Dealing With Frostbite
In Your Flock
Do you live where the winter temperatures can be extreme? If you do, there is a good chance your flock could be susceptible to frostbite on their combs, wattles, and toes. Unfortunately, a few of us on the Meyer Hatchery team have some experience in helping our chickens heal from frostbite injury. We hope that in sharing our experiences, we can prevent any injury and help you best treat any frostbite that may occur.
First! A caution, as some of the photos shown here, are difficult to view. Rest assured, we all care very much for our flocks and certainly did not intend for this to happen. Negative 30-degree temperatures will catch even the most prepared flock owner off guard.
Choose Breeds Better For Cold Climates
Choosing breeds that tend to have smaller combs and wattles is smart advice for those who live in areas that experience freezing winters. Those large, floppy combs and wattles are much more susceptible to damage than breeds with smaller extremities.
Prevention Is Better Than Treatment
It’s better to prevent frostbite in the first place, instead of treating it. It sounds counter-intuitive, but proper ventilation is the first step in prevention. When your chicken coop is tightly sealed up, the excess moisture that the birds produce cannot leave the coop. At times when temperatures are below freezing, that excess moisture in the coop’s air condenses as frost on your birds’ combs, wattles, and toes, causing damage.
When I know extremely frigid overnight temperatures expected, I slather a protective ointment on those birds who have the largest combs and wattles. Great options are Udder Butter Skin Protectant, coconut oil, or your preferred salve. It’s important to note that anything you apply on your birds to prevent frostbite should not contain water.
No Supplemental Heat
We don’t recommend adding heat lamps to your adult flock’s coop to try to prevent frostbite for several reasons:
- Risk of a coop fire. Clamp-on style lamps can easily be knocked loose by adult birds
- Supplemental heat is generally wasted energy as it rises to the ceiling of your coop, away from your birds.
- The flock needs to be encouraged to get outside every day. A warm building may cause them to stay inside, which in turn causes an increased risk of illnesses developing from being overcrowded.
Treatment If Frostbite Does Happen
As stated earlier, even the most prepared flock owner will face extreme winter temperatures that may cause frostbite to occur. Treatment merely involves promoting skin healing by keeping the affected bird from experiencing any further extreme temperatures, if possible. You may use a healing product like Green Goo First Aid Salve to help speed the healing process.
You may notice that within the first few days after the freezing damage occurs, the comb and wattles may turn yellow or whitish and swollen. At this stage, the damaged area is quite painful, and you may notice your bird shaking its head a lot. After a week or so, the area may even turn black as the skin that received the worst damage will prepare to slough off. At this point, the pain is considerably less severe. Do not pick off any damaged skin. Allow the bird’s comb and wattles to heal on its own. You may continue to use the Green Goo salve as desired to support the healing process. It may take up to 6 weeks for a badly damaged comb and wattles to completely heal.
What About Their Toes?
Chickens can also experience damage to their toes in extreme temperatures if their roosts are too small in diameter. When a chicken roosts at night, their feet are tucked up under their bodies as they sleep. Generally, if the roost is large enough in diameter, the ends of the toes are also covered. But if the roost is smaller than about 2 inches in diameter, the toes will “stick out” and not be protected. It is recommended having roosts that are made from 2 by 4-inch lumber, with the flat side facing up. Chickens that can sit “flat-footed” and cover their feet entirely when they roost have a better chance of keeping their feet protected.
We hope you never have to deal with frostbite in your flock. But if you do, know your chickens can heal completely and in most cases, not suffer any long-term effects from the damage.
Have you had a bird suffering from frostbite? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below.
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