On a very cold morning about a month ago, I went out to see how the chickens fared in their unheated coop. It was the coldest night yet this winter and it was still 4 degrees when I bundled up and reluctantly went out into the winter wind …
I opened the coop door, made a quick inspection—checking for frozen combs or feet and reached for their iced waterer. One chicken kept going to a nesting box, she would look inside the box then back at me. It seemed as if she was trying to say, “Look what I did!” Or perhaps, “What am I supposed to do with this?” I really was not expecting an egg, my pullets are only 5 months old and as cold as it has been lately I thought that it would be at least another month before they started laying, but there it was: a beautiful, small, cracked frozen egg!
Now that they have matured from chicks to laying chickens, there are a few changes to make, at least in their diet. I have been feeding them starter feed, which is recommended until 20 weeks, but now they needed to move on to a diet that met their nutritional needs now that they are producing eggs. So what next? Pellets, crumbles, mash, oyster shells, grit …
Mash is powdery (just as it sounds), pellets are made of compressed mash, and crumbles are broken-up pellets. I opted for crumbles, basically because the texture is similar to their current feed and would work well in their automatic chicken feeder. Layer feeds contain about 16% protein and added calcium to ensure the chickens will lay eggs with strong shells. I could provide the girls with extra calcium in the form of oyster shell, but I chose not to at this time—their feed should meet all of their nutritional requirements. If I notice the shells becoming thin or if they crack easily, then I’ll provide oyster shell in a separate feeder.
Probably the most important, and sometimes overlooked nutrient is water. Access to clean, fresh water at all times is very important to the well being of the flock. During the winter, providing water in below-freezing temperatures can be a little challenging. I have a water heater in the outside run, but if there is snow on the ground, my chickens refuse to leave their coop. This means I have to replace their frozen water frequently inside their unheated coop … I’m ready for spring!
It’s true that farm-fresh, straight-from-the-coop eggs are definitely the best tasting!
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