Chickens Not Eating In The Winter!?!
Winter took so long to end this year that I hesitate to bring it up at all, but I had a number of odd things happen with the chickens this winter and I feel I should address at least one of them. I also had a number of odd things happen with myself every time more snow was forecast, but I found lying on the floor in a ball and rocking back and forth eventually took care of most of them. (It wasn’t so helpful with shoveling the walk.) I suppose I should feel as though I ran a marathon or did some other endurance feat. It was a test of sheer will, and I made it through. And this was with having to go out to check on the chickens several times a day. If I could have just stayed inside the whole time, I might have had a much easier go of it.
Something that started to alarm me back in the early stages of winter was how infrequently I needed to fill the chickens’ feeder. Usually they clean it out every couple of days, and in the winter they need to eat more in order to stay warm, so they should clean it out faster. But they weren’t even making much of a dent in it at all. I was finding that I would only have to add more food once a week, and even then not as much as I had expected to.
A cold snap hit (the first Polar Vortex, if you recall) and I started to worry. It was so cold that they tended to not even come out of the coop. I can’t say I blame them. My down jacket barely kept me warm at that point, and even though theirs was built in, it probably only did about as much. Huddling together in a small room out of the wind seemed like a good idea, both for the chickens and the people I take the train with. But if the chickens already weren’t eating enough, if it was too cold to go out to the feeder, they really weren’t going to get the food they needed. Staying warm takes a lot of energy, and that means food. I had to do something.
I started with an old cat bowl I had, that has been repurposed for the occasional chicken project. I filled it with chicken feed, then added some water and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once it had gotten good and soggy, I’d mix in a big spoonful of yogurt. They really like yogurt, and I give it to them to ward off certain disgusting illnesses anyway, so I figured I ought to work it in there somehow. Then I put it out in the run and waited to see what happened.
They stuck their heads out, and seeing that there was still snow outside, they began to think twice about coming out. I know that feeling all too well. They saw the bowl of mash on the ground, and I could see the gears turning. Here was new food of some sort, but on the other hand, it’s cold! Eventually they came out and pecked a little at the food, and I felt I had finally succeeded at getting them to eat. Until I came home and there really wasn’t much eaten out of the bowl at all.
I had to go to the feed store anyway, and when I was there, the old guy who knows everything was working. I told him my birds didn’t want to eat, and I wasn’t sure if it was just because of the cold. He asked me some questions to determine if any of them were sick, or had been freaked out by anything lately, but everyone seemed in good health and as far as I knew about as calm as chickens get. He thought about it a little, and finally said, “You know, I don’t know either. Sounds like you’re doing everything right.” I then explained the trick with the mash I’d tried, which got the person in line behind me real fired up. “Ooooh, I know someone who spoils their chickens!” and then everyone in the store starting prancing around yelling “ooh la la” and calling me “the mayor of fancy town.” Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I was accused of spoiling them. It’s a fine line between spoiling and letting them starve to death, if you ask me.
I ended up leaving with some chicken scratch and black oil sunflower seeds to help give my chickens the energy they needed. The sunflower seeds are very high in protein, so that seemed promising. After leaving a pile of both of these things out for them, they decided the cold could get bent, and they charged out to fight over these new amazing treats. Eventually they started eating the feed again too. Maybe everyone just likes a change of pace now and again. Like that long winter. That was fine, but let’s have a bunch of short ones now so I don’t stop appreciating polar vortices.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Sally In The Garden Sifting Sand by Black Twig Pickers and Steve Gunn)