There are things you can do to help your chickens stay warm, without the need for supplemental heat or insulation in your coops, even in the coldest months ahead.
It's not uncommon for our area to get into the minus temperatures during much of the winter and we do not supplement with heat or insulate our coops. We do provide wind breaks to keep the wind from causing an undo chill, which is wise, since wind chill can be detrimental to humans and animal alike. If the chickens were in the wild, without aid of humans, they would seek shelter away from those winds, but if they are in a chicken run, they have no escape except possibly to go into the coop, so securely adding a bamboo wind break to the fencing in the direction of the prevailing wind, will go a long way toward allowing the chickens to be out in the cold, without risk of the severe wind chill.
Importance of Extra Protein
Feed changes in winter. You continue to provide their quality laying feed, that should have at least 16% protein content, and balanced nutrients, but they need extra protein to help build a little layer of fat between their skin and inner body. They also need to remain active during those cold spells, so being cooped up does not allow for that activity that being in a run or free-ranging provides. High protein also builds a good layer of healthy feathers during and after molt. If there happen to be injuries during the cold months, treating those injuries and providing extra protein helps the wounds heal more quickly.
Proteins to Consider
Wheat and corn, though not whole proteins, they are high in protein and can be used as scratch grains prior to roosting at night. These can be soaked, sprouted or fermented. By simply soaking the grains you help release the digestible nutrients and protein, making it readily available to the birds. Sprouting in winter can be tricky because of the colder temperatures, so you would need a warm environment to do any sprouting or fermenting, but soaking only requires above freezing temperatures.
We are fortunate that we have a ready source of fresh wheat from our wheat lands in the area, but if you do not have that opportunity, you can purchase that or whole corn from your feed store. Or if you grew your own corn and dehydrated the kernels, you can use that as scratch for their extra protein.
If you are able to sprout during winter, we do recommend it, especially if fresh greens are not easily utilized by the chickens or buried beneath mounds of snow. They need some access to fresh greens throughout the year to help balance their diets.
Kale, Alfalfa and Seaweed are ways of providing greens in a dry form, but can be expensive to purchase. If you dehydrated your own Kale you of course can use that and give the birds the benefit of those greens. Anytime you are preparing fruits and vegetables, you can give them the scraps to help with adding the greens to their winter diets.
Additional Sources of Protein
Adding meat broth including the fats, to their treats will also provide a ready source of protein and remember no more than 10% of their daily ration, and no treats until they have already eaten their daily ration. This is very important, so you are always providing those balanced nutrients that all chickens need. Treats should not be a daily routine. Animals are creatures of habit, if you are offering daily treats, they may forego their balanced ration, as they wait for those treats. So just as with us, it should be considered a treat, not considered a part of the daily diet.
Chia, and Quinoa are whole proteins and in fact those two grains are completely balanced grains. Beans, Lentils, Oats, Sunflower Seeds, Peanut butter, and other nut butters are high in proteins, and can be given as part of a treat. But for scratch grains we do recommend those grains that are high in proteins.
Fresh, Available Water
In addition to high protein, the birds need fresh clean water throughout the cold months. They drink as much water in winter as they do in the hot summer months, so you need to make sure they have accessible water. If the water is frozen it is not available to them. Heated dog dishes, or Heated Chicken water containers will make that easier, or we like the heated hoses, so water containers can be refilled at any time. Otherwise, carrying water in buckets to the coop several times a day may be the only option, and that gets very tiresome if there are long days of freezing and no thaw.
Don't Scrimp on Calcium
Another option to the higher protein feeds is Wild Game Bird Feed. It has as much as 21% protein. But if you do use it, make sure you provide sources for Calcium at all times in the form of crushed egg shells or Oyster Shells.
Winter feeding does not have to be difficult, but you do need to keep in mind the overall health of your birds and provide the essential, balanced layer feed, fresh water and additional protein.
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