In the wintertime, free-range chickens don’t have bugs to dine on, but they do like to scratch under a light snow and pick up seeds, and nibble on refuse from the fall garden. On really cold, snowy days it’s a good idea to lock them up in the coop.
David Frame is an extension poultry specialist at Utah State University. He says free range chickens find plenty to eat other times of the year, but you have to help them with their diet during the winter.
“Offer them some table scraps from your salads, or as you trim them. Save those carrot peels, and save the ends of the lettuce and the spinach, and things like that. Throw out there, let them peck around at them, and get some greenery. Another idea that works pretty well is to cut a pumpkin or a squash open and just let them peck around at that,” says Frame. “Those squash-type plants are very rich in vitamin-A, plus it gives them something to do.”
Frame says he enjoys offering leafy-green alfalfa hay, which is very rich in vitamins. If you put a slice of hay in a net and hang it, the birds get exercise and stimulation from pecking it out. He also recommends offering cracked corn as scratch. Corn is high in carbohydrates, and it helps keep their body heat up.
Do keep a close eye on your chickens to make sure they’re not becoming malnourished.
“They’ll usually become thin or else they’ll start showing signs of possible lameness if they’ve got rickets, or if they’re not getting adequate calcium or vitamin-D,” he says. “That’s a real concern, and that’s why probably the most important thing during any kind of a stressed weather situation when feeding birds is make sure they have an adequate supply of balanced chicken feed available too because that has all the calcium and phosphorous and things that they need.”