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How much trouble is a single comb in winter?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Catie79, Nov 23, 2014.

  1. Catie79

    Catie79 Out Of The Brooder

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    Aug 19, 2014
    Mont Vernon, NH
    I live in southern NH. Compared to the family home in MN, I consider this area mild. However, it's getting down to 10 degrees F this week and the average low in January is 9 degrees F with an average high of 30 degrees. Last winter we had snaps with below zero lows. Balmy compared to back home, but I'm given to understand this is considered pretty frigid by most of the country.

    So far I've only had hens and a pea comb cockrel, so not anything I've really had to worry about with frostbite. I wanted to breed a heritage breed for meat and I have 25 red dorkings reserved to arrive this spring. They're just perfect for what we want and if I'm going to devote years to a self sustaining flock, I might as well pick a breed that could use the attention. They're listed as being very cold hardy but have a single comb. This means I'm going to have some single comb roosters to keep over the winter in the future.

    Am I setting myself up for heart break? Is it going to be a full time job keeping the boys safe from frostbite? Do I need to consider changing my selection to a different breed? No other breed quite matches our situation as well as the dorkings, aside from this one little issue. I see that single combs are more prone to frostbite in the winter, but it's all very vague. I'm hoping to hear from others that keep single comb roosters in the more frigid parts of the world. Since exhibition is in my plans, I want to hear how hard it will be to get these boys through the winter with their combs intact.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Pyxis

    Pyxis Dark Sider Premium Member

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    My Coop
    It's not actually the cold that does the combs in, but poor ventilation. If your coop is well ventilated, you don't have a lot to worry about. Frostbite is caused when moisture from the air, like the moisture from the chickens breathing, their manure, etc, settles on the comb, then freezes. With good ventilation, you don't have this moisture. You can also, if worried, put Vaseline on their combs, and this prevents frostbite.
     
  3. MeepBeep

    MeepBeep Chillin' With My Peeps


    This is only half truth, in mild to moderate freezing temps (above 0°F) yes, humidity/moisture in the air plays a significant role in causing frostbite and ventilation helps tremendously if it keeps the humidity below 60%, but as the temps continue to fall into the F° negatives air moisture content plays less and less of a role to the point where it's role can be slim in causing frostbite... In extreme cold (-10°F and cooler) ventilation alone isn't going to do much to prevent frostbite on exposed skin areas if exposed for a long duration...

    Also remember that ventilation can't lower the humidity below the ambient humidity, and believe it or not there are humid winter days ;)
     
    3 people like this.
  4. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri


    I have single and rose comb birds outside that are exposed to winter temperatures in in low to mid negative teens for brief periods. Frost bight then is routine for the single comb birds but greatly reduced for the rose comb birds. Bigger combs are also more prone to frost bite yet even hens can be affected. In my setting the frost bite occurs not when birds are sleeping on roost with head tucked into feathers above wing (see images below), rather when birds are up and about exposed to wind, especially during the early morning hours.



    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    Birds in poor health / nutrition are also more prone to problems. I try to make so birds can retreat to areas behind wind breaks that also have a little sun exposure. Every degree matters on this.



    Mechanism for high humidity causing frostbite under milder conditions is through feathers getting wet and loosing insulatory value, The birds have a harder time keeping core temperature up so the shunt blood flow away from the extremities which makes them more prone to freezing. For this to happen the feathers become visibly wet or frost covered. Another complicating issue early in the winter is the molt when pelage, especially of the head and neck is not yet closed because so many feathers are not completely in.
     
    3 people like this.
  5. lollipopguild

    lollipopguild Out Of The Brooder

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    Mar 13, 2014
    You'll be fine.
     
  6. Catie79

    Catie79 Out Of The Brooder

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    Aug 19, 2014
    Mont Vernon, NH
    Good point on the ambient humidity. Fortunately I live at the top of a foothill, so we're pretty dry. Dry enough that I run a humidifier in winter to prevent nose bleeds, typically around 50% but dip down lower after a front pushes through. I'll actually have more concern in spring when things start to get boggy during melt, then freeze at night. Or this week, since it's raining right now but we'll be getting pretty cold later. The girls are currently out in the rain, running around with the ducks and completely unaffected. The coops have good ventilation and I have a sawz-all that will ensure the ventilation keeps up with the birds coming inside more.

    I think I'll add a humidity/temp unit like I saw you reference in another thread today so I can start tracking it. If I see bad combinations of temp and humidity through the winter, I'll know I'm going to have issues with the single comb boys in the future.
    It's just my luck that all of the heritage breeds that seem perfect for me have single combs. I really wanted to find something with a rose comb or pea comb.

    I've got the run they'll be using over the winter blocked off from wind to prevent snow, so hopefully that will help with the early morning hours. We get some nasty Nor'easters, but that's only a couple times a year. The rest of the time we should be able to manage still air in their protected run. I doubt they'll want their pasture once the snow gets deep.
     
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    I use American Dominiques.
     
  8. Catie79

    Catie79 Out Of The Brooder

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    Mont Vernon, NH
    I looked at the Dominiques, but since I'm looking mostly for meat, the bigger Dorking is a better fit. 9 lbs vs. 7 lbs for an adult rooster is a pretty notable difference.
     
  9. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri


    If you get a chance, then try to compare the two with respect to the amount of edible product relative to time and feed invested. When I eat my roosters as broilers they are considerably shy of the 7 lb cock weight before dressed. Most are in the 4 to 5 lb range which makes for a more tender product.
     
  10. Catie79

    Catie79 Out Of The Brooder

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    Aug 19, 2014
    Mont Vernon, NH
    After a lot of research, I'm going to bow to the fact that my setup isn't ideal. I've been pulling up the averages for my town. While the humidity is, on average, below 50% in the afternoon right through the winter, the relative humidity in the morning is often in the upper 60's while it's 12 degrees out. That's pretty wet when the girls are heading out first thing in the morning. Combine that with the wild temp swings we're rather prone to and I think it's a recipe for disaster for a single comb rooster. If we get a cold snap, there's no way I can get the coop humidity down below 60%. Just today we had a combination of freezing rain and fog. Hard to keep water off of the chickens in this muck, even if there's no condensation in the coop. It was 90% humidity and 46 degrees when they went to bed tonight, tomorrow night it will be 19 degrees with 73% humidity.

    I'll make the sane choice and get something rose comb or pea comb. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Looks like there are white chanteclers near me . . .
     

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