As winter gets closer, the days get shorter and we chicken keepers start heating the coop waterers. Our chickens are adapting to the changes in weather and temperature, and though they’re hardy animals, it doesn’t mean they’re always comfortable in the cold. My Wyandotte hen, for example, always molts in November. This morning, she’s nearly naked and we’re 2 degrees below freezing.
When the temperature suddenly turns cold, I like to ease the shock with compassionate, warm breakfasts. Here are two of my favorite meals to warm chickens from the inside out.
1. Cooked Winter Squash
Every fall, I buy pie pumpkins with the intention of making pie for my family. The thing is, I don’t like pumpkin pie, so I often don’t get around to it. Two of my pie pumpkins are still outside looking fantastic, but one that I had on my kitchen table started getting blotchy and too ripe. I was faced with having to make pie.
Pumpkin, like other winter squashes, is high in vitamin A, vitamin C and beta-carotene. It’s just as healthy for chickens as it is for us (when we don’t purée it into a custard full of sugar, that is).
Like usual, I avoided making pie and chose to feed my flock instead. To cook an overly ripe pumpkin, break off the stem, stabbed a few holes around the top, and bake at 350 degrees F for one hour. To contain the mess, I put the pumpkin in a 9-by-13 pan lined with aluminum foil. After an hour, turn the oven off and leave the pumpkin in the hot oven for 20 minutes or so, just to make sure it’s nice and soft. After the pumpkin cools enough to touch, slice it into quarters, let it cool a little more, and then serve it to the chickens.
If you try baking a fresher pie pumpkin or other winter squash, like butternut or spaghetti squash, you’ll find they’re very tough to cut into with a knife. In these cases, I grab a drill and make two holes in the top of the squash using a 1/2-inch drill bit. This not only saves my fingers, it let’s steam escape the squash so it doesn’t explode all over my oven.
Some people feed their jack-o’-lantern pulp to their flocks when they’re carving pumpkins for Halloween, but I haven’t had success with this. My picky flock will only eat pumpkin seeds if they’re cooked. If you find your flock is like mine, and you can get to your jack-o’-lantern before it starts to decay, cut it up and steam the pumpkin flesh for your flock so it doesn’t go to waste. It’s a great supplement, low in calories and makes a small dent in feed costs.
2. Warm Oatmeal
What I love about feeding warm oatmeal to my flock, especially on the coldest mornings, is that it’s cheap, it’s hydrating and I can mix in kitchen scraps to make it a little more exciting for the foragers.
I don’t bother cooking the oatmeal because then I have to wait for it to cool. Instead, I put about 1 cup of old-fashioned oats into a glass bowl, then simply add hot water from the tap. I let the oats soak for a few minutes and sometimes add a little more water.
I always stick my finger into the oatmeal see if it’s warm enough, and if not I’ll microwave it for 30 seconds, but not more without checking the temperature. I don’t want to risk burning the chickens.
What are some of your flock’s favorite meals when the weather gets cold? How do you pamper them when they’re molting during colder temperatures? Let me know in the comments below.