What to Feed Chickens in Winter

Knowing what to feed chickens in winter is as easy as keeping plenty of fresh greens and herbs on hand.
By Lisa Steele
December 2013
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Fresh Eggs Daily is author Lisa Steeles guide to raising healthy chickens naturally, which includes feeding them a diet of herbs, flowers, and greens.
Cover Courtesy St. Lynn's Press

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Learn to treat your flock to a diet rich in a variety of herbs, greens, and flowers with Fresh Eggs Daily (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). Lisa Steele offers dozens of simple and intelligent tips for “going natural” that help you avoid common ailments that plague many backyard flocks. This excerpt from “In the Winter” offers suggestions on what to feed chickens in winter, especially special drinks that you can offer them. At the end of this selection are some tips on how to freeze eggs through the winter months.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Fresh Eggs Daily.

More Fresh Eggs Daily:

Properly Caring for Chickens in Winter      
DIY Chicken Scratch Wreath
Homemade Suet Block Recipe
Things to Know Before Building a Backyard Chicken Coop
Green Choices for Chicken Coop Bedding
Easy Green Tips for Refreshing and Cleaning a Chicken Coop

Knowing What to Feed Chickens in Winter Starts With Hydration

Even in the winter, it’s important that your chickens drink enough water and have unlimited access to unfrozen water. I use an electric water bowl for dogs to keep their water thawed. I also set black rubber tubs in the sun with a few ping pong balls floating in them. Just the slightest breeze will keep the balls bobbing and the water unfrozen. Your chickens will appreciate being supplied with warm tap water once or twice a day as well.

Herbal Tea and Vegetable Water

Although chickens generally don’t like hot liquids, a bit of room temperature herbal tea is something they seem to enjoy on a cold winter day. It gives them a welcome, and nutritious, change from plain water. I dry herbs over the summer to use all winter in teas for my chickens. Dried oregano, thyme, tarragon and basil make nice tea for them. Just sprinkle the dried herbs into a saucepan full of water, boil and let steep for ten minutes, then cool to room temperature before serving.

I also save my vegetable cooking water when I am making dinner and serve that to our chickens. Any leftover vegetables and trimmings, along with leftover rice or pasta, mixed into the reserved cooking water makes a nice soup for the chickens the following morning. Leftover vegetable cooking water also can be poured over old-fashioned oats or even layer feed to make a nice, warm breakfast treat for your flock.

Edible Garlands

Another fun, easy way to treat your chickens is to make them edible garlands. String popcorn, grapes, cranberries, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, radishes, or even hard-boiled eggs onto twine, then hang them in the run for the chickens to eat.

Egg Production in Winter

Just as the shorter days of fall signal to the chickens that it’s time to molt, the short winter days will result in a drop in egg production for most breeds. A hen needs 14 to 16 hours of daylight for the ovaries to be stimulated to release an egg. It is possible to keep egg production constant through the winter by adding artificial light in your coop each morning (to increase the total “daylight” hours to the proper range), but I let our chickens take the respite that nature intended. Coming out of a molt, their bodies are depleted of their protein and calcium stores. I like to give the chickens a break for the winter and let them take their time recovering so they are in tip-top shape come spring, when they will resume laying in earnest naturally.

While eggs are plentiful in the summer, I freeze the excess to use through the winter. This way, we still have a supply of eggs through the winter and the chickens have a chance to let their bodies replenish the nutrients lost during the molt. The defrosted eggs are wonderful for baking or scrambling. In fact, I don’t even notice a difference between fresh eggs or the defrosted ones.

How to Freeze Eggs

Freezing eggs is easy. Just lightly whisk them, trying not to incorporate too much air. Then whisk in 1/4  teaspoon of salt per cup of egg mixture, or 1 tablespoon of sugar, depending on what you plan on using the eggs for – add salt to eggs to be used for scrambling or sugar to eggs to be used for baking. This will help prevent the frozen eggs from becoming grainy. Next, measure out 3-tablespoon portions into ice cube trays and freeze. Each portion equals one egg. When they are frozen, pop them out and store them in the freezer in freezer bags labeled either “salted” or “sugared.” When you want to use them, grab as many cubes/eggs as the recipe calls for and let them defrost overnight in the refrigerator. If you are scrambling them, you can add them right to your hot skillet. The defrosted eggs should only be used in recipes where they will be fully cooked. They will last up to 6 months in the freezer. You can also separate your eggs and freeze the yolks and whites separately. Separated whites don’t need any salt or sugar added.

Reprinted with permission from Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chicks…Naturally by Lisa Steele and published by St. Lynn’s Press, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Fresh Eggs Daily.

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