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Frostbite and Backyard Chickens

Frostbitten wattles and comb
During the winter months, chickens can become prone to frostbite.  Frostbite can occur on combs, wattles and even their feet.  Chickens with larger combs and wattles often are the most susceptible.  Cold hardy breeds, such as Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Australorps, and Silkies tend to have smaller combs.  During colder weather, most chickens will poof out and poof up their head feathers and you will notice that their combs become almost entirely covered by their feathers.  Chickens will also naturally roost in the evening.  When roosting, the chicken's body will cover their feet and toes, keeping them warm from the cold winter air.  These are two ways that chickens' bodies help to prevent frostbite. Yet, sometimes breeds succumb to frostbite for other reasons.

Contributing Factors to Frostbite
Freezing Temperatures
No access to shelter
A coop allows water, rain and snow to leak inside
High humidity in coop from accumulations of droppings, not enough pine shavings
Inadequate ventilation
Large combs and wattles
Inadequate roosting space

Frostbite Prevention
Apply any one of the following: Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly/Bag Balm/Waxelene/Coconut Oil, to their combs and wattles prior to roosting each evening.
Keep the coop dry and weatherproof.
Provide plenty of roosting space for evening use.
Clean the coop as necessary.  Keep the shavings dry and clean.
If using the deep little method, be sure to add plenty of pine shavings on a regular basis to the bedding.
Prevent chickens from spilling their drinking water inside the coop.
Some folks heat their coops, but again, it has do to with the humidity/moisture content of the air.  Plus this can be a fire hazard.

Frostbite Treatment
Depending on the severity of the frostbite, you may need to bring the chicken inside to assess the injury.
Frostbite can put a stress on the chicken's body, add some vitamins and electrolytes to their drinking water or poultry drench. Some say, roosters can even become infertile at this time!
Watch for other chickens pecking at the frostbitten areas.  If this occurs, you may need to create a hospital area for your chicken. Blu-Kote might also deter other chickens from pecking.
If left alone, the frostbitten wattles/combs should turn black, dry up, harden and fall off; leaving behind new skin.
Watch for any signs of infection at the areas of frostbite.  This includes any swelling, increased redness, discharge from the wound, odor and so forth.  If this occurs, try treating the frostbitten area with some Neosporin or Vetericyn.  If the infection appears to be severe, please consult with a veterinarian.
Clean the coop and replace all the shavings.
Re-evaluate the coop's ventilation.
Install spill proof waterers.
Click here to learn how to treat frostbitten feet.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

9 comments:

  1. I had no idea chickens could get frostbite and learned the hard way a few years ago. Here's a link to some before/after pictures of my hens when their combs were frostbitten.
    http://www.the7msnranch.com/2011/03/casualties-of-winter.html

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  2. Our leghorn has paler spots on her comb, and I've been so worried about her! None of the spikes have turned black, and I coated them with Vaseline... only to find that the Vaseline all over her comb traveled to her head and to her back, attracting all the dirt in the yard and making her look like Pigpen from Charlie Brown! :)

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  3. This would have been a very good article for me when I first started to raise chickens. I live in Wisconsin and we get pretty cold winter and my chicken got frostbit. I did learn the step above after some time tho. I will share this article with my readers as I forgot to explain to them that even though chickens are though birds they can still get frostbite. Thanks.

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  4. Thanks for this article! Unfortunately 3 of our blue Andalusian roosters have frostbit wattles:(

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  5. Thanks for the great info. My poor Georgie-boy's (Blue Copper Marans), large comb & wattles look awful because it's been so cold where we live. I put vaseline on him one recent day - he was really upset with me for messing with him, but now I will now do it daily, no matter how much he acts like it's the end of the world! =)

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  6. My Leghorn got frostbite last week very similar to the picture you posted. I keep it cleaned and use vaseline. Will it heal nicely or will there always be a chunk missing? I never had this happen with my Silkies. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Pam, the frostbitten part will probably not grow back but healthy tissue should form underneath. Glad he has you for the TLC. The Silkies have such small combs that their risk is lower.

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  7. I just noticed that one of my California whites has not only frostbitten her comb, the comb is swollen to the point that it is tight and purple! I don't think antibiotic ointment will help - any suggestions on what I should do? There is no veterinarian around here that sees chickens . . . .thanks!

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    1. Oh boy! That breed has larger combs. It sounds like her comb probably froze. I think the best thing that you can do is bring her inside to warmer temperatures and allow it to thaw. Delicately try to massage it to return the blood flow and just give her supportive care for a few days. That tissue might die off. It might turn black and naturally fall off. Let it be unless it looks like it is getting infected. Be sure that her coop's bedding is clean and dry. Humidity and dropping temps and lack of adequate ventilation in the coop all can contribute to this happening again.

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