Winter Feeding

We are in the heart of winter now that it’s January.  If you live in the Arctic Circle (I define that as north of the Ohio River), there is nothing but white out there for your hens.  So they are mostly living on just the processed feed that you are giving them.  While that will sustain them, it’s missing some of the fresh nutrients that your hens desire.

You have multiple, fairly simple ways to supplement their intake.  First, and this is true year round, nearly all scraps from the kitchen are recycled by the hens.  Or are you pulling weeds, just hand them over.  A few leaves of unattractive lettuce?  The end of a tomato or core of a pear?  And the every ‘interesting’ leftovers that may have been in the fridge for too long.

Soon enough your friends will be looking oddly at you when you get a ‘to-go’ clamshell and just dump everyone’s leftovers into it!  Ok, let’s not go that far overboard.  You’ll find that the hens will tell you what they like and don’t like.  For example, my hens aren’t fans of cold French fries.  But when I had my ducks, they were like a garbage disposal, they’d eat my fingers if they could.  I once witnessed a Muscovy drake eat 8 new baby moles from an uncovered nest.  Solved two problems there!

If you are willing to do a little more work, consider growing sprouts.  You start with wheat or barley or some seed mix, and soak them in water for a day.  Then mist it a few times a day over up to a week.  This is a bit simplified, you can find more details online.  The sprouted seeds are vastly superior to just feeding grain.  The amount of protein can double and it is much more digestible for the hens.  Just be careful, the hens will run you down once they realize how delicious it is!  And this can be done year round.

Also this can be an issue for your hens if they do not get to free range.  I understand, my wife was not happy when they would ‘leave evidence’ on the porch.  But you have options.  You can use a mobile coop and move it around the yard, giving them access to fresh grass.  When you are clipping branches out of your garden plants, give them to the hens.  In the fall when your garden is fading, give the hens a real treat and let them tear it up.  If you bag your grass clippings, you can give them some of that (note that it goes bad quickly).

And don’t forget that your hens are omnivores.  A little sliced ham past the expiration date?  Wondering what to do with the meat-covered turkey carcass?  You should not feed chicken meat to chickens, but other meats are just fine.  They have strong digestive systems and tolerate much more than we do.  After all, they’re eating bugs off the ground.  And speaking of bugs, research “black soldier fly larvae” as a supplement to their diets.  The adult BSF does not have a mouth and only lives a few days to breed, then die.  These BSF larvae are the crack cocaine of the chicken world!  And they make a great science project for the kid’s.

Note that all of these ideas can work if your yard is acres or the size of a closet.  Use what resources you have, and get creative.  Your hens will thank you with the richest, tastiest eggs you can imagine.  Just remember that some flavors can pass through.  Want spicy eggs?  Hens cannot taste spicy, so give them some jalapenos and see how it affects the egg flavor.  Habaneros?  Spice to your flavor.  “Light up” your breakfast!

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