Winter Feed Supplements
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Just as in human diets, excess fat in your chickens’ diet should be limited to prevent unhealthy weight gain and health issues, but when it comes to providing an energy source for your flock through the winter, you just can’t beat it. Chickens (and other mammals) burn more calories and energy trying to keep warm during the cold months than they do when it’s warm outside, and they don’t have access to the bugs and worms, weeds and grass that likely supplement their diet all summer, so they will eat more feed in the winter than they do the rest of the year. Since the feed will likely be their only food source through the winter, in addition to making sure they have access to as much as they want to eat throughout the day, adding a few supplements to the feed will provide them added energy and warmth.
Especially just prior to dusk when the chickens are winding down and getting ready to turn in, giving them some scratch grains helps to keep them warm overnight as their bodies digest the grains. You can buy commercially prepared scratch or mix your own using a blend of cracked corn, oats, barley, wheat, flax seed, sunflower seeds, millet and other grains.
Unsalted nuts, especially peanuts, are a wonderful source of healthy fats for your flock as well. Giving them peanuts in the shell will also keep them busy and give them something to do while they’re cooped up inside, trying to break the shells to get to the nut inside. Other types of nuts, shelled, are great winter treats as well, just be sure they are not salted, since excess salt isn’t good for chickens.
A bit of cayenne pepper sprinkled over your chickens’ feed or over a dish of warm cooked oatmeal will get their blood flowing and help their circulation, which can prevent frostbitten combs, wattles and feet. Some people even swear that adding some cayenne pepper to your chickens’ diet will keep them laying through the winter when egg production usually slows down. I’m not sure if that’s an old wives’ tale or not, but a sprinkle of cayenne isn’t a bad thing!
Lisa Steele is the author of Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). She lives on a small hobby farm in Virginia with her husband and their flock of chickens and ducks, plus horses, dogs and a barn cat. She is a fifth-generation chicken keeper and writes about her experiences on her award-winning blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com. In her free time she loves to garden, bake, knit and sip homebrewed herbal teas.