Farm Winter feeding for chickens

Hfcomms

EN66iq
Being that this will be the first winter with my chickens I'm wondering about feeding changes. I use a PVC feeder with pellets and supplement them with a handful of scratch grains when I let them out in the morning and I bribe them with a handful to get them back in the coop when I leave for work.

I am still giving them 14 hours of light using a timer so they continue to lay this winter but with the cold weather I know they need more calories in order to stay warm and am considering throwing in a handful of corn before they bed down for the night as that should give them extra calories/carbs to keep the metabolism up at night to give them more warmth.

Is corn a good option or is there a different grain a little more calorie dense that would work better? FWIW I use an open front design and have already used the plexiglass on the windows to keep down the drafts and will put a cover on the bottom 2/3rd of the front of the coop during the winter.
 

Martinhouse

Veteran Member
I give my chickens as much corn as they want when the weather starts getting cold. I stop when the summer heat starts and it's easy to know when to do this because they leave it on the ground...they just stop eating it. They get the laying pellets year round, but I don't worry if they eat less of it in the winter because they stop laying then anyway, no matter what I do. They also get any weeds and safe trimmings from the greenhouse in the winter.
 

summerthyme

Administrator
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Corn is known as a "hot" grain. Adding *small amounts* of cracked corn to their diet helps them produce heat. I usually toss a handful of cracked (or whole, if that's what i have) corn onto the bedding in mid-late afternoon. They scratch around to get it, which aerates the bedding, provides exercise (also warming) and lets them go to roost with full crops to digest and priduce heat ivernight.

Just make sure you are providing grit if you haven't because you've been feeding mash. They don't need grit constantly... it stays in their crop, but they do need to replenish it occasionally...

As long as they have a place to roost out of drafts, and plenty of dry bedding, they'll be fine. I like the deep bedding system, which I've described here before. It essentially composts, which produces heat and B vitamins... Louis Bromfield discovered (or at least published) the method when WWII created a huge farm labor shortage. It works great... i only clean pens once a year, and it never stinks... plus, unless there has been a water catastrophe, cleaning is just using a scoop shovel to scoop out dry compost.

Summerthyme
 

Hfcomms

EN66iq


That is basically what I did and where I got the idea from. The windows on the side and back have plexiglass over them now and in the back up in the roof corner is a small 4"x"4 louvered vent and then on the front here I'll cover the bottom 2/3 with clear greenhouse plastic to let light thru. That way will be plenty of ventilation to keep everything dry.

Cracked corn better than whole then? I did feed them grit before I free ranged them and haven't given any more grit while they have the ground to scratch at. And I went with the pellets as the mash doesn't work well in the PVC feeder I use. I'll supplement with grit when the ground is frozen and I also offer oyster shell supplement. These eggs have the hardest shells I've ever seen. Store bought eggs just need a tap on the side to break. My eggs need a good sharp rap in order to break.
 

Martinhouse

Veteran Member
I feed whole corn because it's a lot cheaper than chops. But I pull the corn entirely once there are chicks, because they might be dumb enough to try to swallow the whole kernels. If it's still a little chilly out after the chicks are a couple of weeks old, I'll feed chops until I think they are big enough for the whole kernels. I might be entirely wrong about the need for this, but it's an easy precaution. I've never fed grit since I put my birds in the huge run, which is equivalent of 8' x 100' plus, only irregular. It is totally covered with 1" chicken wire and is old garden dirt and they must be getting plenty of grit from it.
 

China Connection

TB Fanatic
I feed mixed grain plus corn and sunflower seed and I sprout the lot by soaking in water for 24 hours then leaving for 24 hours before feeding. They get dog food pellets also soaked for about 3 or more hours.

Then greens.
 

Martinhouse

Veteran Member
CC, does dog food have a high enough protein content for chickens? I forget what percent protein is contained in the laying pellets I use. I seem to remember that dry dog food is 16% protein and dry cat food is 20%.

My chickens aren't real interested in the dog food, but they sure go nuts over any old dry cat food I toss out to them.
 

Hfcomms

EN66iq
I think dog kibble has way too high a protein amount for chickens. The optimal protein for layer hens is about 17% according to what I've read and my layer feed has that level. Canines need a lot more protein than chickens do as they are natural meat eaters. I feed varieties of Taste of the Wild kibble and they are right around 33% protein. What is working for me so far is to continue to free feed them as much layer pellet as they want and then I give them some corn first thing in the morning to jump start them and some corn at night when they turn in to keep them warm at night and if I'm around a little bit of scratch during the day and so far they are doing just fine. They are eating slightly less than double what they did during the summer as being free ranged they ate a lot by foraging. So far they are all healthy and still laying in the cold.
 

summerthyme

Administrator
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Yeah, MOST dog food is higher in protein than what chickens need. The cheapest stuff isn't, but most of it contains a lot of chicken... mostly not exactly the parts you would consider "food", even if you don't have issues with feeding a species back to itself (which can lead to very bad problems... such as mad cow disease)

If I had a stale (NOT moldy... chickens don't handle mold well, although adult birds aren't nearly as sensitive as chicks. One prepper hint: if you get stuck and need grain for your own preps/table, look for "chick grains"... they're cleaner than most livestock grain) dog or cat food, I'd feed it. But I'd check out the protein content first, and add whole grains which are lower protein (corn runs around 9%, hard wheat about 11-12% protein) to "balance" it out a bit. With healthy birds, "excess" protein ends up simply being wasted; they don't live long enough for it to cause problems with kidneys, etc. But dog or cat food is stupidly expensive compared to even "designer" chicken scratch and layer mash...I'd only use it as I said, if I had some that had gone stale.

Hfcomms... it sounds like you've found a good balance... and that's all that counts!

Summerthyme
 

Hfcomms

EN66iq
Hfcomms... it sounds like you've found a good balance... and that's all that counts!

Summerthyme
I'm hoping they're going to lay all winter at a slightly reduced rate. I've read the pros/cons of supplemental lighting. I guess hens need about 14 hours of light a day to keep laying but the reduced light in winter lets them stop laying and have their bodies recover. If they lay year round they can burn out in a couple of years. So what I am doing is I put a LED bulb on a timer out in the coop and it's set to come on two hours before dawn so they are getting 12 hours of light per day instead of 14. I'm hoping that lets them rest up at least a little in winter and right now I'm still averaging around three eggs a day from four hens so it seems to be working o.k.
 
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