Dealing with Frostbite on Chickens: What You Need to Know

As the temperatures dip down, chicken owners have to watch for frostbite on their chickens and know how to deal with this problem appropriately.

Those black tips on the end of the rooster’s combs are frostbite!

The first time I saw frostbite on chickens I had no idea what was wrong. My rooster had blackened tips on his comb, and I wondered what caused it.

After a quick internet visit, I learned my little buddy had frostbite and promptly set out to learn everything I could about this winter problem.

The best thing that chicken owners can do is focus on preventing frostbite from happening at all, but accidents happen. Sometimes, your chickens end up with frostbite anyway, so it’s best to know how to handle this problem.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is the damage that occurs to body tissues from exposure to extreme cold. The temperatures and weather lead to cells freezing, and this freezing deprives the cells of oxygen, leading to tissue damage.

Humans suffer from frostbite when exposed to cold, wet temperatures, and chickens are vulnerable as well.

Factors That Increase the Risk of Frostbite

Some factors increase and contribute to frostbite on chickens, so backyard chicken keepers need to know when their flock might be at a greater risk of frostbite.

  • Temperature
  • Wind Chill Factor
  • Exposure Time
  • Humidity and Moisture
  • Higher Altitude
  • Reduced Circulation or Lack of Ventilation

How to Recognize Frostbite on Chickens

Blackened tissue is one of the easiest signs of frostbite to spot.

I remember the first time that I noticed frostbite on my chickens. My rooster, who liked to stand outside all day long and never take advantage of the cozy coop, had black pieces on the tip of his comb.

I did some research and realized he had frostbite, despite having ample space to escape the weather.

You’ll want to know the signs of frostbite on chickens.

  • Color changes on tissue, such as whitening or a grayish-blue color
  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blackened tissue
  • Blisters with clear or icky fluid
  • Hardened tissue
  • Listless in severe cases

Sometimes, it’s not so easy to spot frostbite in chickens. Last year, I noticed one of my rooster was limping and struggling to keep up with the flock. We had no idea what happened.

It turns out he had frostbite on his leg; we think he fell into the pond or got the feathers on his legs wet. That turned into frostbite.

He limped for months, earning him the name Hoppy. After weeks of care, he ended up healthy minus a hop that didn’t slow him down. However, this sign of frostbite was less obvious than blackened tips.

Will Frostbite on Chickens Heal?

Yes, frostbite on chickens heals eventually, as long as no complications arise during the healing process. Mild cases may resolve itself in a few days or week. Severe cases take a few months to fully heal.

Can Frostbite Kill Chickens?

Typically, frostbite won’t kill your chickens, but it is painful. Our rooster limped for months; you want to avoid this for them at all cost.

How to Prevent Frostbite on Chickens

Preventing frostbite (well, preventing ANYTHING) is always the best course of action. It’s easier to prevent something from happening than dealing with the aftermath.

Here are some ways to prevent frostbite on chickens.

Add Thick Layers of Dry Bedding

The first thing you need to do is make sure your chicken coop has extra layers of dry bedding. You have several options for bedding, but the most important thing is to make sure you keep it dry.

Always remove wet bedding!

It’s best to keep waterers out of the coop during the winter. Since water evaporates into the air, it makes it more moist in the co-op.

Many chickens keepers swear by using the deep litter method. Make sure you’re turning the litter often and adding more dry litter.

Keeping roosting boards under the roosts make it easier to clean up droppings, reducing the moisture.

Ensure The Chicken Coop has Proper Ventilation

Chicken coops need to be well-ventilated to prevent a moisture build-up inside. Too much moisture inside of your chicken coop is bad news and increases the risk of frostbite.

Drafts and ventilation are different. You don’t want a draft space; keep the ventilation up high!

Don’t Heat Your Chicken Coops

As strange as it sounds, adding heat to your coop increases the risk of frostbite because it leads to more moisture. It’s not uncommon for you to see condensation on the inside of your coop windows when you heat it because it becomes too damp.

Chicken droppings contain a lot of water!

Plus, when their coop is warm and the difference in temperature from outside to inside can make it harder for them to adjust during the cold winter months.

Related: Keeping Chickens in the Winter: Everything You Need to Know

Make Sure You Have Wide Roosting Bars

The roosting bars should be wide enough to allow the chickens to cover their feet entirely with their bodies while perching. It prevents frostbitten feet.

All you need is a 2×4 with the 4″ side facing up for roosting. Avoid using metal for roosts because it increases the risk of frostbite.

Raise Chicken Breeds with Small Combs

Picking chicken breeds with small combs is a great idea if you live somewhere in the extreme north where the temperatures frequent dip and stay in the negatives or low single digits.

Some of the best chicken breeds with pea combs include:

  • Easter Eggers
  • Buckeyes
  • Ameraucanas
  • Wyandottes

Roosters are the most vulnerable to frostbite because they have larger combs and wattles, even if you pick breeds with smaller combs.

Go for Cold-Hardy Breeds

Aside from looking at comb size, some breeds are better suited for colder temperatures than others. Large bodied chickens are known to be more cold-hardy than others.

Related: 13 Best Cold Weather Chicken Breeds for Your Flock

Apply a Preventative Coating Over their Combs and Wattles

The last trick to preventing frostbite on chickens is using a preventative coating over their combs and wattles.

You can use:

You also might want to make a DIY ointment. However, don’t try to apply a coating to already frostbitten tissue because the application could break the tissue off, leading to more damage.

How to Treat Frostbite in Chickens

However, no matter how much you try to prevent frostbite on your chickens, it happens to the best of us. I had a rooster who had frostbite more than once because he stood outside when the rest of the flock went inside. Nothing I did convinced him to head inside.

So, if your chickens end up with frostbite, it’s vital that you know how to properly treat the frostbite. Recovery takes 4-6 weeks, and it’s important that you work hard to prevent frostbite again.

Warm Your Chickens Slowly

The first step is to warm your chicken slowly. Avoid using a blow dryer or hot water. Simply bring your chicken into an area that is warm.

If their feet are frostbitten, soak them in lukewarm water to get circulation moving again.

Add Electrolytes to Their Water and Increase Protein

Healing takes a lot of energy, so increase their protein intake during this time. It’s also a good idea to add electrolytes to their water while healing.

Related: 14 Protein Sources for Chickens Your Flock Will Love

Never Remove Blackened Pieces!

Ignore the drive to remove the scabs or dead tissue. This is never a good decision. Typically, the dead tissue will fall off over time, but you don’t want to make it worse for your chicken. Removing the blackened pieces may cause bleeding and pain.

Likewise, never break any blisters on the frostbitten area. Blisters act as natural bandaids, and they protect the tissue underneath.

Keep The Area Clean

You can use a spray like Vetericyn to clean the damaged tissue rather than rubbing it with swabs or cotton pads. It is important to keep the area clean though, or you risk your chicken developing a rooster.

Use Salve or Colloidal Silver

Another option is to treat the frostbitten area with colloidal silver or a homemade salve. Make sure you apply as gently as possible to avoid breaking off pieces of the tissue.

Monitor for Signs of Infections

While it heals, watch for infections for the first week or two. Watch for redness, swelling, oozing, and any discharge that indicates an infection started. Your chicken will need antibiotics to treat the infection.

Seek Vet Care if Needed

If the frostbite is really bad, you might want to consult your vet for help. They might prescribe medication for pain and inflammation. You also want to have a vet on standby in case an infection develops.

At some point, you’ll deal with frostbite on chickens if you live in an area that has cold, snowy, wet winters. Prevention is the first and most important step, but if your chickens still end up with frostbite, pay attention and take good care of them to ensure they heal well.

Share with some of your chicken keeper friends as winter approaches!

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