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 Snow

The 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

The Best Winter Chicken Feed

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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.

Another warm meal your chickens will appreciate during the cold months is scrambled eggs.

And yes, these eggs can be made from your chickens’ own eggs.

Scrambled eggs provide your chickens with an excellent source of protein, which can help them store energy during the winter.

So if your chickens seem a little cold, are losing weight, or appear lethargic, go ahead and whip up a batch of scrambled eggs to give them a boost.


Banana Nut Oatmeal with Honey

If 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 grit 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 Chickens

Don’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

When deciding how to feed your chickens their meals, it’s best to utilize feeders created specifically for poultry. Doing so will ensure less waste and less exposure to bacteria.

Feeders intended for chickens will prevent your birds from scratching the feed out (creating waste) and also prevents them from soiling their feed by sitting in it, which can spread bacteria and disease.

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

62 thoughts on “Chapter Three: How To Feed Your Chickens Correctly During Winter

  1. 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….

    1. That’s surprising! Our girls love cabbage.
      Have you tried feeding them an alternative like pumpkin?

  2. 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?

    1. 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…

    2. Seems mine are fussy buggers grapes no millworm no pellets no grain yes but turning away from that too. Corn go nuts oatmeal liked it for about a month now nope. They are getting skinny I’m worried.

      1. I have a unusual setup. I have chickens at a friends Ranch. II go down twice a week. I have two large feeders. The large one I put in black sunflower ? seeds with some grit added and a mixed bag of feed
        In the other feeder I mix the cracked corn, lay crumbled, oyster shells and meal worms.
        I only have 13 hens but I don’t ever have to worry like when I was sick for a week. They also have two large waterer Eventually I plan on moving there within a year but it’s great knowing that they have plenty of food and water and can eat anytime they want to

    1. 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!

    2. I utilize this constant feed method but do not use an automatic feeder. I use an inexpensive pig feeder-looks like a giant galvanized rabbit food feeder and costs only around $80 We keep it attached to the outside of their pen and the bottom of it, the open feeder portion, sticks into their yard. We can fit 4 sacks of feed that we mix into the top and then close the lid. Inside the yard we have three little steps for them to get up to it as we found having it too low gives them access to scratch it out and waste feed. They love this and have all become accustomed to eating only when they are hungry throughout the day so they are not obese. I love it because I have very little to no food waste and it allows me to leave for a few days at a time without having to worry about their food situation and having someone come over to feed them twice a day.

  3. 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?

    1. 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 🙂

          1. Have been feeding my chickens lots of scraps which include tomatoes for some time now, no issues. They’d have to eat a lot of tomatoes in one meal for their to be a problem.

      1. 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 🙂

      2. Everyone is saying they feed cracked corn, mine will not touch it. It is included in my scratch feed, and it is always left in the feeder. What gives? Also, how do you control birds from eating their feed. We live out west, and the birds are a nuisance. I’m feeding 18 twice a day and wonder if they are getting as much as the birds are eating. Help!!

      1. 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.

        1. You only need the rooster for eggs to hatch.
          One rooster for every 12 hens is what will work well. There is always a King of the roost. The rest just get out of his way.

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

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

  7. 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?

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

    2. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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 🙂

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?

    1. Hi Loren,
      Please look through our blog as we have many articles in there about beginner chicken breeds 🙂

  14. Hi, I am new to chicken keeping and have two chicken’s (Marie and Alice) which are primarily pets with eggs being a bonus! Having read through all the posts I’m concerned that I’m not feeding my girls correctly. In the mornings I give them a handful of mealworms each and a layers pellet/corn mix. In the afternoon I give them a treat of either mashed sweet potato, mashed mixed veg, natural yogurt, I mix oatmeal in with all the above and a handful of mealworms as well. Just before lockup time I put a scoop of layers pellet mix into their trough for them to have during the night. They are free range in my garden during the day. They seem healthy enough but possibly a bit on the skinny side. Am I feeding them enough, too much or totally the wrong food? I would be grateful for any advice especially as winter is approaching.

    1. I’m new to chickens for the second time and now after reading your book and the blog I have guilt over how my last flock was cared for! Your information is so easy to follow and makes sense as well. My chicken’s love the tetherball. I screwed a large eye in the stem end and hung it with hay bake ties. I have started giving more leftovers and found the love turkey stuffing so gladly I’m giving them wet bread. I didn’t know I was supposed to cook the egg shells but makes sense. I also have a greater sense of how smart and attentive to me they are as your book describes. There are literally no questions that cant be answered in your inexpensive, easy read “backyard chickens”

  15. hi,
    I have 42 ex battery hens and live in Derbyshire
    if i give them oatmeal ( porridge as we call it) do i make it with milk as i would eat it or with water.

  16. Hello from Florida,
    I had some leftover mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic and no salt butter, my girl was in absolute heaven..
    Interesting about the tomatoes, I would get a letter of complaint from my hen if I don’t serve her a slice or two, from time to time.
    Sherri Patton

  17. Wow thank you for the oatmeal idea! It’s a very cold MO morning and I took my 4 girls a pan of steel cut oats after adding some water from the tea kettle and they went crazy for it! So easy and makes me feel better that they got something warm in their belly this am…#notabitspoiledchickens ?

  18. My girls go ape crazy for cabbage!!!
    I buy it once a week for their treat.. And just slice it in Two..
    Its gone in no time flat..
    They also love cantaloupe…

  19. I have 25 chickens. I’ve tried cabbage, and they wouldn’t eat it. Summertime they ate buckets of tomatoes, peaches, apples, etc.The only time that I saw something odd about what I was feeding them, was when I fed them grapes. The coop had purple poop everywhere. Scared me for a second. I cut back on all of that.

  20. good day am in jamaica and i have 250 layers and since winter my egg production cut from 220 eggs a day to 150 eggs per day what can i do to keep or increase my production

  21. Any ideas of what to do. I have kept hens ( Mostly Road Island/good layers ) for over 30years. This year it has been a good 4 months with no eggs. Any tips? Due to hot weather they have been down on their grass cuttings and wondered if anything in that?

  22. I wanted to mention that the info you provide in your book about how to introduce new hens to the flock is invaluable! They are truly creatures of habit and one new face throws off their whole life. No wonder they can be angry and unwelcoming. I’ve decided it would be best to only do this in the spring of fair weather. Love all the insights I get!

  23. I have 30 hens. Reds, Americanas, Bard Rock and 2 Polish. I feed them rolled oats twice daily, morning and evening. They have a constant supply of egg maker. Once a week I throw in some meals worms. Table scraps everyday. But scraps have to be “chicken bite size.” I first tried cabbage balls years ago. They love it. I have also tried lettuce, good, but not as well liked as cabbage.
    To combat the light issues I turn my chicken house light on around 7:30 – 8:00 each morning, usually just before I let them out for the day. It gets dark around 4:30 PM so I leave the light on until I “hook them up” (close the door) for the night. My egg production stays pretty constant, it varies from 16 to 19 eggs a day.

  24. Animal feeding strategies to protect the environment have been studied closely in recent years (e.g., Kornegay, 1996). A possible method to decrease emissions is to decrease the source of the material being emitted. Several approaches for decreasing the quantity of nitrogen excreted in manure are available. One approach is to continue to increase the productivity of livestock and poultry. Increasing production per animal (faster growth rate, increased milk production) decreases the number of animals required to fill the market demand for those products. The animal s requirements can be divided into needs for maintenance (maintaining basal metabolism) and production. Meeting maintenance requirements results in a fixed amount of nitrogen excretion for each animal in the herd or flock. Since fewer animals are required with increasing production, the nitrogen losses to manure are decreased. Dunlap et al. (2000) showed that increasing milk production of dairy cows by administering bovine somatotropin, increasing photoperiod using artificial lighting, and milking three times daily instead of two would decrease manure nitrogen by 16 percent for a given amount of milk produced. Increased productivity has been accomplished through genetic selection, improved diet, improved housing and environmental controls, improved veterinary medical care, and improved management. Animal health is important to emissions control since unhealthy animals have decreased growth or decreased milk or egg production but their maintenance needs to remain the same, and they continue to produce emissions and manure.

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