Busting Wintertime Poultry Flock Boredom
By Tiffany Towne, Nutrena Poultry Expert
Warm months delight chickens fortunate enough to have the run of a yard. There are bugs to chase and devour, tasty earthworms to scratch up under fallen leaves, tender grass to snack on, and interesting places to explore. That changes with winter’s frigid confinement.
Chickens shun snow while enduring the cold months indoors. Rather than dining on summer’s diverse outdoor banquet, their winter diet is limited to nutritious but unexciting commercial crumbles or pelletized feed. They have no wondrous places to explore while being cooped up with their peers.
Use Diversity And Distractions
In the winter, your girls will spend most, if not all their time in the coop. This can become very boring and they might start egg eating or feather picking. Once started, both of these habits are hard to break. Your girls will respond with gusto when you add diversity to their winter lives and give them a distraction from the cold weather. That usually means treats and snacks to vary the diet. The main goal with keeping your girls occupied when they are confined for long periods of time is to distract them with toys or food, so they can peck at them, rather than each other!
Easy On The Treats
Although commercial feed is an important mainstay for winter chickens, ambitious owners sprout grain to give their flock a winter treat of greenery. Table scraps also add diet variety, but be careful. Wet, soggy foods can dampen the coop litter and create odor. Among the best table scraps for indoor feeding are small amounts of salad greens, pumpkin and squash seeds, and bits of vegetables, popcorn and almost any other food that’s relatively dry. Only put in as much as the birds can clean up in about 10 to 15 minutes.
Chickens love a snack of scratch grain or cracked corn, but limit to only a few handfuls daily. Just like too many treats for humans cause us to be obese, too much grain can cause chicken obesity! In addition, too much grain can dilute the protein, vitamins and minerals provided by your commercial feed. A NatureWise Scratch Block of compressed grain sold at feed stores and left in the coop helps to provide exercise and diversion as the birds gradually peck the blocks apart.
Room To Roam
Perhaps the most important help a flock owner can give birds is space. Cramming hens together in winter guarantees squabbling, pecking and other social problems. Four square feet of floor space per bird is an absolute minimum. The more room the better, and a coop that has an array of perches and roosts at different heights and angles gives the hens a place to exercise, while adding dimensions to a coop.
The best way to provide more space, of course, is to encourage your ladies to venture outside. This can prove difficult with snow on the ground. While chickens may not be bothered by cold, they don’t like snow! A comical activity is to open the coop door after the season’s first snow and watch birds zoom outside, stand befuddled in the strange, cold white fluff, and then rush back indoors! Most people raising backyard flocks like their birds to have access to fresh air and room for outdoor exercise year round. Snow poses a problem, since few birds will venture out into a snowy run.
Fortunately there are several temporary and permanent ways to keep the run snow free, allowing the birds outdoor access no matter what the weather is. A permanent solution is to cover the run with a roof. Corrugated metal or fiberglass is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Temporary roofs also keep snow off the ground and can be as easy as positioning a picnic table outside the pop hole. Other simple temporary roofs can include spanning a sheet of plywood across two sawhorses positioned near the run’s door.
If your birds are all cooped up this winter (pun intended), consider giving them a distraction from winter boredom in the form of a special treat. Think about how to give them a snow-free outdoor space to enjoy — and make sure there is enough room in the coop to help combat cabin fever!
To find a Nutrena dealer near you, visit www.NutrenaPoultryFeed.com. Subscribe to the Nutrena poultry blog at ScoopFromTheCoop.com.