Quality of free-ranging in winter? Little to none?


11 Years
Aug 31, 2008
I live in the mid-Atlantic region kind of 50 miles Northwest of Washington, DC. Not really new to the area, but I still feel like I don't know how much useful vegetation/"stuff" the birds will be able to find in a typical yard/pasture/woods area over the winter. Any ideas? These birds run the gamut from guineas to turkeys and it's my first winter with them. Regardless, I'm overwintering everyone, but I'd still like to know if it will be really sparse pickins for them, or if they'll find some significant food sources by free-ranging in the meanest of the weather to come. My guess is very little, in which case I'll be buying LOTS of food.
I'm in the NE panhandle of WV and the winter conditions aren't much different from you, so we have about the same situation. I feed more in the winter but the birds do an awful lot of scratching and pecking at something all winter, so I can only assume they are getting seeds, larvae and green shoots of winter hardy plants.

In any case, it will help your food bill somewhat to have some type of supplement and it also keeps them outside and away from the feeder more. I usually feed mine in the evening in the winter so the fuel isn't run off all day and they can sleep with a full stomach, and the heat generated by that. Usually a little feed left over for a quick breakfast as well. I think feeding them in the evening keeps them foraging more in the daytime, exposes them to more daylight and gets them out into the fresh air more.
Don't know much about your area, but any time of year, chickens require feed, and foraging is considered extra. they should eat just a little more in the winter than in the summer.
Nothing survives the winter here and the ground is usually buried under a foot of snow. I dunno what my chickens will do. I may just wait until next year to start letting them out to free range and keep them locked in the coop this winter since I do have 170sq ft for only 6 bantams. Other animals though will go after tree bark, dried up weeds, brush, and various other dead plants that stick out above the snow. I planted a sunflower patch this year and the sunflower heads with their seeds will stay above the snow for the birds and squirrels. My horses have stripped all the lower bark off the trees in their pasture.
Thanks for the answers. I think I heard what I was hoping to hear, which is that the birds will continue to pick and find things and at least be amused by looking as they've been for the summer. I'm not looking forward to the long, slow winter, and here it won't be too uncomfortable until early to mid December. The ground will hardly freeze for any length of time here and sunny afternoons often perk things up.

These days, with growing birds, I buy 100-150 pounds of food a week for them, about half Dumor starter and half corn or half scratch grains. I don't think they waste much at all of that - somehow it's always recovered. Like you, Beekissed, mine eat better in the evenings than in the mornings, when they, also, eat the leftovers from the night before unless it's too low. In the evenings, they're spoiled now by several pounds of tomatoes I tear up for them when I see them after work from my garden. Soon, that'll be impossible to do.

I also have some sunflowers - my avatar is a picture of one of them. Love them! Mine are inside my run but too tall for anyone to reach to eat yet, and haven't fallen over. I'll plant more, lots more, next year. Birds also loved the several rows of corn I let them harvest - they, of course you might know, would jump up and pull the ears down themselves. It's been a good year.
We are just across the MD/PA border ,so our climate is almost he same.
It depends what the winter season brings, it can be rainy and cold and the chickens will thrive free range, but if we have snow and ice cover they wont don so well.
Sakes alive, Beak, just how many chickens do you have?
I don't go through 100 lbs of feed in a month and a half, if that! I have 31 chickens.
Collect some bags of leaves or pine needles...people are bagging them up and putting them out for trash about now...or rake up some of your own. You can even stack the bags around the outside your coop or run for insulation.
Then every once in a while, when all you have is snow, open a bag and dump those leaves in the run and throw some scratch in it...the chickens love to hunt thru those!

Even if they don't find much, at least they get some fresh air and sunshine and some exercise. Helps with boredom, therefore you avoid the chickens picking on each other.
I hate to tell on myself so much but I've probably gone insane over these darn barnyard poultry specimens, Beekissed. I just got my new chicks today, and I've been raising broods several times before since late March, I guess. My last two broods have been turkeys and ducks - before that, probably 55 2008 chickens, per se. 10 turkens, 6 each ( blue, white, red cochins, buckeyes), 5 partridge rocks, 2 brahmas, 10 brown egg layers (lots of black stars in that group) from second barnyard combination, 2 wellsummers, maybe a couple of others. My original goal was to have 25 silver gray dorkings and breed one type and one type only. Never got those at all because I wouldn't wait until the end of May when I could have gotten them.

I had a good laugh last night when I read that someone couldn't pull the plug on the incubator and stop incubating chicks (not midstream, I don't mean, just stop for a while as in "enough's enough"). I was wondering if I'll be drawn to that sooner or later. Maybe not, as I like "ordering" and deciding what kinds to buy that might be different from what I have. Full of dangers already of having only a hodge-podge pretty quick with too many kinds on hand.

Yes, chickflick and needmorechickens, I like the idea of collecting the pine needles and leaves for the winter 'cept I'm afraid I might uncover a snake, which I did last year. Maybe I can do it when snakes have gone away for the winter. I do know they love to pilfer to pass the time and I love passing the time watching them.

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