Fall is upon us here on the homestead and in Michigan this means that winter is not far behind. Some years we get four weeks of fall weather and some years we only get two. So we are quickly getting prepared!
Two Rhodies pecking bit of leaves and seeds from my legs.
This is a transition time for us and our chickens. As the seasons change here in Michigan, so do the nutrition needs of my chickens. I have been focusing on adding more protein into their diets and giving them more free range time in the woods to scoop up the last of the worms and bugs that reside in the fall leaves.
Free ranging in the “black gold” soil of compost bins.
Fall to Winter Nutrition Starts for us in the Coop;
I have started giving my girls what I call the “High Test” each morning and each night. This is a mix of high protein feeds to give them more internal heat and to help them warm-up for the day ahead. These food choice also boost their protein after the brooding and molting time of year.
Laundry rack sprouting station.
You may recall that our Cochin’s spent almost six weeks brooding and that was followed by a severe molting process. They looked pretty tattered and torn. Poor girls!
Crystal vegging in the Cochin’s coop prior to laying her egg.
I’ve experimented with various feeding trays; from rubber foot wipe mats to deep rubber bowls (which I now use fill with water in the non-freezing season) and old plates. What I have found to work the best, and what I prefer are clay pot trays that you can buy in various sizes or find at garage sales. They are heavy-duty enough to not get kicked over, with a short lip they hold the food while keeping dirt and leaves out and can easy be easily washed in soap and water every night. I periodically sanitize them using vinegar and a day baking in the sunshine.
Cochin/Phoenix mix bantam.
Honestly my chickens still prefer to eat their food right off the ground, but I offer it to them first in the clay pot trays stacked on pieces of 2 X 4’s or blocks to lift them higher off the ground. Raising them higher can keep the dirt and leave s from being scratched into them. In the winter months it’s a constant battle between human and naturally scratching chickens, but I do try to keep the poop and the food separate.
My Rhodies love to scratch for tasty treats in and around the compost bins.
High Test Chicken Feed in Olive Oil w/ Fresh Chopped Garlic
I use a wide mouth canning jar to mix the “High Test” feed in. After each use, I pop the jar into the dish washer for a very good wash. I don’t measure the feed, I just eyeball the mixture and that has worked fine for us. Each ingredient measures about 1/3 of a cup. The chickens receive half of this mixture in the a.m. and the last half of it in the p.m., just before they roost for the night.
Small House Homesteads High Test Mix:
1/3 organic layers feed (for their vitamins and minerals)
1/3 meal worms (their favorite food)
1/3 BOSS (black oiled sunflower seeds for protein and heat)
I toss these three items above into the jar, add my pre-mixed olive oil mixture and give it a quick stir. For my olive oil mixture recipe see those details below.
Small House Homesteads Olive Oil Infusion Mixture:
Using a second quart-size, wide mouth canning jar I mix up the following items; chopped fresh garlic, dried herbs and fill the quart jar to ¾ full of olive oil. Like an infusion, I let this mixture steep throughout the winter changing out the jar from time to time. My herbs vary between chopped up dandelion roots and culinary herbs like oregano, basil and always chopped raw garlic for my girls good heath.
The Cochin’s coop just after it was completed.
Each day I let my chickens out to free range for between 30 and 60 minutes. Mine must be human supervised so some days their free range time is short and some days I might be able to manage and hour and a half. Generally this is enough time to fill their crops with tasty worms, bugs and seeds and satisfy their deep need to scratch and peck. Often times they are content to be called back into the coop for a nice long drink of fresh water after that. On a beautiful sunny fall day I might even be able to let them out twice in one day.
The outdoor bare seed area. Those pieces of wood on top keep the birds out.
This fall I have been taking them to the leave strewn path in the woods where the worms are hiding under the many layers of leaves. The chickens have really enjoyed this activity and have been very busy scratching and pecking. The also discovered the old dirt pile this fall. This pile has been where we threw any extra dirt or weeds we did not want in the compost bins. This fresh compost pile has never been turned or worked in any way so the chickens have delighted in that dirt this fall.
The Rhodies coop inside of their secure run.
We also removed the boards from the back of our 6-part compost bin and let them jump up and in and work that soil as well. All of these food centers are located at the back of our property under the wood lots edge located behind the blacksmith forge and are protected from the wind. And now that the trees have lost their leaves the sun shines down on this area throughout the day. It is the perfect place for chickens to free range right now.
Happily pecking and scratching in our deep White Oak leaves.
Around 4 or 5 p.m. in the afternoon I toss out sprouted barley greens to make sure that they have eaten enough live greens each day and the last of their high-test feed. In the early fall before the snow comes they eat their barley greens that are growing right in the soil of their run where I have planted three large patches. When those greens are gone or the frost has arrived, then I begin to sprout indoors. I make and give them sprouts because will have many times more nutrition than the adult plant of the seed to begin with.
Of course they have water with garlic, their chicken layers feed and dried egg shells to free feed throughout the day.
Bales of hay to block the wind and for a chicken jungle gym!
As you can see nutrition for humans, dogs and chickens is serious business on our homestead!
Small House homesteader, Donna