Winters in colder climates can be difficult for those who keep chicken flocks. Different breeds are adaptable to different climates, so if you choose the appropriate breeds for your area, they will be equipped to deal with the cold. That being said, I have found they don’t particularly care for getting their feet in the snow. At least mine don’t. So my flock tends to spend a lot of time “cooped” up during the winter, as opposed to free ranging as they do in warmer weather.
By nature, chickens peck. So when they are in the coop for days on end, they miss out on their natural habit of pecking the ground for bugs, food and pleasure. Pecking even helps keep their beaks from growing too long.
To relieve your chickens’ boredom – and bullying if their space is cramped – many flock keepers provide “Flock Blocks.” Most feed stores will carry “Flock Blocks” which you can purchase. But if you have the time, it’s quite easy to make similar items at home. It’s especially fun if you have children to help!
There are a variety of ingredients you can use in your chicken treats: dried fruit such as cranberries or raisins; all kinds of seeds (sunflower, chia); crushed up egg shells, which will help ensure your girls get enough calcium; oats; wheat germ. You can buy a bag of scratch much cheaper than a pre-made flock block – and it will get you through a whole season of treat-making. I always include a good portion of regular feed as well. Some folks like to include cinnamon or cayenne – it can help their immune systems just as it helps ours!
You also have a few options as to how to bind it together. I usually use bacon grease, because I’m a big fan of repurposing! Other good choices are peanut butter, coconut oil and molasses.
I have over a dozen birds, so I like to spread out several smaller blocks, rather than one big block. It’s also easier for me to fit smaller blocks in my oven or freezer. For small blocks you can use paper cups or tuna fish cans. If you put it in a small square tupperware, it will then fit nicely into a suet holder. Pie tins work great for larger blocks.
If you’re planning to hang your chicken treats, remember to poke a hole in them before solidifying them (a pencil works well for this). I don’t usually hang mine; I just pop it out of whatever container I’ve formed them in and let the girls at it.
A word of caution: If you want to give your chickens treats in the warmer months, I would recommend sticking to leftover fruits and vegetables. If you want to continue to provide “block” treats, keep the fats to a minimum, so as not to needlessly increase their body temperatures.