If your chickens had a choice, they’d spend their days roosting and scrounging for food in 65° F to 75° F climates. Honestly, who would blame them? It’s the perfect range for their natural functions. Venture too far outside of those temperature norms in either direction and your flock can feel strained or even falter.
Yes, a little cold is manageable for the average chicken, but prolonged exposure to temperatures below 32° F, as well as any extreme fluctuations, can hinder metabolisms, suppress immune responses and reduce egg production. Since chickens can’t migrate (and they wouldn’t in the wild, anyway), chicken farmers need to create conditions where their flock will thrive. Dry-coop conditions as well as winterized roosts and runs are part of the picture, but so is the right diet.
Beyond your base feed, various supplemental ingredients or food choices can elevate the resiliency of your birds during critical low temperatures. Here are four examples for farmers who want to know what to feed chickens in winter and maximize their budgets.
During a time when the immune system is under extra pressure, you need supplements that can help to provide beneficial gut microbes with the resources they need to push out harmful pathogens. Garlic is great on that front, helping to reduce the bacterial count in chickens’ feces when added as a dietary powder. Also, garlic is rich in antioxidants, which enables it to repair some of the oxidative damage to organ tissues that occur during critical low temperatures.
Late-Night Cereal Grains
During cold winter nights, your chickens depend on an extra boost to maintain their body temperature and energy supplies. Thermogenesis, or the dissipation of energy as bodies produce heat, is heightened as temperatures drop. Extremely young chicks and older hens are especially vulnerable to acute cold exposure, which can hinder their ability to maintain a stable body temperature. What many farmers have learned is that an extra helping of cereal grains before your birds sleep for the night keeps their bodies warm while also providing them with essential nutrients for the next day.
When you’re looking for what to feed your chickens for winter, turmeric addresses some of the root causes of your concerns. This rhizome plant is noted for its anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties – as well as its safety as a chicken feed ingredient for both broiler chickens and laying hens. As chickens are faced with taxing weather conditions, the above reparative and restorative properties help chickens to maintain their performance and put up a fight against harmful pathogens. The only potential challenge is that most turmeric originates from Hawaii, which could be limited if supply chain issues hit the archipelago.
Coastal farmers have used seaweed for everything from conditioning the soil to feeding their livestock and themselves. Using kelp for chickens’ nutrition has a variety of benefits, but there are some key factors to provide poultry with winter resilience.
For example, seaweed like Ascophyllum nodosum is a rich source of prebiotics, which help chickens to enhance their gut microbiome. When beneficial bacteria are allowed to flourish, they make it harder for harmful pathogens to hold in the GI tracts of your birds.
Additionally, seaweed is rich in nutrients that might be depleted during stressful times. When birds require more energy to thrive, you’ll be providing them with an excess of nutrients and even omega-3s that will be passed along to their eggs, offspring, and even consumers. It’s the next best thing to ideal temperatures.
Looking to learn what to feed chickens in winter? Talk to a member of the Acadian Kelp™ team to find out what sets our seaweed products apart.