Frostbite and Chickens

By Mountain Peeps · Aug 15, 2014 · Updated Nov 23, 2016 · ·
  1. Mountain Peeps
    Frostbite and Chickens
    Every season brings something different. Excitements and hardships are unique to each season with our flock. In winter, we look forward to watching our chickens deal with snow, decorating their coop with Christmas lights and wreaths, taking pictures with a wintery background, etc. We worry about water freezing, being snowed in, temperatures being too cold, etc. Another major concern that worries many chicken keepers is the issue of frostbite affecting their chickens. Frostbite can cause minor annoyance for a flock or it can be a major problem that must be dealt with immediately, depending on the severity. In this article, we will be taking a look at what frostbite is, how it affects chickens, how to prevent and treat it, along with several other important facts and tips on how to best deal with it.

    The Basics
    Frostbite, defined as, “injury to body tissues caused by exposure to extreme cold, typically affecting appendages and sometimes resulting in gangrene” is clearly not a good thing to have happen to our chickens, or us! It’s painful and very unpleasant. While it is treatable, like most impairments or injuries, it is best to try and prevent frostbite rather than treat it, which you will learn more about further on in this article.

    Frostbite commonly targets and attacks chickens’ feet, combs, and wattles. Chicken breeds with large combs and wattles are thus more prone to frostbite. As you do your research on different breeds, you’ll notice that cold hardy chicken breeds will have tiny combs and wattles, while heat hardy breeds will have substantially larger combs and wattles. Combs and wattles help to regulate body temperature and blood flow. Chickens cannot sweat and therefore must cool themselves through the blood circulation in their combs and wattles. They are thick with blood veins and capillaries, which get cooled by the air around them and then are transferred back to the rest of body, keeping the chicken cool. This of course makes the meaning of the fact obvious why chickens created for hot environments must have bigger combs, and chickens made for the cold have small combs and wattles. The bigger the comb, the easier it is to freeze. Frostbite occurs when the comb freezes and cuts off circulation, which then prevents blood flow.
    While it is pretty clear that cold temperatures cause frostbite, it’s helpful to know what aspects influence the ability for frostbite to occur. Poor coop ventilation, wind chills, lack of shelter, moisture buildup in the henhouse, constant exposure to snow, and lack of a heat source in the extreme cold are all variables that aid the probability of frostbite.

    To help prevent frostbite, one could logically conclude that, from the previously stated information, it is best to provide chickens with a proper shelter from the cold with appropriate furnishings and ventilation. If you live in a cold area, make sure to pick the chickens breeds with smaller combs, i.e. Brahmas, Easter Eggers, Orpingtons, Cochins, Faverolles, Sussex, etc.

    Make sure to line the henhouse with plenty of warm, thick bedding, such as straw. This will keep the chickens warmer as well as provide entertainment for them. Be sure to watch for moisture buildup in the bedding though, as when wet bedding freezes, it becomes a breeding ground for the formation of frostbite. Keep the nests stocked with warm bedding too. If necessary, provide a heat lamp for your birds. Heat lamps can also keep hens laying longer in the winter, due to the addition of extra light. However, heat lamps are a fire hazard so make sure, if you do install one, that you do so in an appropriate location in the coop, where the chickens cannot reach it.

    When it comes to proper ventilating the coop, it is ideal to put in 1 square foot per bird of venting in the roof. Split it half and half on either side of the ceiling, one vent higher than the other. You don't want any venting near the floor, as this will create drafts. Proper venting makes it possible for the moist air from the chickens to rise into this positive air coming in through the lower vent and out the upper vent. Birds themselves put out heat. So they literally are roosting in a nice warm bubble of air. The moist air rises and goes out these vents. You don't want to disturb this air space around the birds with drafts, so make sure to seal up all cracks a foot or two above the birds.
    Venting can be worked on those cold winter nights by closing off some of the lower vents to slow air movement in the coop. You never want to close off the higher vents though. You will not retain much heat by closing off the vents, but you will keep the birds drier, especially if it is a bitterly cold. Hot air meeting cold air creates condensation, so keep the air moving to prevent this. If the coop is not adequately ventilated, all the moisture is going to rise up to the ceiling since warm air rises, and if it has no place to go, it will fall back down on the birds, making them very cold and uncomfortable.

    You can try and prevent frostbitten feet by shoveling snow to make a path for the chickens to walk on. Also, provide your birds with wide roosts. If you use 2x4s, they should be positioned so that the chickens sleep on the 4” side. Chickens, unlike other birds, actually prefer to sleep flat-footed. When they do this, their feathers cover their feet entirely, and their toes aren’t left uncovered.

    The visible signs of frostbite include:

    •Black or blue spots on the comb, wattles, or feet

    •Blisters/swelling in these areas


    •Inability to stand


    Feet: If you discover one of your chickens with frostbitten feet, you should act quickly. First, bring the chicken inside or to a warmer area. Take extreme caution when bringing a chicken into a very warm room when she has just been outside in the cold. The sudden change in temperature can further damage her system and nerves. Soak her feet with warm water to wake up the circulation, and then apply Vaseline, coconut oil, or Neosporin. Keep her in a box or crate with a towel or other warm object. Depending on how bad your chicken has frostbite, her foot may lose enough tissue that she may be lame for the rest of her life. However if her feet are only partly frozen, then they should blister. This is a great sign. Do not pop the blisters or worry if they ooze green or yellow fluid. Soon the blisters should fall off, revealing new skin.


    Comb and Wattles:
    If your chicken contracts frostbite on its comb or wattles, rub the same substances on them as you would for its foot. As long as they aren’t badly damaged, the chicken should be fine, as the frostbitten areas will turn black and eventually fall off, displaying new skin. Never try and cut the black spots or tips off! Healing can take anywhere from a few days to more than 6 weeks. Rubbing coconut oil or Vaseline on these areas does not prevent frostbite, but it can help tremendously.

    Sometimes, in extreme cases, frostbite can leave a chicken lame or cause certain parts of the infected area to permanently be discolored. Because frostbite can cause parts of the body to literally shrivel and fall off, your chicken could potentially lose a limb or part of its comb or wattles. Surprisingly, chickens can function with the loss of a limb or toes, but they will also have a high likelihood of becoming subject to bullying by the other flock members. You will need to provide an area of protection for that bird for the remainder of its life or be prepared to cull that bird.

    You can use certain herbs with your flock that aid in blood circulation as well. Cayenne Pepper, Lavender, and Garlic all help with circulation and blood flow and are great herbs to use in the winter, regardless of whether your birds have frostbite or not. You can give them to your flock fresh or dried. You can sprinkle them on the ground, in the nest boxes, or add them to the feed.

    Frostbite is not fun to deal with. But, don’t lose hope; it is treatable and hardly ever fatal. As long as you keep your chickens dry and warm in a safe, properly ventilated coop with lots of bedding, food to eat, and water to drink, they should be fine. If they do still contract frostbite, treat it as soon as possible. Prevent against it using the tactics discussed in this article. Your flock will thank you!

    Further reading:

    Photo credits:

    Share This Article

    Sally Sunshine likes this.


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. jakeopatty
    Help! My hen has blueberry size wattles and on her right side below her eye! Frostbite is what she has anyone know what to do to decrease the swelling? I've tried the warm rag but now she's resting in our house warm. What do I do now!!!
  2. CuteChicks4Life
    MY hens got some frost bite on their combs, looks as if they will lose some of the comb tips.. Will this effect their future laying abilities in some way? I know when Roosters freeze their combs it can effect them, so I was curious if it would do anything to the hens.
    1. Mountain Peeps
      It may put a halt on egg laying while they have frostbite. But, once they have healed, it shouldn't affect their laying abilities in the future.
      CuteChicks4Life likes this.
  3. tarahharlin
    Great article! Thank you!
  4. WoodsysChickens
    It was -30 here, and my problem chicken, (she always has something wrong with her, but is layer so I tend to her) went and go frostbite on her bad foot. I noticed it yesterday and looked it up right away and got her inside and warm and this morning her foot is already half back to normal. Thinking its because it's her bad foot. Because my coop is ventilated and the floor is dry. I will still be changing out their roost though to 2x4. But none of my other chickens have any signs or symptoms. Maybe jealously because once again Princess gets to be inside for the rest of winter with her own food and water. She may be doing it on purpose.
  5. Liz C
    It plunged below zero here the week before, took me off guard too. My guys are in a closed in wood shed with lots of hay on the ground, they have a smaller nesting box with clean fine flake shavings and straw for night that I cover to keep the elements out. I am sure it happened in the day, just a little frostbite on the two with the biggest combs and waddles,this article popped up a day late but I think the initial vaseline coating and now on cold days I use the bagbalm(keep it near the woodstove or someplace warm so its soft going on) I felt pretty bad too.Hope your guy is ok .
  6. hhartsong
    Thank you so much, I'm just worried about what to put on him because I can tell by looking at it he must be in pain, and really hope I can find something that also has an analgesic in it.
  7. Liz C
    I would bet a tube of neosporin like you would use on yourself would help if its getting infected,....bring it in somewhere where you can maybe spray Vetericyn on it (search the name if you never used it) but because it's a wet spray I think I would put the chicken in a dry warm place for awhile and then use the bagbalm or neosporin to coat it. Veteric
  8. hhartsong
    What brand of antibiotic ointment do you recommend to treat frostbite on a Roosters comb and wattle?
  9. Liz C
    opting for bag balm instead but praying for warmer temperatures!!!
  10. Liz C
    great article, I am opting for bag balm instead
  11. BigRedRoo
    Id like to start of by saying this was and is a great arctical. I just have one problem with it. I saved a couple of chickens Last year one of them had frostbite so bad on her toes that thier was no saving them. They shriveld up and fell off two months after I got her. She has been named Toes now because of her lack of toes. She does just fine scavaging and dusting and even roosting. This was cause because the guy use a ladder for a rooting rail and she was unable to cover the tips of her toes. Shes not lame nor was she when she came to me. Chickens are interesting creatures and can over come some pritty remarkable obstacles.
  12. cluckcluckgirl
  13. Mountain Peeps
    Thanks to you all!
  14. sunflour
    Great article, thanks for posting.
  15. lil red hen
    you guys are so awesome just jumped on to ask this question and you already have the answer thanks!
  16. Henna56
    thanks following this advice and so far so good and it has been -28 !!!
  17. Book Em Danno25
  18. Acornewell
  19. familyfarm1
    very helpful!
  20. Yorkshire Coop
    Excellent article! Thankyou. I've just had my first case and it has helped me very much.
  21. Chickenchick11
    Good article Mountain Peeps.[​IMG]
  22. Frindizzle
  23. MyPetNugget
    Great post! I've been having problems with frostbite this past winter and now I know how to really deal with it. Thanks so much!
  24. TwoCrows
    Very informative article describing how to prevent and treat frostbite! Great job!
      Jharris3 likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: