Are you wondering how you’re going to feed your pastured chickens during the winter? Here are the best winter-feeding strategies to keep your flock healthy and well-fed during the cold weather while hopefully saving you some money too.
Winter is fast approaching for my family and my happily pastured chickens.
In Canada, the winters last for many dark months and spring is usually slow to emerge and chilly still.
Without the several acres of varied and nutritious green grasses, weeds, and clover my chickens free range on hunting for insects and bugs, I will have to rely heavily on commercial feed to get them through the cold and barren winter.
And that can get expensive. Especially since I’m feeding organic commercial feed.
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.
Are you worried about the winter cold and how your flock will adapt? Make sure to read So, Just How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens?
And check out my detailed guide on How To Winterize Your Chicken Coop because that is just as important as nutritious food — even if you have cold-hardy breeds.
Ferment Their Regular Commercial (Or Homemade) Feed
Fermenting your chicken feed is a great way to decrease feed consumption while simultaneously increasing the nutrition of the feed itself.
Fermentation unlocks more bioavailable nutrients for your flock and can be done year-round too.
And it’s very simple to do — as simple as adding water to feed.
In the cooler months, there is much less chance for molds and toxins to flourish so you don’t have to monitor your fermented feed as much as you would in the heat and humidity of summer when chicken feed can go bad fast. Fermented feed can be especially susceptible to this if not monitored appropriately.
So if you’ve been hesitant to try fermenting feed yourself, you might finally take the plunge in order to feed your pastured chickens during winter in a more nutritious way.
See: Complete Guide on How & Why To Ferment Your Chicken Feed
Fodder is technically any feed that is grown and then fed to livestock like chickens.
Hay, for example, is a type of fodder.
But what I’m speaking to here is to grow a continuous supply of fresh fodder from sprouted grains like oats or barley and seeds and legumes like peas and then to feed that back to your livestock.
All you need are large trays that can drain and some water.
Your pastured chickens get access to grasses and green things like they’re used to eating during the summer when they’re free-ranging and foraging for their food.
Some chicken keepers raise concerns about fodder potentially contributing to impacted crops, but many dispute that claim, especially for pastured birds that are accustomed to long grass.
However, if this is a concern for you and your chickens, the next step may be preferential in your winter feeding system.
Sprout Grains & Seeds
Although fodder can be defined as grains and seeds that have sprouted, the difference here is that fodder is allowed to grow past 6-inches while sprouted grains and seeds are ready in 7 days and don’t grow past 4 inches in that time frame.
Yes, there actually are nutritional differences in both but both systems are also extremely healthy for your chickens.
There is no reason not to have both on the go.
Much like fermented feed and fodder, the sprouting action of grains and seeds makes them healthier and more nutritious for your pastured chickens.
All three also increase enzyme activity and make the food easier to digest.
All grains and seeds have anti-nutrients so by fermenting feed, sprouting, and growing fodder, you are making the nutrients in grains and seeds more bioavailable.
Chickens fed a diet higher in bioavailable nutrients will eat less.
Fermented commercial feed, fodder, and sprouted grains are a great way to feed your pastured chickens during winter.
This one should be fairly obvious, but make sure to keep your kitchen scraps and feed them daily to your chickens.
Exclude anything dangerous like moldy or rotten food or stuff that is poisonous to them like onions in great quantities, raw beans, green potato peels, or avocado pits and peel.
Also, consider asking your family, friends, or neighbours to keep their kitchen scraps for you in a bucket with a lid.
I know some chicken keepers will make arrangements with local restaurants and pick up their food scraps too.
This is an excellent way to cut down on costs when feeding your pastured chickens during winter.
But make it easy on people (especially restaurants) to help you with this if you decide to ask them — provide them with small buckets that come with lids and arrange a pickup time and place that doesn't require too much effort on their part.
Feed Some of Your Surplus Stored Eggs
Feeding scrambled eggs to chickens is pretty common but in the winter this can be an especially nice, warm treat and an important source of vital protein, fat, and nutrients.
Chickens will naturally stop or slow down egg production as the days shorten and get colder if they're allowed to do so.
But in the warmer months, you may have found yourself swimming in eggs from your pastured chickens — many more eggs than you can reasonably use or store or make baked goods with.
There are many ways to store and preserve eggs for you and your family, but consider storing some for your chickens too.
The easiest way to do this is to just crack and mix the eggs and freeze them in plastic bags. Cook them directly from that state as needed when you desire to feed your chickens on a cold winter morning.
Don’t bother thawing first. Their palates are not as refined.
They will appreciate the extra protein and fat to keep them warm and healthy in the cold and wind.
I also use more egg yolks than white regardless so I always have extra whites on hand that I feed back scrambled to my chickens no matter the season.
What do I use all those egg yolks for?
See my delicious, nutrient-dense Hot Spiced Milk Recipe, it’s how I start every single day.
I make homemade raw milk yogurt on a regular basis from grass-fed cows, and my chickens get some every week too.
Yogurt is a source of probiotics and quality protein for chickens.
You can mix it in with your fermented feed or just give it straight, the chickens love it.
Whey & Milk
Do you make cheese? Then you likely have lots of leftover whey.
Yes, there are whey cheese recipes too but consider leaving some whey behind to enjoy as-is for humans and chickens alike.
You can easily reduce whey on the stovetop so that it doesn’t take up too much storage space and then freeze it in ice cube trays to feed back to your chickens in the winter or mix in with your fermented feed.
Whey is a source of probiotics, protein, and all sorts of beneficial digestive enzymes.
We buy raw cow milk from a farmer here for our family. Sometimes the farmer will have milk that is on its way to getting too old to sell so we buy it at a reduced cost and then let it sour to feed the chickens or make Irish Soda Bread.
Roasted Root Vegetables & In-Season Produce
Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and similar are often found at drastically reduced prices — especially at the end of the day at farmer’s markets.
I buy bushels at reduced cost and then roast them for my chickens outside whenever we have a bonfire (may as well save on gas/electricity costs and not use the oven if you don’t have to).
I also use roasted root vegetables soaked in milk to fatten up the chickens, ducks, and geese before slaughter.
These foods are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and nutrients you can feed your pastured chickens during winter.
This is also a great way to fatten up poultry before slaughter.
Compressed Alfalfa Pellets
This is another one where some people might be concerned about impacted crops. But for my pastured free-ranging birds that mow down tall grasses, I'm not worried at all.
Compressed alfalfa pellets — always soaked and served in a bucket of clean — will be rationed to the Icelandic Sheep and fed regularly to the geese throughout the winter alongside their hay.
But they are also good to supply to your chickens.
Not all chickens will eat alfalfa pellets, but some will.
You can even save substantially by buying 1-tonne or half-tonne totes from your local farm supply or feed store.
Maggot Feeder & Other Creepy Crawlies
I don’t remember where I first heard about this but apparently, credit goes to Justin Rhodes who is a wealth of information in general.
A maggot feeder is exactly what it sounds like:
You take a plastic bucket or some other type of vessel with a lid, drill holes into the bottom, and then put food inside the bucket before closing it off with a lid and hanging it from a tree.
As the food rots it will attract flies who will lay eggs.
As the eggs hatch into maggots, they will fall through the holes and attract your chickens.
Maggots are an incredible source of protein and chickens absolutely love them.
Instead of an ugly plastic bucket hanging on my land, I chose a prettier ceramic pot which I found at a local thrift store. I placed scotch tape over the bottom where I drilled the holes to keep the ceramic from cracking. Inside I placed some leftover food scraps and let nature take its grisly course.
It is very easy to periodically take off the lid and add more food into the bucket without ever having to look inside.
Some people intentionally breed maggots or crickets or all sorts of other things to keep their chickens rich in protein.
I prefer the hands-off aspect of a suspended maggot bucket but the only drawback is that when it gets too cold, you won’t have any flies laying eggs or maggots hatching.
Look into systems where people grow all sorts of bugs in bins year-round to feed their chickens, it may work out for you.
Recommended Books & Further Reading
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. This is a classic that everyone should have if they are planning on raising chickens. This book technically has everything you need within the pages. That being said, if you are looking for more organic and natural approaches to chicken-keeping, I recommend this book alongside something that will serve that purpose too.
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers. This is my favourite. The most comprehensive guide to date on raising all-natural poultry for the small-scale farmer, homesteader, and professional grower. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock offers a practical and integrative model for working with chickens and other domestic fowl, based entirely on natural systems.