As the ground quickly becomes blanketed in snow, it becomes harder and harder for the chickens to find anything other than their scratch and layer crumble to eat. In summer, greens and bugs galore filled their tummies, without us having to do much at all. Now, however, we have to make a point to help them find some healthy goodies.
We noticed at the end of summer, when we finally let the chickens in the garden to clean everything up, how much they liked plants in the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower). So as we were cleaning out the garden and pulling up the debris, we purposefully left all cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower plants in the ground. You can see them reaching out of the snow here, their leaves amazingly still not totally frozen:
About once a week, I pull up a plant, roots and all, and toss it into the chicken pen. By leaving the plant intact, it is easier for the chickens to pull off the leaves. This time of year, these greens are a delectable treat, and they devour the whole plant!
By the way, we no longer let our chickens free range, as we have had a number of nights when the chickens did not return the coop, for some odd reason. We suspect that a possum may have gone in their, trying to bed down in the hay, and spooked them. Regardless, searching for chickens after dark with a flashlight, in over a foot of snow and freezing cold weather, is not fun, neither for us nor them. So they are currently remaining inside the pen.
We also make sure the chickens get plenty of scratch. The cracked corn in it is a bit like junk food for chickens, without a lot of nutrients, but it does help them to produce more heat, apparently, so is good for those bitter cold wintry nights.
I still make my chickens their oatmeal, yogurt, kelp meal, nutritional yeast breakfast once in while, and they just love it. The kelp meal is chock full of micronutrients and a wonderful natural supplement for just about any animals. If you are not able to find the kelp, please email us. We have some available for sale here at The Greater Green as a special order item.
We also added a brighter light on a timer in the coop, in an effort to keep our chickens laying a bit longer. As the days shorten, the internal clocks of the hens signals that it is no longer a good laying season. By setting a light to go on early in the morning, and stay on for at least 14 hours, we "trick" the hens into laying throughout winter. It is not good, however, to leave the lights on all night. That is what they do in factory farms, and it causes the hens to overlay, shortening their life and stressing their bodies.