provide complex carbohydrates and nutrients to your chickens.
Compressed Alfalfa Pellets
Alfalfa pellets are another nutritious option for your chickens. They must be soaked first and can be an excellent addition to their winter diet.
While not all chickens may take to alfalfa pellets, those that do benefit greatly.
Maggot Feeder & Other Protein Sources
Creating a maggot feeder is an innovative way to provide a high-protein diet.
A simple setup involves a bucket with holes drilled at the bottom, filled with a small bit of food waste, and hung from a tree. As the food decomposes, it attracts flies that lay eggs, which turn into protein-rich maggots. The maggots fall through the holes and the chickens eat them up — genius.
This method is particularly effective in warmer weather, as cold temperatures slow down fly activity and maggot production. As soon as spring comes back, your maggot buckets will be up and producing in no time.
Feeding chickens in winter can cost more, but if you're looking to save money on chicken feed costs, using some or all of these strategies can really help.