Managing Frostbite in Your Flock
Updated: Jan 27
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 taken by surprise at the sub-zero temperatures we get! I mean the kind of temps 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 issue warnings 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 suspectable to frostbite just like us when these temps get dangerously low. We need to make sure we have good ventilation without drafts, plenty of roosting space, and if the temps drop too low, we need to provide some source of safe heat. We’ve all heard the horror stories of heat lamps. So, if you choose to use one of these, please make sure you clean and check it often!
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.
Although frostbite cannot kill a chicken, if not taken care of, it can lead to an infection and long-term nerve damage. The majority of 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/pale color and their legs will appear slightly red.
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™ from Strong Animals Chicken Essentials. 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 to help them through these stressful times.
If you know the temps are going to dip low and want to prevent frostbite, or if you find your chickens already have frostbite, here are a couple things you can do:
Apply some sort of protective salve on their combs, wattles, and feet if necessary. Vaseline, Coconut oil, or Bag Balm are some items you may have on hand at home and are safe to use.
Make sure there is good ventilation in your coop. This is so important in any season, not just cold weather.
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
If other chickens start pecking at the affected area, remove the chicken to a safe, separated space until the frostbite heals.
If necessary, contact a vet for treatment of severe cases/infection.
If you’re a backyard chicken keeper, more than likely, these feathered friends have quickly turned to family. I totally get it! 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 different, and then give them a little extra TLC. They will love it and so will you!
For more information, check out this link for a very detailed article on the cause, care, and treatment for your flock’s frostbite:
To hear from the experts, check out this link to Poultry DVM on the stages of frostbite, clinical signs and treatment options:
Don’t forget to check these past posts as well: