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  • Writer's pictureAnnie

Managing Frostbite in Chickens

Updated: Jan 16

Managing Frostbite in Chickens

If you’ve never experienced a January in Minnesota, you should, at least once in your life! I was born and raised here, and still, there are times when I’m surprised at the sub-zero temperatures we get! I mean the kind of temperatures where your skin hurts just being outside, and your lungs sting when you inhale too quickly.

Usually around this time of year, weather officials start to warn about the dangers these temps can cause. They tell us it’s important to take special care to cover our exposed skin, pack an extra pair of clothes when driving and dress as warm as possible in order to prevent frostbite.

So, what does this have to do with chickens? Chickens can get frostbite, too! Most of the time, chickens can tolerate cooler temps. However, they are susceptible to frostbite just like us when these temps get dangerously low.

What Does Frostbite on Chickens Look Like?

Frostbite on chickens appears as black spots or areas on the tips of their comb or wattles. Depending on the severity of frostbite, the tissue will turn black. Meaning it’s dead, and it won’t grow back. However, it does help protect the tissue underneath. With that being said, you should NEVER try to rub it or trim it off.

Managing Frostbite in Chickens

Although frostbite cannot kill a chicken, if not taken care of, it can lead to an infection and long-term nerve damage. Most frostbite settles in on unfeathered areas such as combs, wattles, toes, feet and legs. Frostbite is more likely to be found after an area has thawed and become swollen.

The first signs of frostbite can be seen as their combs or wattles turn an off-white or pale color and their legs will appear slightly red.

Managing Frostbite in Chickens

To hear from the experts, check out Poultry DVM on the stages of frostbite, clinical signs and treatment options.

I remember coming out to the coop last winter. It was -60 degrees Fahrenheit (with the wind chill). I had a heat source, but unless your coop is insulated, that temp is tough to manage! My girls all had a patch of frost on their backs. I totally freaked out! A couple of them with larger combs had little black spots along the top. Other than that, they seemed just fine.

When the weather changes drastically like this, I make sure to give my girls Flock Fixer™. Extreme weather changes can cause stress in your chickens. Stress can cause compromised immune systems and lead to infections and illness. Flock Fixer provides the necessary vitamins, minerals and electrolytes they need to help them through these stressful times.

What Temperature Do Chickens Get Frostbite?

According to Poultry DVM, when temperatures drop below 32°F (0°C) with wind chill, chickens are at risk of getting frostbite, especially roosters and large comb breeds. Roosters are particularly vulnerable due to their larger combs and wattles. To ensure their safety, owners must provide draft-free shelter and monitor their flock daily to ensure they are warm and secure during harsh winters.

How to Prevent and Treat Frostbite in Chickens

If you know that temperatures are going to dip and you want to prevent frostbite, or if you find your chickens already have frostbite, here are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Apply some sort of protective salve on their combs, wattles and feet if necessary for mild freezing. Vaseline, coconut oil, or bag balm can help protect the skin, similar to using it in humans when our lips are chapped. However, keep in mind that if temperatures are below freezing, Vaseline or jellies will also freeze.

  2. It’s crucial to keep your chicken coop well-ventilated all year round. Without proper airflow, moisture can accumulate, increasing the chance of frostbite on combs and wattles. Whether it’s hot or cold outside, ventilation is vital for your flock’s health!

  3. Provide vitamins and electrolytes. (I use Flock Fixer!)

  4. Provide adequate roosting space. Chickens give off a lot of body heat to keep each other warm. However, if there’s not enough space for roosting, one may be left on the floor, separated from the flock and their heat.

  5. Don’t use open waterers. Chickens will likely get their heads and feet wet while drinking from an open bowl like a heated dog bowl. Instead, use something like an electric nipple waterer to give them easy access to fresh water without the risk of frostbite.

  6. Keep bedding dry. Feces and urine levels in bedding can also cause excess moisture and make their feet more susceptible to frostbite. Make sure to replace and put down new bedding frequently. I like to use Coop Recuperate™ and the deep litter method to keep my bedding fresh and dry!

  7. Use a safe heat source. Typically, chickens don’t need heat lamps in their coops and are better off without them as they pose an extreme fire hazard. However, when temperatures get dangerously low, you might need to add a safe heat source like a well-placed, caged heat lamp or heating panel in the coop. Do your research and make sure to find a safe heat source for the winter.

  8. If one of your chickens has frostbite, it’s essential to isolate it from the rest of the flock. Other birds may start pecking at the affected area, potentially causing further harm. You can use a dog crate to create a safe, separate space within the coop. This way, the affected chicken can still be a member of the group while healing from the frostbite.

  9. While it may be tempting to place your chicken near a heat source like a fireplace or use a hair dryer to warm them up, this can be harmful and even fatal. Instead, bring them inside and warm them up gradually. One effective method is to wrap them up in a warm, dry towel. For frostbitten feet, you can create a warm foot bath - but be sure to use water that is not too hot, as this can cause pain and further damage. Remember, gently and gradually is key when treating frostbite in chickens!

  10. Lastly, do not try and cut the affected area off or rub it. Contact your local veterinarian for treatment of severe cases of frostbite and infections.

Can Chickens Recover From Frostbite?

When it comes to frostbite in chickens, seeing tissue drop off may be distressing, but it’s a natural part of the healing process. Dead tissue will eventually fall off, leaving healthy tissue behind, resulting in a slightly altered appearance. However, it’s crucial to prevent infection in the affected area. Frostbite itself is unlikely to be fatal, but an infection can spread rapidly. If frostbite is extreme or becomes infected, please make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately.

To combat potential infections, natural antiseptics can be used. One such remedy is lavender essential oil, which has been proven to contain strong anti-bacterial properties. Bye-Bye Boo Boos™ contains lavender and tea tree essential oils that have been used for centuries as an antiseptic, and its effectiveness has been backed by extensive scientific research. This spray can be applied topically to the affected area, and it’s great for soothing inflammation and pain!

It’s important to keep in mind that the healing process for frostbite in chickens is not a quick fix. It can actually take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for the affected areas to recover fully. While this may seem like a long time, it is crucial to remain patient and vigilant for any sign of infection or nerve damage in your feathered friends.

If you’re a backyard chicken keeper, more than likely these feathered friends have quickly turned into family! So, when a couple of my girls got frostbite, I felt like a horrible chicken mama. Don’t let this get the best of you! Do what you can to take the best care of your birds, learn what you can do differently and then give them a little extra TLC. They will love it and so will you!

Until next time,

The Wing Lady


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