For those learning to keep chickens, the winter months are a time of change for your feathered friends in the coop. During wintertime, a chicken’s dietary requirements change as they molt and prepare for colder temperatures and shorter, darker days.
Whether you own a farm/ranch or keep a coop in the backyard, your chickens need more protein and energy over the winter months. They need to expend a considerable amount of energy just to stay warm, so it’s especially important to feed your flock a high-quality, high-protein feed when the temperatures drop.
Here are a few tips for feeding your birds in winter to help them stay healthy, happy and productive.
Why do your chickens need more protein in winter?
Protein is a vital nutrient for poultry and other classes of animals. During the winter months, the additional amino acids play a significant role in maintaining daily egg production, adaptation to the environment and feather growth for warmth, along with other biological functions.
Added protein helps younger birds with muscle and skeletal development, and helps your whole flock when they’re molting (re-growing feathers). Molting is driven by the season and usually occurs in the fall when the hours of sunlight decrease. This feather loss first happens when your chickens are approximately 18 months old and then occurs annually. Increasing protein in your chicken’s diet helps them better prepare for winter as they re-grow quality feathers.
In short, additional protein and energy help keep your chickens warm in the winter months, keeps their body condition up, and improves their overall health. Plus, chickens eat to meet their daily nutrient requirements. If you’re providing a high protein, nutritionally balanced feed, your chickens will decrease total feed intake. When they’re consuming less feed, your flock has more time to pick at treats, and, as an added bonus, you don’t need to buy as much.
Look for the percentage noted on the front of each bag of IFA poultry feed. This number lists the protein level inside the bag.
How can treats & supplements help in winter?
Along with a high-quality, high-protein feed, supplement your chicken’s diet with high carbohydrate treats such as scratch, or whole grains and corn. This is especially good in the evening or on cold days in the winter months. Treats help keep the bird’s metabolism running at a high rate and increases body temperature.
Poultry Scratch & Mealworms
IFA Cowboy Crunch, IFA State Fair Blend, IFA Garden Medley, mealworms and our IFA Poultry Block are great treats. Mealworms are a popular option and an additional source of protein and energy. IFA whole grain treats and Poultry Block contain whole seeds that help keep the birds warm as they continue to digest through the cold nights. Both options help break up the boredom among chickens, giving them something to peck at rather than each other.
Grit is an essential part of a chicken's diet to maintain health and performance. It is usually made from insoluble crushed granite that works in the gizzard to help hens properly break-down feed like corn and other grains so it can be digested.
Building eggs requires a lot of calcium to make the shell hard and strong. Oyster shell supplements provide hens the extra calcium they need to build strong eggshells without compromising bone health.
Probiotics and Vitamins
Probiotics and vitamins in your chicken’s water helps maintain and/or increase egg production, growth and overall health.
Keep in mind, when you’re providing treats and supplements, they should account for less than 10% of your laying hens overall diet. The layer feed provides levels of vitamins and minerals that scratch grains and mealworms simply don’t contain.
Should the protein level change after winter?
Customers often ask if you should switch back to a lower percentage of protein in the spring once molting has finished and weather is warmer, but we don’t recommend it. Egg production will increase as the days grow longer and warmer, so your hens will need the protein and energy to continue producing efficiently.
The final choice is up to you. A decision to drop the protein level will likely lead to your chickens naturally eating more feed to make up the difference. Observe their daily activities and feeding habits, and, as always, continue to monitor your chicken’s overall health.
For additional information, visit your local IFA Country Store and talk with one of our knowledgeable employees. It’s our goal to help you keep your chickens healthy and thriving through the winter months and all year round.
Information for this article was provided by Dennis Christensen, M.S., P.A.S., Feed & Nutrition Advisor, Draper IFA Feed; Maureen Goodrich, Poultry, Rabbit, Pet & Tack Manager, Logan IFA Country Store; Hunter Siggard, Logan IFA Country Store; Jill Fillingim, Price IFA Country Store; and Jill Singleton, Bagged Feed Category Manager, IFA.