Frostbite and Protecting Combs

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Hayduke27, Oct 4, 2013.

  1. Hayduke27

    Hayduke27 Songster

    Apr 11, 2013
    Gunnison, CO
    Let me start by saying I have taken the time to read through the ample postings on cold weather chicken keeping, and already have a good grasp on the basics on keeping chickens in cold weather. This will be my first winter with chickens, and where I live the temps get to -30 several times during the winter. We can go weeks at a time when it never gets above 0. It's the real kind of cold. Our one saving grace is that there is virtually no humidity, it's a very dry cold.

    My chickens have a nice, dry, draft-free coop and run with good ventilation. I am using the Deep Litter Method for added warmth. The coop is in an unheated garage, and I had planned on minimal use of supplemental heating. The temperatures in the coop will drop to the outside temperature during the night.

    I have talked to fellow chicken keepers in the area, and I am sure my birds will be fine, other than just one thing: FROSTBITE. I only have one chicken with really large comb and waddles, a Welsummer rooster. I spoke with a woman yesterday who has been keeping chickens in my area for a very long time, and she said that he would almost certainly get frostbite on this comb. She said that it doesn't seem to bug them too much, and that the comb just freezes up, dies, and falls off. After this, they are fine I guess.

    Is there another way? I have heard that petroleum jelly can help, but what about at -30F? I am not against plugging in the heat lamp from their brooder (I have made considerations regarding the fire hazard). Would this be enough, or would it even make a difference?
  2. Wyandottes7

    Wyandottes7 Crowing

    Jul 24, 2013
    Your rooster probably will get frostbite. Roosters with large single combs are at the most risk, especially in below zero temperatures. You can try putting some vaseline on, but I don't think it will work at that temperature. I've used vaseline in temperatures around 20 degrees, and even then, it often doesn't work.

    Putting a heat lamp above the roost might help. However, it won't help if he doesn't sleep right beneath it I've tried heat lamps before, and they work somewhat, but don't always prevent frostbite.

    At -30 degrees, it is pretty likely that your rooster will experience frostbite, even if provided with vaseline on his comb and a heat lamp. Frostbite isn't usually too dangerous, though it is best if they don't get frostbite at all. After the first winter or so, he likely won't get frostbite again, as the vulnerable areas will have been frostbitten and fallen off the previous year.
  3. chfite

    chfite Songster

    Jun 7, 2011
    Taylors, SC
    I haven't noticed frostbite here, but my rooster has had damage to his comb in the past. I believe that it is from raking it against the ceiling of the coop. The damaged parts are confined to the tips of the comb. These have simply grown back. I don't know if this applies or not, just my experience.

  4. Hayduke27

    Hayduke27 Songster

    Apr 11, 2013
    Gunnison, CO
    I have a side question to add to this discussion:

    It's gotten down to 11 degrees so far, which hasn't had any adverse effect on the chickens. How cold does it have to get before I should start worrying about frostbite? Does it have to be below 0? My coop is still very dry, draft free, and there are windows to let sun in during the day. I suspect it stays warmer in there than outside air temp at night, but I need to check that out still. I have a thermometer in there, I'll check early on some cold mornings.
  5. Janet Pesaturo

    Janet Pesaturo Chirping

    Sep 30, 2013
    Bolton, MA, USA
    I don't know exactly how cold it will have to get before you see frostbite; it depends on the surface area and thickness of the comb, and the individual bird's circulation within the comb. But I do agree that he will very likely get frostbite, and maybe the hens a bit, too, if they have single combs. It tends to reduce a rooster's fertility and is probably painful. For your climate, in the future I would look into breeds with low, thick combs. Vulnerability to frostbite is a high surface area to volume ratio type thing.
  6. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    The dryness is more in your favor. I had a roo loose the tips of his comb last year, but it really didn't bother him. Chickens do put off a lot of moisture, along with body heat, so ventilation is very important. We are dry here, but when I open up the house in the morning, it can be fairly humid in the coop, I might need better ventilation, myself.

    However, mild frostbite is mostly a cosmetic thing, did not bother my boy at all.

    However, in the really cold weather, I use a black rubber bowl to water them with, and I noticed that he was always dipping his wattles in the water when he drank, and they did get a frostbit too.

    At -30, you will need to significantly up your feed, as birds in cold temperatures, (we are routinely below 20 degrees several times a winter) need a great deal of energy. Feeding just before dark, so they go to bed with full crops is a good tactic too. That much cold, frostbite might be the least of your worries, keeping them alive needs to be a concern too..... and more high quality, high energy feed will be needed.

    Mrs K
  7. Bogtown Chick

    Bogtown Chick Crowing

    Mar 31, 2012
    Northern Minnesota
    My Coop
    Hayduke: At -30 F -- dry or moist cold -- your going to get damage on that large combed breed of rooster. Especially if it stays at that for 2,3, days --a week... Last winter for us was not typical in that those sorts of temps were more the norm than the exception unfortunately. Cold is cold. And extended periods of it are wearing on the birds. Sure they came through okay as a whole...but on those bitter early mornings--going down to the coop...I saw them shift uncomfortable and leary of what was going on. They didn't act themselves.

    A Brooder lamp set up in an uninsulated coop might bring that coop up to -10 when it's -30 out...So no worry in making your birds' less winter hardy for a day or two. Do put the lamp in and double triple secure it at different points of the lamp to make sure it doesn't create a fire hazard. There are also some other--bit more expensive heat lamps available for those days but for $30 it might be worth it to avoid the risk of fire.

    This was my experience last winter with my large combed variety rooster: I had lots of support and extra chit-chat on there, [​IMG], but it was nice to get it all down and let folks know what they could expect or is possible.

    What I'm going to different this year is create some pop in insulation boards covered with 1/4 paneling so the insulation foam doesn't get eaten by chickens. I'll start with the north and west walls and go from there. And hopefully I won't need the lamp at all.

    My roo is already dubbed by mother nature now--I'm not sure if you want your Rooster to go through it or not. If not you might have to consider the insulation and a bit of heat. IMHO.

    Best to you
    Bogtown Chick
    1 person likes this.
  8. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I have birds in high risk of frost bite which with high risk individuals I resort to dubbing which is done about now. It is not a pleasant process but is effective. Dubbing does not result in the secondary infections associated with frostbite.

    For me greatest risk of frostbite is during day rather than during the colder night. During day birds move about with comb exposed and feet in contact with very cold ground resulting in both surfaces being more exposed even though the birds metabolism is higher. At night birds settle down over their feet and tuck at least their wattles if not comb as well under part of the wing next to the secondary feathers. Make so birds can walk about in dry material like straw while the loaf which is bulk of day during periods of extreme cold.

    Somebody needs to investigate use of a heated roost pole or something like a dog heating pad. I am pretty sure birds will find warmer locations to stand and possibly roost during periods of extreme cold. I am beginning to suspect they can see heat or they are at least good at finding warmer locations.
  9. Hayduke27

    Hayduke27 Songster

    Apr 11, 2013
    Gunnison, CO
    Thanks everybody for your replies. Bogtown Chick, your link was very helpful. Somebody in there brought up Bag-Balm. Has anybody ever tried putting this on combs and waddles? The person suggesting it said it is way better than petroleum jelly. I read that it is thicker, stays in longer, and protects everything from water and humidity as well.

    centrachid- I had not thought about the fact that some good, dry surfaces on the ground outside could really be helpful. I think maybe after it snows, I'll shovel their area out and spread some straw around. They certainly hate touching snow!
  10. Hayduke27

    Hayduke27 Songster

    Apr 11, 2013
    Gunnison, CO
    Oh, and Mrs. K, I have food available to them at all times, and I also plan on having a lot of scratch on hand. Full crops are going to be essential I think!

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