One element in your flock’s diet that should be increased during the winter is protein. Protein is an extremely important element in a chicken’s diet. It is needed for maintaining healthy body functions, it is used for creating antibodies to fight disease, and it is continually being used up by the body. During the winter, a chicken uses even more protein as it deals with factors like cold stress and the increased need to stay warm. Increasing the protein content in your flock’s winter diet will ensure they are getting the protein they need to stay warm and keep functioning.
While it may be tempting to increase the carbohydrates or fats in your flock’s diet, (think scratch grains and extra seeds and grains), it is actually more beneficial if you focus on providing additional protein sources. Your flock will already be getting all the carbohydrates they need in their daily ration. Carbohydrates are also the first thing that the body burns for energy and they are used up very fast. This is great for instant energy, but for long term energy needs, like staying warm all day, carbohydrates will not be helpful. Fat on the other hand, does increase the digestive retention time of feed ingredients and provides twice as much energy. However, fat is not an essential component in the poultry diet and should not be increased in substantial amounts.
Sources of high protein naturally contain some fat as well, so if you focus on increasing the protein in your flock’s diet, the benefits of fat as an energy source will also be supplied in moderate amounts. Also, when protein is digested it produces internal heat, whereas fat does not. The internal heat can be used as energy to help the chicken stay warm.
When increasing the protein content in your flock’s winter diet, focus on high-quality, natural protein sources. Incorporate in both plant-based and bus-based protein sources since they both provide added nutrition to the diet. Extra protein sources should be considered supplements or treats/healthy snacks - they should not be a substantial part of your flock’s daily feed intake.
Remember, your flock’s daily feed ration is still the most important part of their winter diet!
Here are some great supplemental protein sources you can offer your flock this winter:
- Canned sardines (Note: Some say this can affect the taste of your eggs)
- Sprouted lentils
- Meat scraps - cooked beef, pork, lamb, seafood
- Black soldier fly grubs - Chickens, ducks, and other birds naturally love insects, so this is one of the most popular forms of protein for your flock.
Another way to increase the protein levels in your flock’s winter diet is to switch them over to a higher protein daily ration. Gamebird and showbird feeds often contain more protein than layer feeds. However, some natural layer feeds are higher in protein than commercially formulated layer feeds. Grubby Layer Feed is naturally higher in healthy protein thanks to the black soldier fly larvae that it contains. If you do switch your feeds, make sure you do so gradually so that you don’t cause any digestive upset, and be sure to take the additional protein from the feed into consideration when supplying high protein treats and supplements as well. Too much protein can cause health issues too. You can learn feeding tips here to gradually introduce your flock to a new feed.