Chapter Three: How To Feed Your Chickens Correctly During Winter

Chapter Three How To Feed Your Chickens Correctly During Winter

During the wintertime your hens’ dietary requirements will change as they molt and prepare for the cold, dark winter whilst their body recuperates for next spring.

Not only will their dietary requirements change but the volume of food they eat will also change during the winter. It’s important that during these changes you keep an eye on your hens and provide them with not only the right food but the right amount of food.

In this chapter of the definitive guide to keeping chickens in winter, we will explain what types of food you should feed your chickens during winter and also how much food you should give them.

Why Do Chickens’ Dietary Requirements Change in Winter?

As the summer comes to an end you will notice your hens naturally start to slow down and their egg production will also slow down. With this, your hens’ nutritional requirements will change as their body moves from a state of production to a state of repair.

As the amount of daylight starts decreasing your hens egg production will slow down, but why?

Chickens in SnowThe amount of daylight tells your hen when to release a yolk and produce an egg. So when the daylight is reduced, chickens don’t receive this light ‘cue’ to tell them to release a yolk. This is mainly a survival mechanism as their offspring would have a very small chance of surviving during a cold winter.

This state of repair during winter is crucial for hens, because laying eggs throughout the summer places a huge amount of stress on their body and without this break they will eventually burn out. This is why battery hens are culled within 2 years because their bodies have simply burned out through constant egg laying with no rest.

As you can imagine, when a hen is laying eggs they need lots of protein, however during a state of repair they will need more carbohydrates to keep themselves warm… more on this later.

What to Feed Your Chickens During Winter

As we approach wintertime, hens’ feed consumption will typically be 1.5 times the amount they eat in the spring/summer, and many first time backyard chicken keepers get caught out and aren’t prepared for their hens to suddenly start eating more food!

Hens mainly eat more because they need to keep themselves warm during the harsh winters. When preparing for the winter, make sure you don’t get caught out by running out of feed and stock up at the end of autumn; otherwise you are going to have some unhappy and hungry hens.

During winter I tend to keep my hens on layers pellets, this provides them with all of their key nutritional requirements and keeps them healthy.

Cracked Corn Kernels
Organic Dry Cracked Corn Kernels

In addition to these pellets, during the final half an hour of daylight each day I feed them some cracked corn. Feeding corn to your hens before bedtime is a great snack; it not only fills them up but provides them with warmth during the night. As the chickens digest the corn their digestive system gets to work and this produces heat inside the hens’ body. I’ve also noticed that feeding my girls corn helps give the yolks of their eggs a deep rich yellow color.

Scratch grains are a great alternative, although they don’t provide as much nutrition as corn. Please don’t overdo the amount you give them- you don’t need or want obese chickens!

This feeding time is also a great opportunity to give your girls a quick visual inspection to make sure they are healthy and don’t have any problems.

Whilst I highly recommend cracked corn or scratch grains, your hens’ diet shouldn’t consist of only cracked corn/scratch grains. Used alone they won’t provide your hens with the required vitamins and minerals they need to live a healthy life. This is why it’s recommended you only feeding your hens cracked corn in the evening, purely as a way to provide your hen with heat during the night.

Oatmeal

Banana Nut Oatmeal with HoneyIf you want to warm your hens up and don’t have any scratch grains, another great snack is oatmeal.

On exceptionally cold mornings I make a panful of oatmeal and take it outside to give to the girls. Just pour the oatmeal out into a trough and they will peck away at it. Don’t feed them the oatmeal directly out of the pan- they might bully each other because they don’t all fit around the pan at once.

If you want to add some variety to the oatmeal, you can add either bananas or maple syrup to it.

Grit Supply

One of the biggest issues your hens will face during the winter months is the frozen ground. You might be surprised to find out that hens get a lot of nutrition from scratching and pecking at the ground. One of the most important minerals they get from foraging is grit.

Chickens don’t have any teeth so the grit they collect is used to break and grind down their food.

However, during the winter months if the ground freezes over your chickens won’t be able to forage for grit, and this can cause issues.

You need to make sure your hens are getting their grit supply from elsewhere instead. Normally this can either be from commercial feed, or you can just scatter crushed oyster shell in their run. This doesn’t need to be done daily, a handful once every 2 weeks will be plenty for a small flock of 12 hens.

How Much Should You Feed Them

During the wintertime chickens eat around 1.5 times the amount of food they eat during the summer. And as you know instead of just filling my hens up with more pellets, I prefer to meet this additional food requirement using other sources.

Feeding ChickensDon’t get too caught up on whether you are feeding them enough or not- the will let you know.

If you are constantly finding that there is food left in their feeder when they go to roost at night, you know that you are giving them too much feed. If there is feed leftover at night remember to tidy it up, as this will attract pests.

It’s much easier feeding free range chickens. As a general rule you cannot overfeed them- they will often not eat your feed as they prefer to roam and find their own little grubs. Whilst feeding hens which are confined to a run is slightly trickier, the same rule applies: if they have feed left in their feeder when they go to roost, you’re feeding them too much.

I feed each of my hybrids around 2.2lbs of feed per week, and then on top of that they get daily snacks and also some scratch grains.

How Should You Feed Your Chickens

During the summer months I prefer to spread their layers pellets directly out onto the floor. I’ve found this reduces squabbling and bullying because they can all get access to the feed at once.

However just like the amount of food they eat during winter changes, the way I feed them also changes during winter. During this time, I always feed my chickens using a trough, and there are two main reasons for this.

First, the ground is nearly always wet over the winter months, so the pellets get soggy as soon as they hit the ground. My girls seem to be very fussy and don’t like eating soggy pellets!

Second, troughs are much easier to clean. Pellets that are mushed up from being placed on the ground are a nightmare to scrape up. Troughs are much easier – all you need to do is pick them up and slide the pellets out from one side.

When I’m feeding my chickens snacks during winter, I try to make it fun for them! One of their favorite games is cabbage tetherball!

Chicken Cabbage Tetherball
Chicken Playing Cabbage Tetherball!

Just remember at the end of the day to clean up any leftover food and pellets. If you don’t, you’re going to attract pests such as mice and rats.

Their normal ‘feed schedule’ looks something like this:

  • Breakfast (6am): Layers Pellets
  • Snack (2pm): Varity of vegetables and occasionally mealworms
  • Evening Meal (4pm): Handful of cracked corn

If your chickens are left on their own during the daytime, you might not be able to give them a snack in the afternoon. Don’t worry too much about this; just make sure to either give them slightly more food at breakfast or in the evening.

The most important thing to do during the wintertime is to make sure your hens have plenty of feed and stay stocked up!

Chapter Three Summary

As we approach the winter your chickens’ nutritional needs will change. During this period they will require less protein and more carbohydrates- the carbs help to keep the chickens warm.

In addition, chickens will also need more feed during this time. Their winter feed consumption is typically around 1.5 times their summer feed consumption.

During the winter my hybrids are fed around 2.2lbs of feed each per week, and they also get daily treats and cracked corn.

A huge problem your hens will have during the winter is the frozen ground. Hens forage for grit and when the ground is frozen they cannot access any. So it’s important you provide them with grit during this period- a handful every fortnight will be perfect for a flock of around 12.

It’s also important to use a trough whilst feeding your chickens during the winter. This will prevent their feed from getting soggy and spoiled.

Chapter 2 Chapter 4



Comments

  1. Diana says

    hahaaa, my chicken think the cabbage is an intruder and walk very clear of it around the run. So I picked some of the side leaves off to show them the enemy is not fighting back…. they don’t touch them….. seems to me they don’t like cabbage at all….

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      That’s surprising! Our girls love cabbage.

      Have you tried feeding them an alternative like pumpkin?

  2. Jen Dobbie says

    We have 13 hens and a cockerel and I think we are giving too many treats. Early afternoon we give half a bowl of lettuce, a few mealworms , some grapes and a spoonful of sunflower seeds. Is this too much?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Jen,

      Do you feed them this everyday? If so, I would consider cutting it down a bit and spreading their snacks across multiple days instead.

      So perhaps give them mealworms on one day and the sunflower seeds on another…

      Claire

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Mike,

      Yes this is also an option, but I didn’t discuss it because they can be quite expensive for the backyard chicken keeper!

      Claire

  3. Eric says

    I’m just starting out and only have 1 hen and 1 rooster, next year I’m going a bit larger. During the summer I grew tomatoes and green & yellow squash made a mash and froze it for the winter months, I plan on adding cracked corn and some scratch grains to it for night feeding, plus an all day supply of pellets and the occasional treat meal worms, pumpkin, etc. Will this be sufficient for my micro-mini flock?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Eric,

      It sounds like you have got a handle on things! One thing to point out though is chickens can’t eat tomatoes- please see our article on poisonous foods for chickens for more information 🙂

      Claire

      • Laverne says

        Tomatoes are fine. Tomato plants are not. I’ve fed my 50+ flock red or slightly red tomatoes for almost 30 years. I plant 75 to 100 tomato plants each summer and they get “seconds” daily. I often freeze them during the hottest days to help cool hot chickens. They also clean up the garden for me in the fall – after I’ve removed plants. They eat hundreds of cherry tomatoes over the course of a week or so during this time; the last of the big tomatoes have already been fed to them. Same with peppers – both are nightshade family of plants 🙂

      • victoria thompson says

        I had 2 roosters in with a dozen hens and they fought too much so I took out 1 rooster and now the harmony has returned. With Leghorns, 1 rooster keeps a dozen hens fertile with no problem. I agree. Poor girl.

  4. Eric says

    Your talking about the tomato plant itself being poisonous (stems, leaves), not the fruit itself, right?
    I’ve been feeding them fresh organic veggies since day 1, especially tomatoes, I over planted tomatoes, and they have no access to the plant itself and I stem and cut them just as if you or I would, cleaning the center out. I sincerely hope that you are referring to the plant itself.

  5. Stephanie Price says

    I’ve been feeding mine tomatoes also. I looked it up and it was said to be a treat. Mine fight over them all the time! Ugh, I’m surprised I haven’t killed mine yet. First year problems 🙁

  6. Thea Hallas says

    Why can’t you feed chickens tomatoes?I have been feeding mine tomatoes for years and they love them with no side effects.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Thea,

      Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. I believe it’s the Solanine that can have adverse effects when eaten.

      Claire

  7. Dorothy Mungle says

    This is my first year of raising chickens. I’m very concerned because it’s negative 12 and I don’t know how to keep water out there at all times. They have started laying eggs as well I believe one a day from each of the eight hens is this normal in this weather?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Dorothy,

      Please read Chapter 4 of the guide becuase we discuss in detail how to stop the water from freezing.

      Claire

    • Jill Callahan says

      We just keep the water in their chicken house, that we close up nightly to keep raccoons out and the chicken house has two warmer lights ( the kind for reptiles, which we had to send for thru mail). Those ceramic warmer lights keep the coop from freezing and they’re not that expensive!

  8. Terri says

    go to utube there are a few ways to make your own water heater, esp. if you have some electricity near your chickens. use a cookie tin and put a light fixture kit in it. Put lid back on plug in and there you have it a water heater.

    • Jill Callahan says

      Hi Terri~ I was just wondering if you could explain the water heater more…I was not following where the lid came from and what kind of light fixture kit. It sounds interesting! Thank you, Jill

  9. carol says

    I was shocked that tomatoes were poisonous! that is off the list of garden vegetables.
    Just a note to those who feed their girls bread. Have the bread soaking in warm water and break it up, I always add a vegetable preferably green. I found my girls would eat too much bread and have had a few die because it would be stuck in their passage ways. I feed them warm oatmeal with a fruit in the morning only in the winter as the temperatures will drop to -35. At night they have their scratch and crumble. I will give them leaf lettuce in the winter as well and crushed egg shell. I have a heat lamp that is hung from the ceiling just over the water this helps the water from freezing and adds some heat. I have a caged in run that i put clear plastic up around it to keep the wind and snow off of them during the winter months, this allows them to go outside and scratch the dirt areas that i haven’t covered with hay. it is all trial and error…. the one good thing with winter no raccoons 🙂

    • tonya says

      wow, I didn’t know about the bread! mine love bread so much, they attack me when they see me coming with bread! Thank you so much for saying this!

  10. Jill Callahan says

    Sorry, my reply sent before I could finish. I was just saying, good to know about the raccoons …didn’t know they were gone in winter…I’m always worrying because we lost chickens to the, several years ago…was very sad! Thank You

  11. Jay says

    Thanks for the great advice- -11 this morning and it was still 10 in their house so I made them a big pan of oatmeal with a handful of corn mixed in with a pear and they loved it – Tried the cabbage game and my 14 hens had a blast with the cabbage!

  12. Ahmed says

    Hi Claire. I wanted to ask you what to feed my little 3 month chicks in this cold winter. They are still little for me! 🙂

  13. Loren says

    We just inheireted a black silkie rooster not sure of his age. However my question is if I decide to add some hens to the coop, what do you recommend? And how many so we are able to have eggs?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Loren,

      Please look through our blog as we have many articles in there about beginner chicken breeds 🙂

      Claire

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