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Posts Tagged ‘chicken nutrition for winter’


Because I’m annoyed right now, I’m going to write about an issue I guess I didn’t think needed this much discussion outside of research. That issue is supplemental stuff for chickens during winter. But here you go.

I’m going to throw out some facts that seem to be confusing for many folks. {And it’s ok, really- we all learn sometime.} My personal stance is that before you ‘accidentally’ acquire animals, let’s say, chickens, for example, you {and yes, I do mean YOU personally! They’re YOUR responsibility!} really ought to do us all a favor and do your research first.

There are a good number of chicken resources on the internet, my personal favorite is, of course, Back Yard Chickens. The forums are free, and are LOADED with great information. You can hang out and lurk, or you can register for free and ask your questions. There are a number of fantastic articles on the basics and getting started. Did I mention it’s free?  😀

Because it’s going into winter and people are all worked up, I’m going to address the two biggest issues I have seen rampant every single year. You’re welcome. 🙂

People often bemoan the slow down of egg laying that often happens during the fall and winter. Some believe that it’s because it’s getting cold. I even saw a comment that when they stop laying eggs, it’s called molting. Um, no.

Molting is when they lose their feathers and spend their energy growing new feathers instead of laying eggs. Chickens have two {minor} juvenile molts before the big one which happens around 15-18 months old. For those that were hatched during the spring, this means they molt the following fall, which then results in this confusion. The molt will happen every year thereafter, in the fall.

The key to egg laying is daylight. Chickens need about 26 hours to lay an egg. I know people who swear their eggs lay in the morning, every morning, by 10 am. I have never had one of those breeds. 😆

My girls lay a little later and a little later every day, until they skip a day.

Because daylight is the key, many people will give supplemental light to make their girls lay during the winter. I will never do supplemental lighting, for a number of reasons.

Chickens don’t need extra light during winter. For any variety of reasons, they don’t. And they don’t need extra light to continue laying. You could, of course, do it anyhow and make them crank out an egg a day despite their natural inclination. If you can settle for a more natural decreased egg laying solution during the winter, there are other {and in my opinion, BETTER} options to get eggs without adding supplemental lighting, which is evil. 👿  😉

Chickens, like female humans, are born with all the ova (which become eggs) they will lay. I’ve read some articles that suggest that forcing a chicken to lay during the winter when she’d normally take a break might well shorten her life. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but here again, I defer to nature.

I, personally, don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting the girls take a bit of a break.

And then, there’s the bit {below} about the dangers of light bulbs in coops.

Despite my lack of offering non-natural lighting during the winter, and with the consideration of giving the girls a little bit of a break, I will say that mine have laid all winter long, although not quite at the gang-buster rate of the rest of the year.

How?

I up the protein. 😀

One of the things that will result in a chicken at or past point of lay (POL) not laying is stress. Stress from a predator; stress from moving; stress from loss of a friend {yes, chickens DO have other chicken friends and are affected when their friends get injured or die}; stress from sub-optimal nutrition- can all cause hens/pullets not to lay.

Did you get that? I’ll explain in more detail when we talk about supplemental heating. Once you read that, it will make sense, I promise. 😀

Now that you know you can still get eggs without adding supplemental light, are you still worried that your feathered friends will be too cold, out there in the cold, dark coop at night?

Chickens don’t need a heat lamp during winter.

No, really, they don’t. They do not need supplemental heat, and I’ll tell you why.

Most chickens, while not mammals, are usually very well adapted to a fluctuation of temperatures. Living in the desert before, I wanted chickens that were both heat tolerant and also cold hardy. When you live in the desert, you get the extremes. It’s not always hot. {It’s usually windy, but not always hot and windy. :D}

Surprisingly, they weren’t that hard to find. I’d say it seemed to me that were significantly more chicken breeds that were cold hardy than were heat tolerant. And I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of chickens that were both.

I will confess to getting really annoyed 😡 when I hear people going on and on about how they “have” to heat their coops. Some of them use space heaters; more often people are using heat lamps.

I have read horror stories about people whose coops burned down and killed all their chickens because of a faulty bulb. I’ve read about chickens who got hurt when light bulbs broke. I’ve read about faulty wiring or frayed extension cord setting the coop on fire.

I’ve read about chickens who weren’t given the chance to acclimate to their natural environment, and then the power went out. For like a week. The chickens survived, but it was dicey for a while. The people moved the chickens INTO their house.

What really annoys me is that THEY DON’T NEED IT.

Nope, they don’t. Chickens aren’t mammals, of course, and they can freeze. The keys to keeping chickens unrfozen and alive during the winter are pretty simple.

The coop needs to be dry and draft free. It should be appropriately sized so that they can heat the space up sufficiently. Yes, that’s right; chickens generate heat. 😆

You can’t expect that a coop sized for 40 chickens is going to work very well for 6 chickens during the winter. You aren’t actually doing them any favors by having it that big. You can partition it or something if you need to, but the key here is to give them space that will retain their heat.

{We know chickens don’t sweat, which is why during the summer you’ll see them with their wings out and away from their bodies and you won’t see them snuggling on the roost, either.} Researching coop design is time well spent, and should be done before you get your chickens.

The roost should be wide enough for them to completely cover their toes, so they don’t risk frostbite. The more of their feet they can get under their bodies, the better.

If you are worried about frostbite on combs, you can put some Vaseline/petroleum jelly on the comb. This is actually one of those things you’ll want to keep on hand. It can work wonders for scaly leg mites, too.

The second part to this is food. If you have chickens and give them free access to food {which I personally do and suggest}, you will no doubt notice that they pound it down as it gets closer to winter. They do this for a reason. They are packing on their fat layer for winter.

This layer helps to insulate them, as you can imagine. Between their fat layer and their dry, draft free coop, they will have NO PROBLEM keeping warm during the winter.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a thread on BYC that is looooooong, but really so well worth reading.  If we allow chickens to do what they need to do to prepare for winter, they will be JUST FINE.

Really. Nature actually does work! 😀

Here’s a few tid bits on winter heating help: some folks use the deep litter method to help generate heat in the coop. Are you starting to see a pattern?  Coops need to be well ventilated, but draft free. 😆

One thing I like to do very rarely, i.e, when it snows, is to throw out some scratch. Scratch grains are one of those things that every one has an opinion on.

Some always only feed scratch; I, personally do not. Scratch grains aren’t really nutritionally balanced for every day food, and I certainly don’t give it all the time. Some grains are high energy grains, and these are commonly found in scratch. I am not one to really diddle with trying to find particular scratch grains depending on the time of year because my kids are free ranged and spend their time foraging.

One time I will give scratch, though, is during the winter. Most scratch grains are mostly corn, which produces more energy during digestion than other grains.

Energy = heat. So, as they go to town on the scratch {which also helps keep them busy foraging when the ground is covered and snowy and is frozen}, they are generating more heat to help keep them warm. I usually give them some in the morning and then again before they go to bed at night, giving them about an hour or two to get to it when they are eating, too.

As long as they have the right nutrition, chickens can lay {albeit at a somewhat decreased rate} all winter long and they won’t freeze to death without supplemental heat or light!

Now, if you’re still worried and need something to do, I’d suggest you knit your chooks some clothes. Apparently, there’s quite a selection to choose from.  :mrgreen: 😆

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