Winter can be a very enjoyable season to raise your chickens. One of my favorite winter pastimes is sitting on the front porch with a warm cup of coffee, and watching my colorful flock explore the yard. Winter can be great- you don’t have to contend with flies in the coop, and lets be honest- the barnyard doesn’t have that summer time stink.
Despite being a relatively easy time to have chickens, winter does come with its own challenges.
Chickens are omnivores, meaning they need to consume both plant and animal matter. In the warmer months, there is a steady supply of insects and fresh green grass to fill their diet. In winter, however, it is up to us to give them a helping hand. Most of a hen’s energy in winter is spent keeping warm, but you can spoil your chickens by whipping up a DIY feed of your own.
Here are some ingredients you use to create your own perfect, winter flock mix!
No matter what mix you create, your flock still needs the protein supplied in layer pellets or crumble. Be sure to make this the base of whatever feed you make. The average layer feed contains somewhere between 12%-16% protein. Protein is what keeps the chickens going. It helps them grow new feathers after the fall molt and is essential to their nutritional needs.
Corn is a wonderful addition to a winter feed! Corn is full of fat and oil. It can be fed either whole or cracked. I prefer to feed whole, as it still contains all of the oil in each kernel. The chickens eat it with ease and fully digest even the whole, dried pieces. The process of digesting corn causes more heat inside the chicken than most other foods. It may be a good idea to give your flock a few handfuls of corn before they go to bed at night. This will ensure they will be kept warm during the night while digesting.
Sunflower seeds contain loads of vitamin E and amino acids. Amino acids keep a chicken healthy from the inside out. Most feed stores sell black, whole kernel sunflower seeds. These can be mixed in with your winter mix whole. Besides being very healthy, sunflowers seeds are also very tasty and usually the first thing gobbled up.
The white, rice bran powder commonly used to feed deer by hunters, is also a great thing to add to your own winter mix. Rice bran is composed of the byproducts of rice milling. The bran itself is made from the rice husks or shells. It is rich in fats, minerals, and vitamin E. It is also very high in fiber and an all around great feed.
Alfalfa is a member of the legume family, but is still considered a forage material. Chickens thrive on a variety of greens, but in winter these are hard to come by. Adding some alfalfa pellets to your winter mix fills in this gap. Alfalfa contains calcium that can help chickens keep laying in the winter. It also contains high amounts of protein, that would otherwise be filled by a free range diet of summer bugs. Alfalfa is good is mixed in with other components of feed, but should not be fed alone. If fed in too high quantities, it can cause diarrhea and digestive upset.
Making your own mix of winter feed is so rewarding! Although some of these ingredients are expensive, they will go further than just plain layer pellets and keep your flock fuller, longer! The added vitamins and minerals will benefit everyone. As we know, the nutritional quality of the eggs we eat, are directly affected by the chicken’s diet. Try making your own mix this winter and I’m sure your chickens will thank you! Go heavy on the table scraps and broadcast feed your mix twice a day. This encourages their natural foraging instinct and leads to less waste. Your flock may just reward you with more eggs than ever this winter!