Learn what hearty foods to use for winter chicken feed that will help your backyard flock get through the biting cold of frigid weather.
As they say, winter is coming. And you know what that means… it’s time to start preparing your flock for the cold blustery weather.
We get asked frequently how to care for chickens in the winter, and while our most recent post on the matter covers quite a bit about preparing your flock for winter, we wanted to dive a little deeper into the topic of feeding. Specifically, we wanted to cover some hearty winter foods for chickens, to help your flock get through the winter months.
Feeding these foods is entirely optional because a balanced chicken feed will meet all of their nutritional needs. These winter foods will help the flock to put on a little insulating fat (not too much, you don’t want obese chickens!) and give the birds something to do while they’re cooped up all winter.
Boredom in the chicken coop leads to stress, which leads to bad flock dynamics and illness. It’s best to keep those beaks busy during the colder months.
Why feed differently in the winter?
You may be asking yourself why you’d even need to change up your feeding routine in the winter. Winter is stressful for animals that live outside. Their bodily energy goes toward survival in the cold and snow, and chickens are general not at their top level of health during this time of year.
Their immune system is weakened and egg production slows down if not lapsing entirely during the winter. Some breeds of chickens with large combs and wattles can develop frostbite when then temperature drops.
You can help your flock greatly by providing some nutrient rich treats to help them survive and even thrive in the winter. Treats not only support their physical health issues, but can help their mental health as well.
Being cooped up for months on end leads to boredom and stress, which leads to chickens fighting and picking at each other. Providing fun treats gives them something to keep them busy and entertained.
Hearty Winter Chicken Feed Ideas
Cracked Corn is a chicken favorite, toss it out for your flock and they’ll go absolutely nuts for it! This treat is a great way to add a little fat to your chickens before winter hits, and tossing on the ground in the coop or the run is a fun treasure hunt for your birds on dreary days.
Be sure to feed corn sparingly, as it’s high in calories and too much can easily lead to big fat fatty birds, which no one wants.
The Flock Block is one of my all-time favorite chicken treats/toys. This baby is 25 pounds of pure hearty goodness for your flock. We go through about three per winter, and they’re worth every dime.
The flock block is full of seeds, grains, and fat, and the chickens pick at it daily until every bit is gone. One flock block tends to last our chickens one to two months, depending on how many other treats they’re getting at the time. The flock block is a great way to keep the chickens occupied all day long when they’re stuck in the coop during cold weather.
There’s nothing like a warm breakfast on a bitter cold day. Cooking up a batch of oatmeal for your chickens on a bitter cold day is a great way to show them just how much you care. Toss in some fruit or yams, and they’ll thank you for days! Well, not really, but they certainly will be happy!
You can buy big ten pound tubs of Rolled Oats for about twenty dollars, and it will greatly warm your birds on cold days. Just be sure not to add sugar to the oatmeal! While humans love a little sweetness in a pot of oatmeal, sugar is bad for birds, and your chickens just plain don’t need it.
If you want to save even more money, some feed stores sell oats in large quantities. These oats are generally not graded for human consumption but are just fine for chickens to eat. They’re usually very inexpensive and will last through the whole winter, providing weekly warm treats to your flock.
Chili or Soup
Soup is extremely cost efficient to make and your chickens will love it! You can literally make a hearty soup from basic kitchen scraps, like vegetables bits and bobs and chicken or turkey carcass after the meat’s been cut off. Toss in some cheap potatoes or squash and your flock will think they’ve died and gone to heaven!
We frequently make big batches of soup for dinner in the winter, but we never eat it all. We’ll generally give half of the leftovers to the chickens and freeze half for later. This is a great, economical way to give your chickens hearty foods in the winter. We like to mix in leafy greens such as kale and collard greens as well for a big boost of vitamins and minerals.
While some folks feed Chicken Scratch all year long, we reserve it as a hearty winter treat for our flock. This food is high in fat and carbohydrates, so it should be fed sparingly. Scratch grains are a great way to add a little insulting fat to your birds, as well as give them something to do on cold or snowy days.
When our flock is cooped up inside, we toss scratch on the floor of the coop, and the chickens spend hours digging around to find it. It’s a great way to occupy their time when they’d otherwise be bored and picking on each other.
Hay or Straw Bales
While chickens don’t technically eat hay like some other livestock do, they will still thoroughly enjoy a bale of hay in their coop in the wintertime. Hay bales are full of delicious seeds, and ones that are starting to sprout have microgreens for the chickens to eat as well.
They’ll delight in digging through the hay and kicking it all over the coop, keeping them busy for weeks.
Hanging a head of cabbage in the coop can provide great fun for your chickens for days on end. There are chicken treat balls on the market that work great to contain the cabbage so you can easily hang it.
Hang it just high enough that the chickens need to jump a bit to get to it. This will keep them busy while providing a great treat.
Fall is the best time to stock up on winter squash while it’s cheap and abundant. This time of year literal tons of squash gets thrown out or left to rot in fields. If you ask around at local farms and markets, you might be able to get squash for free or at least big discounts.
When we feed squash and pumpkins from the chicken garden to the flock we break it up into hand sized pieces and toss it into the chicken run. The chickens eat everything but the rind, even the seeds! Pumpkins and squash can store for months in a cool dry place, so stock up now and you can treat your flock all winter long.
Caring for chickens in winter is certainly a challenge, but we hope these hearty winter foods for chickens will make it a little easier on you and your flock. Treat your flock this winter, and don’t forget to treat your self too! Winter is the perfect time to get cozy, eat well, and take good care of yourself.
Caring for Chickens in the Winter
Help your backyard chicken flock thrive this winter with these articles for winter chicken care.
- How to Winterize the Chicken Coop
- Dealing with Frozen Water in the Coop
- 6 Tips and Tricks for Raising Chickens in Winter
- Winter Chicken Care: FAQ
- Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds
- Should you Heat the Chicken Coop?