I’m excited to have found another outlet to write about chickens and other things: Earth Eats. My second column posted recently, all about winterizing your chickens. Never fear, this blog will continue, and may even have some complementary posts, so all is well.
But writing about winterizing your chickens makes me think about feeding the chickens to keep them healthy over the winter. If you keep your chickens inside during really bad weather, they can become really bored. Having something to do…like say, eat…does help them keep from pecking on each other.
And if your birds go outside during the day–as most of mine do, in nearly all kinds of weather–they just may need a little extra boost of calories, as they are working twice as hard to stay warm.
So here are some suggestions for both boredom and warmth:
1. Inside–Hang a cabbage inside an old onion bag about head-heighth of the birds. They’ll get hours of enjoyment picking at the cabbage. You’ll be surprised how quickly it goes! I try to buy cabbages at the grocery store around holidays like New Years Day when lots of people eat cabbage and it goes on sale.
2. Inside and out–I’m not promoting any particular product, but an outstanding poultryman from Indiana, Doug Akers, recommends “Flock Block SunFresh® Recipe” that is made by Purina. It has whole grains, molasses, oyster shell and grit. He says it keeps his birds from pecking at each other on those horrible cold days when he keeps his birds inside. I’ve used it outside as well, though its best to keep it covered from rain and snow.
3. Outside–Wild bird seed suet cakes are available everywhere, and I buy a few whenever I am at the grocery store (especially if they are on sale!). Some of my birds gobble them up and others totally ignore them. But I do feel the extra fat helps keep their weight up when they are outside on the coldest days.
If you want to try your hand at making your own, here’s a recipe from Chef Daniel Orr of Farm Bloomington.
4. Outside–This is an old poultry trick I’ve read about many times, but it makes lots of sense to me. Cracked corn! It is mostly carbohydrate and like carbs in our body, burns off quickly and creates heat. So throw some corn in the coop at night and let the birds scratch around,which both gives them a last-minute snack and helps keep the bedding turned over for you.