I am starting to rethink the winter care for our chickens.
Until now, I’ve been telling people to include a little bit of suet in the chickens’ feed a few times each winter. My reasoning for this is that, even though it’s an animal product, the fat would do the birds good during the cold winter when they are burning more calories. (I suppose you could use peanut butter but the fear of having their beats glued shut from the paste frightens me.)
No one wants a fat chicken (unless you are going to slaughter it) but no one also wants a chicken that has starved during the cold months when the good fat and protein from insects is virtually non-existent.
I had always felt bad about this though. I had been taught to NOT give your chickens any meat at all (along with no onions or garlic), but I figured if we leave suet out for the outdoor birds that come to our feeder, we could give some of it to our chickens. It was sort of one of those “yeah, but…” decisions.
And then in one of my recent chicken workshops, some chicken owners told me that their chickens LOVE ham.
Well that’s a little weird. Didn’t that make them carnivores? A little cannibalistic?
And then I read in Joel Salatin’s book “Folks, this ain’t normal” that years ago, one of a young boy’s winter chores was to make sure that the hen house was supplied with critter carcasses throughout the cold months precisely to make up for the seasonal lack of insect protein and fat. It was the young boy’s job to catch small animals, kill them and then throw them into the hen house for the chickens to eat.
I suppose on one level this makes sense. A wild chicken is going to eat pretty much anything and because they burn so much energy, if there is a choice, they’d go with a high–caloric food over one that’s not. Although not hunters, I’m thinking that chickens would make great road-kill connoisseurs.
But could it be? Is it possible that I should be including some meat in their winter diet? And let’s face it, if I’m going to give them suet, I shouldn’t have any objection about animal carcasses right?
Except that it’s going to make my adorable, well behaved chickens seem just so barbaric.
We have mice in our renovated once-a-summer-cabin-now-a house, and in the winter time, we have LOTS of mice. Setting mouse traps is just a way of life for us. My daughters hardly scream anymore.
This winter, instead of leaving the carcasses in the back woods for some hungry animal walking through, we’re going to be feeding them to our chickens (who will eat them only after I’ve turned my head.)
I’m really hoping this is the right advice because in the Spring, when we muck out the coop, if I come across the remains of all those winter mice, I may never be able to sleep again.