The garden has died off, trees have dropped their brilliantly colored leaves, the once persistent buzzing of insects has slowly quieted; chickens have less to find as they spend the shorter days scratching about the yard. My chickens spend more time in the wooded section of our property verse the dying off meadow like field.They are turning over sticks and leaves, scratching in the rich dirt that still holds insects. As the seasons change here in Michigan, so do the nutrition needs of my mostly free range chickens. There is simply less to scavenge about.
The subtle hints from Mother Nature serve as reminders that my flocks’ needs can be better met with some additions to their diet. Yes, chickens have survived for many, many years with the lean findings during late fall and winter, but we can make their existence better with some simple additions. I am a firm believer that a varied diet will make for healthier chickens and healthier eggs.
First, fresh water. We are now experiencing dropping temperatures with early morning being at freezing levels. This is not the same ice as a January rock solid water bucket, but there can be a shiny thin layer that has iced over the water dishes. If you use the dropper method to water your chickens, you may need to remove some ice as well. Fresh water is essential to all life, and our chickens are no different.
In this transition time, my older chickens are molting while the younger ones have finally fluffed up and filled out. Added protein will help with the molt and with fat stores leading into winter. Cold weather increases a bird’s calorie need, just as the abundance of food from Spring, Summer and early Fall have begun to deplete. I increase my chickens commercial layer feed at this time. I have recently transitioned my birds to pellets from crumbles. I am finding that they waste less and are getting more from the pellet. These are also great for scattering a handful as a scratch type treat in the yard. My Ladies like to scratch about in the run and think they are unearthing some great finds.
Meal Worms. I do not cultivate my own, but one day I would like to give that a try. For now, I buy the dried ones. These little worms are a great supplement to your chickens diet. I mix them right in with their feed as well as toss a handful out in the run each morning.
Late Fall, in my yard, is all about adding some extra protein. We add more feed, supplement with meal worms and seeds. I like to use sunflower seeds and millet. You can also toss in a handful of cracked corn and oats with some ground up egg shell to make scratch for your birds that has nutritional bonuses of protein and calcium.
This year, my sunflowers grew wonderfully. I am excited to use the sunflower heads as boredom breakers and diet supplements. We dry them out and they are like a large flock block in my coop. I leave them intact and let the chickens do the work.
Fall is a time for added protein in my chickens diet. Once the harsher climate of winter rolls in, then I concentrate on protein and fats to help meet the calorie needs of my chickens. For now, the winter preparations are in effect. We know that diet has a lasting effects on health. Bulking up the chickens diet is right up there with insulating the coop. On chilly mornings like today, it seems like the frozen waterers, snow and ice dance, are not that far off.