Winter is a tough time to keep your chicken flock healthy. If you’re not careful, their run will turn into a mass of mud which will erode away and pollute nearby creeks. Meanwhile, the ground will be scratched so bare that your chickens will lack all access to fresh food.
Harvery Ussery suggests various solutions to these winter problems. First, he recommends that you cull your flock heavily, removing any birds you don’t really need so that the remaining chickens will have more access to wild foods.
Next, how about planting cover crops to give your chickens some greenery deep into the winter? Our chickens were supremely uninterested in our oat, winter pea, and mustard cover crop in the fall, but by December, they were happily browsing through the green leaves. If your garden is completely dormant, you can also send your flock through there to clean up weeds and seeds.
If you see bare soil in their run, how about turning that area into a deep bedding/compost pile? Even a small run can be biologically active through the winter months if you add enough organic matter so that your chickens can go hunting for worms.
Now’s also the time to augment your chickens’ diets with fresh foods. Harvey Ussery grows potatoes, sweet potatoes, mangels, winter squash, and chard for his chickens, noting that if you’re willing to cook them, potatoes can replace grains in a chicken’s diet. Before we gave them free run of the woods, our
cooped up Light Sussex were thoroughly enjoying Tokyo Bekana — the thin leaves seem to be a very palatable green. Ussery even dries comfrey and stinging nettle “hay” in the summer to dole out extra nutrients to his flock through the cold months.
Most of those winter pick-me-ups require some forethought during the spring, summer, and fall, but you can feed your chickens sprouts for nearly instant greenery. Rather than buying his grains in pellet or mash form, Ussery buys several grains in bulk and mixes his own feeds. In the summer, he grinds the larger grains and feeds the smaller ones whole, but in the winter he sprouts all of the grains in modified five gallon buckets. He uses a five day cycle, soaking the first day, then rinsing daily until the sprouts are ready. Give the chickens
free choice minerals or sprinkle them on top of the grain and you have a complete diet with extra protein, vitamins, and enzymes.
For more tips on keeping
your chickens healthy on a budget, I highly recommend Harvey Ussery’s The
Small-Scale Poultry Flock.