Help with Frostbite, Alaska coop

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by WinterLadyAK, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. WinterLadyAK

    WinterLadyAK Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'll start by saying I've just spent a few hours reading frostbite posts, and am just not sure they answered my questions. Generally they say to keep them dry and well ventilated, I think I'm doing these things, but maybe with specific photos someone can help me further and point out specifics of where I'm going wrong. I live in southcentral Alaska, and this is my first winter with chickens.

    I just came home from 9 days away for work, and found my roo and two of my hens have black tips on their combs. Pretty sure it's frostbite. It just looks black on the rooster, but one of my buff plymouth rocks has some white puffiness under one of her black tips. My husband didn't seem to notice, so I don't have any information about how it developed really. So here's some info, it's dark so no pics of the chickens black tips but looks just like the dozens of other posts I've seen that are frostbite.

    I have 12 hens and 1 rooster. Mostly plymouth rocks, with 3 light brahmas and 3 silkies. The coop is 8x8 walk in, with the front about 9' high and the back about 5' high. It's a foot or so off the ground. Floor, walls, and ceiling are all insulated. I have lots of windows in it for summer ventilation, but they've been closed up for several months. The ventilation I have left are two vents on the north and south sides of the coop at the very top front, and then an 8 foot long strip along the high front side. Photos below are during coop construction.

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    So, I thought I had plenty ventilation, and the summer went great. Now I'm starting to wonder. I have yet to see ANY frost or condensation inside the coop. Their poop is always frozen though, not sure if this is good (less fumes/moisture?) or bad (freezes fast so shows it's cold in there?). The pic below shows where their roost is, and also that I'm using sand for the bedding. I've spent literally days reading posts about how cold sand is, and I will probably be putting down hay over the sand soon, but thus far their feet are all doing just fine, and since the sand seems to retain a lot of the moisture I don't think that is a problem with the frostbitten combs.

    [​IMG]
    Temperatures. It's gotten down to about 0F, with windchill it's been down to -12F. The shot above with the sand is taken from the pop door, which has remained open in all except the coldest nights before I left (I'm assuming my husband never closed the door). When it's open, it does have this arctic entry for them pictured below, and the roof of that is insulated to retain heat.

    [​IMG]

    Other possible problems... using a bucket nipple waterer? Are they getting water on their combs and it's freezing? Is my ventilation just woefully inadequate already? I know you can really never have too much, but unless I lower the roost I don't see where I could put more even if I did feel like cutting holes into my finished insulated coop. Should I not be letting them free range in the snow? Their run is 10x20 and covered, but I like to let them out when I get home from work for a few hours, and they're out all day on the weekends.

    The other weird thing is WHO has the frostbite. The partridge plymouth rock roo has it on his obviously huge comb, but so do the two buff rocks, and they have just average sized combs. My barred rocks have the largest combs and no sign of frostbite. I will be paying attention to where they're sleeping now that I'm home and aware of the problem, but any tips/suggestions would be much appreciated. We haven't gotten any eggs in a few days, we had been getting about 7 a day before I left. Light is definitely diminishing, right now we just have a light bulb in the coop that's on for 2 hours in the a.m. and 2 in the evening.

    Thanks in advance for reading and posting!!
     
  2. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Your coop is spectacular, and you are doing wonderful work with your birds. You have plenty of ventilation. The role of excess moisture causing frostbite has been way over emphasized, IMO. It's the effect of extreme cold on appendages with a lot of surface area relative to volume. The bottom line is that if the cold overwhelms the ability of the animal's circulation to keep the tissue warm, frostbite occurs. Even if it's bone dry. As I am sure you know in AK, people can get frostbitten fingers, toes, ears, noses....even in low humidity conditions. So can other animals.

    You mention you have brahmas, and they do not have frostbite. I would recommend keeping only birds, such as brahmas (and wyandottes, chanteclers, etc), with low, thick combs, in an unheated coop in an extremely cold climate like yours.

    Your single comb birds are all at risk. Those with the largest single combs TEND to get it first, but each bird is an individual, and some will have better circulation in their combs than others, just as some people have better circulation in their fingers, than do other people.
     
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  3. Huntress78

    Huntress78 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    The parallel roosts should help them huddle and hold in heat but I wonder if the chickens next to the window are warm enough. Warm humid air around the chickens clashing with cold air off the glass might be the problem. Maybe try covering the glass with foamboard insulation for the winter....cover the foamboard with plywood or do it from the outside so the chickens don't eat it.
     
  4. WinterLadyAK

    WinterLadyAK Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you both for your replies. I tried getting only the cold-hardiest breeds, but
    I will try covering the window, haven't seen any frost on it yet but still a good idea. I just feel like it hasn't been nearly as cold as it's going to get, so it really worries me that they're already showing signs of damage!
     
  5. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    You said you have rocks, silkies, and brahmas. Plymouth rocks are cold hardy in terms of feathering and body shape and size, but they do have those single combs, and are therefore vulnerable to frostbite. I wouldn't keep any single comb breed in AK. Brahmas are very cold hardy and a great choice for your area. As for silkies, I have read numerous times that they are one of the less cold hardy breeds, because their feathers don't insulate as well as "normal" feathers. I wouldn't even raise silkies here in Mass., where our winters are nothing like yours. Trust me - in the future, choose chunky breeds with normal feathers and with rose, pea, or walnut combs, and they will handle your winters better.
     
  6. WinterLadyAK

    WinterLadyAK Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 14, 2012
    Palmer, Alaska
    Thought of something else to add... there is no water in the coop. Both food and water are currently in the covered run, so those wouldn't be adding any increased humidity to the coop.
     
  7. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Your management practices seem excellent to me. It's just so darn cold up there, that you are likely to have trouble with frost bite on single combs no matter how low the humidity is. Look into chanteclers next time you buy chicks. They were bred in Canada specifically to withstand extreme cold.
     
  8. WinterLadyAK

    WinterLadyAK Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 14, 2012
    Palmer, Alaska
    HELP! So it's now been 3 weeks and temperatures haven't risen above zero for more than a day, and when they do it's just to +3 or something like that. We get zero eggs most days, and 1 egg every third day from my favorite Plymouth Rock. Most of the hens now have some sort of frostbite except the plymouth rock and the Brahmas. The rooster is in pretty bad shape, lots of frostbite on the comb and even his wattles aren't looking in the best shape.

    I started monitoring the temperatures inside my nice fancy insulated ventilated coop, and to my horror they were only 2-5 degrees warmer than outside temps. Now I think I have probably too much ventilation for the subzero temperatures, but I was so worried about frostbite due to high humidity and lack of ventilation that I didn't even think about closing down some of it until recently. I read so many posts saying "it's not the cold, chickens do fine in the cold" but in my case that's not what I'm observing. The humidity has never been above 60% in the coop, and is generally 10% less than what it is outside. I'm not sure if that makes sense to me or not, but I bought two of the same fancy digital outdoor thermometers and have one inside the coop and one out in the covered run.

    I did finally cover the windows, I made a sort of ice cream sandwich with cardboard and fiberglass insulation, and then fitted them snugly inside each window. This took pretty much all day Sunday, so I'm dismayed that it seemed to make zero difference on the temperature differential, my time would've perhaps been better spent decreasing the vents.

    So yesterday when it dropped below -15 outside I finally gave them a heat lamp. The temperature differential is not around 12 degrees, so when it was -16 in the run it was -4 in the coop. My neighbor just told me it'll be -32 when I get home today, so I'm really worried and looking for ideas on how to quickly (I don't do well at -32 either) close off some of the vents. Please look at my pictures I posted above and offer any suggestions you might have. I'm unsure of whether I should close off the side vents or the front ceiling vents, or some of both. We partially blocked off the side vents yesterday morning (hastily, in the dark, before heading to work). Also any creative ideas about what sort of removable way to close off vents would be appreciated, I'm sort of thinking of filling a bag with bubble wrap for now and sticking those up there, though probably buying some foamboard insulation and cutting it to size and placing it up there would be better. I didn't make any wood panels that close up as I really thought I'd almost always need this much ventilation as I didn't quite have the 1 square foot per chicken that was recommended, and am not used to having temperatures THIS cold for THIS long.

    Thank you in advance if you can help me!!
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2012
  9. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm not good with construction and materials (my husband does all that stuff), but I would try to close all but the ceiling vents. That should be enough ventilation. That's what I do on the coldest and windiest days of winter here. Where is your thermometer located, relative to the heat lamp?

    Place the heat lamp, if possible, directly over their roosting area And, if necessary, add a second one, so they can all have their heads in the warm air under the lamp. Since the nights are so long in winter, they spend most of their time roosting, so if you just provide enough heat over the roost, it might cut down on the comb frostbite a lot. I'm sorry you fell prey to that stuff about humidity. Extreme cold is extreme cold.
     
  10. WinterLadyAK

    WinterLadyAK Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 14, 2012
    Palmer, Alaska
    The indoor thermometer is located right next to the roost. Last night I closed up as much of the ventilation I could by sticking all the random leftover pieces of foamboard insulation up there. The temperature differential is now up to 10 degrees indoor to outdoor, but that still puts it below zero in the coop even WITH the heat lamp. The heat lamp is pointed out at the roost, the first pic I posted in my first post shows the general area where it's located, attached to the beam, on the other side of the door. So it's a few feet away from them, I didn't want it too close for their protection and that seemed the best place to secure the fixture (it's usually just a lightbulb in there).

    Tonight I'm going to Lowes and I'm going to get another sheet of the foamboard, I figure placing the reflective side in might help trap some heat also, and I can cut the pieces to fit in each slot between the roof beams, then just place them in from the outside so they'll be pretty easy to remove. I think I'm going to cover both side vents and half of the top ones, then monitor the humidity in the coop and go from there. After covering up a bunch of it last night it still didn't break 60% in there.
     

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