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Tips for feeding your flock this winter

Are you feeding enough??

During winter your hens’ dietary requirements will change as they molt and prepare for the cold, dark winter whilst their body prepares 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.

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.

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 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.

Add some grain..

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 which also assists to keep themselves warm. As we approach winter, 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!

During winter, it’s a good idea to keep your flock on either layer pellets or a scratch mix, this provides them with all their key nutritional requirements and keeps them healthy. In addition to the pellets or commercial mix, it’s a great idea to feed them some cracked corn or a scratch mix. As the chickens digest the corn their digestive system gets to work and produces heat inside the hens’ body helping to keep them warmer.

Hens love to scratch..

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 shell grit. Chickens don’t have any teeth so the grit they collect is used to break and grind down their food. You need to make sure your hens have access to enough shell grit. Normally this can either be from commercial feed or you can just scatter crushed shellgrit 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.

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 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.

During winter it’s a great idea to feed your chickens using a trough or feeder that is off the ground, 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. Second, troughs are much easier to clean. Pellets that are mushed up from being placed on the ground are a nightmare to scrape up.

What about sprouted grains??

Winter time is also a great opportunity to feed your flock some sprouted grains, especially if you don’t have much grass.  This can be done a few ways – purchase yourself a ‘winter sprout mix’ that has a large variety of legumes, and sow into the ground.  Keep the chickens off the patch until you have a nice green coverage, then allow them to feast on the fresh sprouts.  The other alternative is to soak the grains in warm water for 24 hours then drain and spread out on some hessian.  Sprinkle with water morning and night until the sprouting grain becomes like a green carpet then throw out to the chickens in their run. 

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