Chickens are hardy creatures. They can survive in extreme heat as well as extreme cold. However, cold weather can stress a chicken’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to infection and illness. In addition, weather and wind chill can create temperatures below freezing, leading to frostbite in chickens and humans alike.
How can you tell if a chicken has frostbite? When tissue freezes, it can’t transport blood, so cells are deprived of oxygen and will eventually die. Dead cells change color, turning grayish-yellow, grayish-blue or even black. The tissue will dry up and may fall off, leaving your bird permanently scarred. Combs, wattles and toes are especially prone to frostbite, particularly in roosters and hens with large combs.
First-time chicken owners make a lot of mistakes when treating frostbite. Improper care can further endanger your chicken’s comfort and health. When dealing with frostbite
- Do not warm affected areas too quickly. Rapid changes in temperature can create further damage.
- Do not use a heat lamp, hair dryer or other source of direct heat.
- Do not rub the area or trim it, unless it shows signs of infection.
- Do not break blisters. The liquid inside can help with the healing process.
So what should you do with a frostbitten chicken?
- Move the chicken to a warmer place, and keep it there until it is fully recovered.
- Gradually warm the affected area. Submerge frostbitten feet in lukewarm water. Gently place a lukewarm, wet washcloth on frozen combs and wattles.
- Keep the injured area clean.
- Watch for signs of infection, including swelling, oozing, inflammation, redness or foul-smelling discharge.
- Give your chicken plenty of water.
- Obtain veterinary care. Your vet can treat damaged tissue as well as prescribe medication for pain, inflammation and infection.
Frostbite is painful and dangerous. The best way to prevent it is to keep your chickens warm and dry. Make sure their coop provides adequate protection from both cold and dampness.
- Check for condensation. In the morning, check for droplets on the walls and windows of the coop. Condensation is a sign of improper ventilation. Moisture in the air leads to damp bedding and skin, and an increased risk of developing frostbite. If you do discover condensation, keep windows slightly open or add ventilation holes near the top of the coop to improve airflow.
- Limit sources of moisture inside the coop. Add dropping boards for easy cleaning. If possible, keep waterers outside, where they can’t be spilled into bedding, or use a poultry nipple waterer.
- Keep bedding fresh and dry. Sand is a great choice during cold months because it absorbs moisture and insulates better than straw or wood shavings. Layer more deeply than you would during summer months.
- Watch the temperature. If the forecast calls for subzero temperatures, use a flat panel, radiant heater to warm the coop just a little. The coop should not feel warm; you just want to avoid temperatures below freezing. Do not use a heat lamp, which can spark a fire.
- Protect vulnerable tissue. Spread petroleum jelly or a thick moisturizer on wattles and combs during cold snaps.
A warm, dry coop is key to preventing frostbite in chickens. Our coop plans show you how to build your birds a home that will shelter and protect them regardless of the weather.