Feeding Chickens in Winter

The days are getting shorter, the girls are finishing up their molts, and you are getting less eggs as winter approaches. You might be wondering, “is this normal?” The answer is, yes, it’s perfectly normal.

Chickens need about 16 hours of light per day to produce eggs, with the exception of some over-eager first year hens who may lay throughout winter. But with the shortened daylight hours, and the cold weather requiring more of their energy resources be directed to keeping their body temperatures where the need to be, egg production will go down.

Chicken in the snow

Just because your ladies have slowed down on their egg production, or even stopped, however, doesn’t mean they need less nutrition. Continuing to feed a quality, nutritious, energy-providing diet, just like you would through the warmer months, will help your girls continue some egg production and provide them the energy reserves they require to stay warm and fit. It will also help them show up next spring in prime condition to start laying regularly again.

You may hear some chicken owners say they feed a cheap layer feed, or even nothing but scratch in winter, because it is cheaper and “they aren’t laying anyway”. If you pay attention, these are often the same folks that lose birds in the winter, or their birds look pretty rough come spring time. Scratch grains should never make up more than 10% of any birds diet – or what they can clean up in about 5 minutes.

Don’t forget to provide grit throughout the winter as well, as they may not be able to find it on their own due to snow and mud.

Decreased Egg Production In Chickens: Molt and Winter Lighting

Molt is the natural cycle where birds lose feathers and gradually regrow their plumage.

Molt usually occurs when the days start to shorten in late summer and it can go well into the fall season.

The feather shedding process can take as long as 16 weeks to completely cycle through and has the potential to greatly decrease egg production in your chickens.

When chickens molt, a lot of the energy in their bodies is used to regrow feathers and less energy is available for egg production.

Many chicken owners will see a huge drop off in the number of eggs they find in the nesting boxes this time of year.

However, there are a few potential shortcuts to reduce the impact of molt on your birds.

Nutrition plays a huge role in getting through the molting cycle and having a proper diet can reduce the length of time your birds are in molt.

Feeding an adequate level of protein and proper amino acid profiles can greatly help boost energy levels in your birds.

A product like NatureWise Feather Fixer, that offers 18% protein, can be a great option for molting birds.This product is meant to be fed as a sole ration and it has the potential to get your girls through molt several weeks faster than if they were on a traditional layer diet.

Another key factor in decreased egg production in the fall is related to diminished sunlight.

Chickens usually need between 12 and 16 hours of daylight to maintain maximum egg laying potential. With daylight getting shorter in the fall, you can introduce supplemental lighting to maintain egg production for your flock. Setting up a generic 75 watt light bulb in your coop will produce enough light to keep egg production at a similar level to those long summer days.

We do NOT recommend using a heat lamp in your coop. Heat lamps generate a lot of heat and can become a fire hazard.

The purpose of the light bulb is to generate enough light in the coop to “trick” the chickens into thinking it is still daylight outside. It’s recommended to have the light set to a timer and have the light come on early in the morning rather than extending daylight later in the day. This way the chickens are awaken by the light bulb and they can use it as an alarm clock to start the day.

If the light is set on a timer at night, the chickens may not expect it to go off and it could disorient them or cause stress when it suddenly gets dark in the coop.

There’s no doubt that reduced egg production is a challenge, but with some small adjustments you can help your flock get back on track.

What’s in Chick Starter?

The golden crumble your new baby chicks are devouring these days  was carefully formulated for their unique needs. Chick Starter. What’s in it?

You won’t be surprised to hear that a  large component of chick starter is Chick Startergrains. Poultry have a unique digestive system that you can learn more about here.

Their digestive system is suited well for taking advantage of the nutrients found in these grains.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common grains found in poultry feed.

These ingredients are carefully selected in order to support a baby chick’s nutritional needs:

  • Energy to support daily needs and growth
  • Protein (including critical amino acids like Lysine) to support muscle growth and development
  • Fiber for optimum digestion
  • Vitamins and minerals to support rapid skeletal system growth and other essential functions.

Soybean meal: Dried and crushed beans from the soybean plant, soybean meal offers the highest concentration of protein of plant proteins. Often 44 to 48% protein.

Canola meal: Also dried and crushed seeds from the canola plant (noted for their beautiful yellow blooms). Canola meal also is very dense in protein. It is often used in conjunction with soybean meal, or as a replacement, when soy is not desired in a formulation.

Nutrena NatureWise Hearty Hen, our soy-free, omega-3 from flax poultry layer feed, contains canola meal.

Corn: Corn is a go-to source for energy in poultry feed. Cracked corn is often viewed as a pastoral, traditional form of poultry feed. However, as nutrition research has advanced, we now understand that a diet made entirely of corn is lacking in protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

Wheat midds: Never heard of it? We’re not surprised. Wheat midds are a byproduct of the wheat milling process. Byproducts can sometimes be viewed as a filler or leftover, but, in the case of poultry feeds, wheat midds make a great addition to poultry feed. Midds are a good source of energy, protein, and fiber. They also help create a nice pellet that holds together and reduces dust.

Besides grains, premium poultry feeds often contain value-added ingredients. Nutrena NatureWise poultry feeds, for example, contains the following:

Pre and probiotics: These feed additives benefit both microbes in the chicken’s gut and adds beneficial bacteria to the existing population in the chicken’s digestive tract. Learn more about prebiotics and probiotics.

Vitamins and minerals: Just like humans, supplemental vitamins and minerals help poultry stay healthy and preform regular body functions like seeing, growing, and eventually, laying eggs.

Chicken Molt: Molt 101

chicken molt 101. What is chicken look like and why?

Are your chickens looking a little bare right now? It’s likely the result of molt, a naturally occurring process in chickens from August through December.

In the molting process, chickens lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molting process to be complete.

But fear not, there are options to help speed the process along. Products like, Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer can help your birds get through molt quicker.

Additionally, educating yourself on the process of molt will help you and your flock get through this transition period seamlessly.

Take a look at the following resources to reference during molt:

Growing Meat Chickens at Home

Growing Meat Chickens “Oh we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes, when she comes. Oh, we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes when she comes.” 

Back in 1947 when Gene Autry sang those famous lines in “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” a chicken dinner was a treat served mostly when hosting dinner guests. Traditional chicken dinners came from old hens past their egg laying prime or roosters from heavy breed chickens like White Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, or Buff Orpingtons.

Since then, poultry breeders developed an amazing hybrid that grows at an astonishing speed and revolutionized human diets, making chicken a common meat. In 1960 the average American ate 63 pounds of beef but only 24 pounds of chicken. By 2016 beef consumption had dropped to 56 pounds while chicken soared to 90 pounds.

A dual-purpose breed rooster takes about 16 weeks to reach broiler size, and by then his flesh is staring to toughen. He also lacks the thick breast meat featured in many of today’s recipes. In contrast, a modern Cornish broiler reaches eating size in only six weeks and his tender meaty body includes a deep breast.

Hybrid broilers are amazingly efficient. Back in 1925 an average broiler chicken ate 4.7 pounds of feed for each pound it gained. By 2011 a Cornish Cross broiler ate only 1.9 pounds of feed to gain a pound of body weight. Feed efficiency and rapid growth has made chicken an inexpensive and healthy meat.

Big commercial growers enjoy the cost advantage of scale by buying thousands of chicks and hundreds of tons of feed. Small flock owners must spend more for chicks and feed to produce their own broilers. Then they must slaughter their birds. It likely costs more to raise broilers at home than buy them in the store, but there are outstanding reasons to do it.

Nothing beats the pride of producing food at home, whether home grown tomatoes or broiler chickens. They just seem to taste better than supermarket counterparts. Growing winter chicken dinners yields satisfaction as well as meat. Many hatcheries sell Cornish Cross and Red Ranger hybrid chicks all year. Ordering some to arrive in early fall will fill the freezer before Thanksgiving.

Cornish Cross Broilers are super achievers that produce the most meat on the least feed in the shortest time. These are single purpose chickens bred for meat only. Hens are slaughtered when they reach eating size and aren’t good layers. Cornish Cross Broilers get so heavy so quickly they have a hard time walking and prefer to stay by the feeder and eat. They need a special high protein diet and careful management.

Red Rangers or Red Broilers are a hybrid well suited for small flocks. They grow slower than Cornish but faster than dual purpose breeds and lack the health problems of faster growing broilers. Rangers enjoy foraging outdoors and can be raised with standard breeds. They produce the meaty breast most people enjoy and are ready for slaughter by 12 weeks. Hens can be kept and will lay about 175 eggs a year.

Before anyone buys broiler chicks they should determine how they are going to process them. Slaughtering and dressing chickens can be done at home for personal use. Several You Tube videos show how to do it in graphic detail. Another option is to bring live birds to a processing plant. Usually state laws require that dressed birds offered for sale be processed in a licensed plant.

Most urban chicken ordinances are written allow homeowners to keep a few laying hens and prohibit slaughtering. However, many families who raise chickens are part of a network of other poultry raising families. Some may live outside city limits where birds can be brought for processing.

Growing broilers in a small flock is more challenging than tending laying hens, but growing healthy in a backyard coop is satisfying and makes delicious winter meals.