FROSTBITE IN CHICKENS
In the frigid winter months we all worry about different aspects in our flock. Water freezing, eggs freezing, wind chills, etc. Frostbite is a big concern also. Frostbite can attack chickens in three, main areas; their combs, their wattles and their feet. The most common area effected is the comb. Some chicken breeds have smaller combs which helps prevent the probability of frostbite. But, all chickens can get frostbite.
What is it?
Frostbite can be defined as, "injury to body tissues caused by exposure to extreme cold."
What causes it?
Frostbite can be caused by a number of things. The most common causes include:
-Wetness/moisture mixed with cold temperatures
-Poor or lack of shelter
Moisture collected on the comb and wattles equals frostbite when mixed with the cold. Wind chills caused by a drafty living area also can cause frostbite. It's imperative that you build your chicken coop so that there is ventilation. Poor ventilation results in high humidity levels due to the flock's breath and droppings. This is another cause of frostbite.You need good venting in your coop ceiling to rid the coop air of all this unwanted, moist air. If you don't put in good ventilation, during those really cold winter nights, all this 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 as water or frost making your birds very cold and uncomfortable. The ideal way to create good venting is 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. This will create drafts. So what really does this do? It makes it so the moist air from the chickens slowly rises into this positive air coming in 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 above the birds a foot or two. 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. 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 night and you use heat lamps. Hot air meeting cold air creates condensation, so keep the air moving to prevent this. If you live in a very cold climate then you'll need to insulate your coop too.
Frostbitten feet is caused by damp litter mixed with cold temperatures. I had a hen who slept on the floor one night in 12 degree weather. In the morning she couldn't even stand as a result of the waterer leaking on the bedding combined with the cold. She is now permanently weak in her left foot. So, be sure to keep bedding dry in the winter. Frozen feet also can be caused by too thin of a roost. For example: if you have 2x4 roosts, they should be positioned so the chickens sleep on the 4" side. This insures that they cover their feet entirely when they sleep which will help prevent frostbite.
The symptoms of frostbite are many.
-Color change (blue and black are the most common)
-Blisters (good sign)
-Unable to stand
How to treat it
Frostbite actually can heal itself as long as it is not too severe. You must make sure not to massage the frozen areas, not to cut off the blackened areas, (only cut the frozen areas off if they become infected) and NOT put direct or sudden heat on the areas as this will just damage the nerves further. Toes/Feet Frostbite in the feet will become discolored and swollen if severe enough. If there is infection, the swelling will feel hot. In such cases the chicken will not be able to even move her toes or stand up. To treat frostbitten feet you'll need to wash them with lukewarm water. First, bring the chicken in from the cold but into the coolest place in the house so that she warms up slowly and doesn't burn up. Once she has gotten used to the warmth, wash her feet with epsom salt. Keep her isolated in a box with towels and lots of water. Healing can take anywhere from a day to a couple months. If your bird got frostbite bad enough and you didn't treat it early then, sadly, the frostbitten parts will shrivel up and fall off resulting in a lame chicken. Wattles and Combs Like I mentioned before, frostbite is more common in roosters but if the temperatures are bad enough and/or the coop is built poorly then hens as well as pullets and cockerels can get frostbite just as easily too.The frostbitten areas will sometimes may appear swollen, blackened or discolored. They also may be cracked and bleeding. The best way to treat this is coat the combs or wattles with an antibiotic ointment after you wash it. You may need to keep the bird isolated for a short bit of time until it either stops bleeding or the discolored areas go away. How to prevent it
-Keep your chickens warm and in a coop with ventilation and dry bedding
-Rub vaseline or coconut oil on their combs and wattles every night (vaseline and coconut oil will not prevent frostbite entirely but it helps protect tissue)
-Prevent drafts in coop
-Provide lots of water
-Use wide roosting bars so that the chickens sleep with flat feet
-Choose chicken breeds with smaller combs (chickens will large combs get frostbite much more easily and frequently than breeds with small combs)
-Prevent water spillage. (If the water hangs consider putting it on a brick so that it can't spill as easily)
-Monitor your chickens
Frostbite is a very bad and painful problem in chickens. But with the correct care, frostbite can be prevented and treated. The key is warmth, dryness and ventilation.
Helpful sources https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/...-go-out-there-and-cut-more-holes-in-your-coop https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/winter-coop-temperatures Have questions or comments? Feel free to PM me.