Keeping the Coop Happy During Winter

It’s no surprise that the winter months can be as long and arduous for chickens, as they are for us. Gone are their days of roaming free in the sunshine, while scratching up treats and exploring new places. The warmth of the coop becomes the new norm during these cold months, and the diet might start to feel as repetitious as their daily winter schedule.

Although commercial feed is an important mainstay for winter chickens, ambitious owners sprout grain to give their flock a winter treat of greenery. Table scraps also add diet variety but be careful as wet soggy foods can dampen the coop litter and create odor.

Among the best table scraps for indoor feeding are small amounts of salad greens, pumpkin and squash seeds, and bits of vegetables, popcorn, and almost any other food that’s relatively dry. Only put in as much as the birds can clean up in a few minutes.

Chickens love a snack of scratch grain or cracked corn, but only a few handfuls daily are all a small flock should have. Too much grain causes chicken obesity! A NatureWise Scratch Block of compressed grain sold at feed stores and left in the coop helps to provide exercise and diversion as the birds gradually peck the blocks apart.

Perhaps the most important help a flock owner can give birds is space. Cramming hens together in winter guarantees squabbling, pecking, and other social problems. Four square feet of floor space per birds is an absolute minimum. The more room the better, and a coop that has an array of perches and roosts at different heights and angles gives the hens a place to exercise, while adding three dimensions to a coop.

So go ahead, add some variety to their winter lives and just keep reminding your feathered friends, Spring will be back…someday!

A Halloween Treat for Hens

     ‘Tis the season of treats – and while we don’t recommend fun-sized candy bars for your birds, the truth is that every once in a while a flock of hard working hens needs a diversion and snack. One treat your chickens will enjoy is a humble and inexpensive bale of straw or hay.

     Put a bale in the chicken run and get ready for hen enthusiasm as they gleefully tear it apart. Each bale holds thousands of tiny tasty tidbits hidden amid grass stems.  Insects, seeds, and bits of dry green leaves are devoured as chickens quickly convert the rectangular bale into a horizontal mass of vegetation.  Leaving the strings intact (or just clipping one and not both) will help ensure your hens don’t act like grade school kids and overeat this “candy”.

     Chickens readily attack either hay or straw bales.The former are usually more expensive and may hold more snacks, but straw bales are sometimes easier to find in suburban and urban areas where they are sold for decorations and mulch.Straw and hay bales are often sold in garden and farm supply stores.  Prior to Halloween many grocery stores sell them as decorations, but usually with a healthy mark up.They may sell them inexpensively, or even give them away, the day after Halloween.

           Not only is a bale a good treat, but your hens need something to do, especially during long winter days when there’s no greenery to scratch in or bugs to chase and snack on. Nothing relieves hen boredom or offers more interesting winter exercise better than tearing apart a bale. 

     Winter thaws sometimes turn chicken runs into gooey mud, but having an inch or two of fresh straw on the ground insulates the soil, keeping it frozen and reducing mud.    When the ground finally thaws the straw absorbs moisture and offers a better walking surface than gooey mud.   By mid-summer the straw will have completely rotted into soil organic matter, leaving only happy chicken memories of tearing the bale apart and finding delicious treats hidden in the stems.