How to Prevent/Stop Comb Frostbite and Comb Pecking?

Eelantha

Songster
Mar 11, 2018
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Quebec (Qc)
I'm not sure which is happening to three of my chickens, so I want to solve both problems at once.

Here's the situation behind this:

Due to a recurring problem of high humidity inside the isolated, non-heated coop (hydrometer shows 72-78% - the walls and windows are covered in frost), I suspect comb frostbite is starting to affect my hens. Three of them show crusty red and sometimes black spots near the tips of the combs (no swelling though). I do have some difficulty telling the right color of the crusty bits, as the hens don't like my looking at their combs and will turn their heads every which way to ward me off. The rooster (a beautiful Cream Crested Legbar), amazingly, has lived through several frost-threatening nights without any frostbite to his enormous comb or wattles.

Flock-wise, the dynamic of the group isn't at its best. I have two 'clans' inside my flock - two EE sisters of around 8 months old versus my six other chickens, all 6 and a half months old. My attempts to integrate them together at a young age have not completely worked - the sisters tolerate the others, but they also bully them. Their bossy attitudes has infected the younger hens, and I've seen some of them peck each other viciously several times on a daily basis. This seems to occur most often around food and at roosting time. Last week one of my hens was downright missing a comb spike - I'd freaked out thinking it was comb frostbite, but tiny blood splatters near the floor on a perch pillar make me think that another hen bit at her comb savagely when the wounded one refused to move out of her way, most probably because the immobile hen had been experiencing the laying of her first egg that very same day. (she'd done it on the floor instead of in the nestbox.)

So, knowing all of this, I'm not sure how to tackle one problem without encroaching into the other. Vaseline seems the prized choice against comb frostbite on BYC, even though opinions differ far and wide on the matter. Knowing my hens' tendency to peck each other, putting Vaseline on their combs means they could also ingest it. Is Vaseline safe to use in such cases, or can I use another, more natural product that would protect the combs from frostbite and keep my chickens from accidentally poisoning themselves?

(If Vaseline is the best/only option, then how thick must the layer of Vaseline be on the comb so it doesn't get frostbitten or look potentially edible to other chickens? And how many times a day/night must I re-apply it in such high humidity conditions, to keep the comb/wattles safe at all times?)

Behavior-wise, a protein deficiency might explain in part the tetchy temper of my flock. I've taken a look at the grower feed we have here in Quebec and noticed that crude proteins are around 1,10% below Purina levels, which stand at 18% for growing pullets (the current brand I own has 16,89%). I've read in another thread that it is better to keep the flock on grower feed at all times (with extra calcium in a separate bowl) rather than layer feed, as the extra calcium within the layer feed causes a bunch of problems to non-laying chickens in the long run. I want to try that here since I currently have only 1 laying hen (my wounded sweetheart) out of the flock, plus a rooster. However since the protein levels of my brand don't match Purina's brands, what food scraps/treats could I give my hens in the meantime to fill out that deficiency (and hopefully calm them down), until I find a better brand of grower feed?

Also, all my 7 hens are old enough to lay, even if most of them seem in no hurry to start. Could hormonal spikes in relation to the approaching point of lay be the cause behind the irritable tempers and thus, induce comb pecking? I'm asking this because the rooster is ironically the only one with a cool head right now, even though mounting his ladies is still his favorite pastime. Not even he is spared from the pecking; he's quickly learnt to dart away from the more aggressive hens (my two EEs) after making a move on them, so the feathers at the base of his tail are a bit, ah, out of order as a result.

For the high humidity problem: a lack of ventilation (landlady originally built it without one) and open-air water bucket are the principal causes behind it, I think. The unusually warm winter we've been having also complicates matters - we have melting temps instead of two digit temps. I've bought high humidity-absorbing sachets to try and make a dent in the hovering moisture, but my hydrometer says that battle is far from won. As soon as financially possible, the water bucket will be replaced by a closed-off, heated waterer with nipples, and if my wallet allows it in the future (and if landlady says yes) then I will get a few holes in the walls of the coop for ventilation. The only other place for high amounts of humidity in the coop is the poop board, and this one I do my best to clean daily. I also keep a close eye on the bedding to ensure it doesn't add to the humidity.

So, um, yeah. Lots of problems to solve, all threatening the single combs of my poor chickens. Vaseline and a higher protein diet are my main short-term answer to comb frostbite and comb pecking until I can solve both long-term, but did I miss anything else problem/solution-wise? What would you guys look for in my place, and how would you solve your problems? Thanks in advance for the answers!
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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I've bought high humidity-absorbing sachets to try and make a dent in the hovering moisture, but my hydrometer says that battle is far from won.
Yeah, the sachets are not going to do a thing.
HyGrometers can be used inside and outside the coop to measure the difference, they should pretty much match or you need more ventilation. You can't make the inside of the coop drier than the outside.

Crowding and integration issues can cause behavioral problems as well as make it harder to keep the humidity balanced.
Dimensions and a few pics of your coop, inside and out, may garner some solutions.
Tho if you don't own the building, might be hard to make any mods.
 

Eelantha

Songster
Mar 11, 2018
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Quebec (Qc)
Yeah, the sachets are not going to do a thing.
HyGrometers can be used inside and outside the coop to measure the difference, they should pretty much match or you need more ventilation. You can't make the inside of the coop drier than the outside.
Shoot, I'd really hoped the sachets would work. I'll try and buy a second hydrometer to put outside the coop for future notes, then.

Crowding and integration issues can cause behavioral problems as well as make it harder to keep the humidity balanced.
I really hope I won't have to start over from scratch again...

Dimensions and a few pics of your coop, inside and out, may garner some solutions.
The coop is 5 feet large x 11 feet long, possibly 12. I have 8 chickens; 1 rooster, 6 pullets and 1 laying hen.

Here's some pics for visual refs:

IMG_1582.JPG
The Plymouth hen by the tube feeder is my wounded sweetheart and sole layer; the wheaten one to the left of the pic is one of my bossy EEs, Princess Sally. The black EE below is her older sister and reigning hen, Her Majesty the Queen Esmeralda.

IMG_1583.JPG
The poop board, with the upper perch placed under two heat lamps for cold nights, that I've switched on for the pictures. The grey-taped perches are a little experiment of mine; they were made to ward off any mites that like to hide in wood structures, stop poop from soaking into the wood & ease their cleaning, and hopefully prevent bumblefoot via hidden wood splinters. It's all been working very well so far, and the hens seem to like the grip the grey tape gives them. The poop board has a smooth HDPE sheet of plastic I'd found back in the scrap pile of the shed. Behind the poop board, two lionleum-covered plywood panels are bolted into the linoleum-covered wall, ready to be lifted up and locked into place by the brown braces if I decide to unfold my mini-heated coop. Of course, the poop board and current roosting perch will have to be removed first before I can unfold the mini-coop.

IMG_1584.JPG
One of the front panels of the mini-coop, currently folded back above a brown brace. One of the two heat lamps can be seen at the top of the picture. Queen Esmeralda likes to be photoshot, I think.

IMG_1585.JPG

The second front panel, this one unfolded and with the window door open to prevent any chicken from being tempted into flying to the tablet where the humidity-absorbing sachet lies.

IMG_1586.JPG

The two plastic no-waste tube feeders are mounted on bricks and serve as steps for the chickens to access the roost and vice-versa.

IMG_1587.JPG

Improvised nest box in the upper left corner after my plymouth refused the previous one; it has bricks at the bottom for weight, with a blanket and some rip atop it. The water bucket lies at the bottom right corner by the door to the shed. I'm going to replace the nest box and roost by a 3 feet wide DIY rollout nest box in the next few days. The plexiglass-covered window has frost.

IMG_1588.JPG

The dreaded blood splatters. No new ones have appeared anywhere else in the coop so far, which is a big relief.

Tho if you don't own the building, might be hard to make any mods.
I was allowed to make mods inside the coop, so hopefully the landlady will allow me to touch the outside as well...
 

wamtazlady

Crowing
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Jul 18, 2013
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Sadly, I think you will continue to have issues if you can not add ventilation to that coop. That means cutting holes in the upper areas and covering the holes with hardware cloth. Ideally you should have a square foot of ventilation for every chicken. You have 8 chickens which means you should have 8 square feet of open area. That allows the moist but warm air out of the coop allowing the dry air to stay in. You do not keep a chicken warm by heating the coop, especially if the coop is humid. You keep a chicken warm by providing a dry, well ventilated area with no drafts. A dry chicken is a warm chicken. The moist air might also cause the chickens to develop respiratory problems as the winter continues.

I see an orange light. Are you using a heat lamp?
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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Shoot, I'd really hoped the sachets would work.
Those are really just made for damp cupboards and drawers.

Interesting hinged panels around roost, meant to keep heat from lamps contained?

Pics of outside of coop would help....showing any ventilation(from inside too).
 

Eelantha

Songster
Mar 11, 2018
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Quebec (Qc)
Ideally you should have a square foot of ventilation for every chicken. You have 8 chickens which means you should have 8 square feet of open area.
8 square feet of open area? That's... going to be a real challenge to pass off to the landlady for approval. While I don't mind trying out an open-air coop, this concept might make her queasy; she believes in keeping chickens locked tight during winter to ward off any problems caused by the cold. But I will try anyway, maybe if I am persistent enough I can get a good enough compromise to satisfy us both.

One thing I can work on is the outside enclosure; I've warped all three sides in plastic sheets to shield the run against the harsh winds, but I'll try to spot the side where the wind is weakest and see if I can unwrap it there a bit. If I leave the shed door and both coop doors open under heavy surveillance for a while, this should create a momentary ventilation that hopefully carries off a bit of humidity every time I visit the chickens.

The moist air might also cause the chickens to develop respiratory problems as the winter continues.
Yeah, I dread that too... I've never had such high humidity in the coop in the five years since I've had chickens, so this is a grim first for me.

And yup, I have two heat lamps inside the coop for emergency heat in case the weather outside goes below -20°C. My goal is to eventually not use them at all by finding local breeds that live up to their winter hardiness (and winter egg-laying) as proclaimed in their standards. I had chantecler and speckled sussex eggs in the incubator along with the breeds shown above, but those didn't hatch, snif.

Interesting hinged panels around roost, meant to keep heat from lamps contained?
Yes, when I unfold both panels and bring up the plywood panels hanging behind the poop board, this makes a small cubicle the inside of which I can heat up with heat lamps. One heat lamp would stay switched on at all times; I only lit up the second one when outside weather dropped below -25°C. I've used that mini-coop two years ago to keep my warrens, leghorns and bendies laying throughout the winter, but I hadn't known back then about the fire hazard they could cause. I am extremely lucky that the shed is still intact today.

Pics of outside of coop would help....showing any ventilation(from inside too).
I will see about getting pics of outside coop tomorrow. I'm not sure about what ventilation from the inside you talk about, as the coop is isolated from floor to ceiling. Do you mean you want to see the inside of the shed?
 

Acre4Me

Crowing
Nov 12, 2017
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Agree you need more ventilation, but perhaps a roof vent would be more to the landlady’s style. She is already ok with you putting in a wall vent (if I read that correctly), so adding a roof vent might be ok to her. There are various styles of roof vents, so investigate some to see what would work with your style roof. Even if you can’t achieve the desired 8 sq ft of ventilation, any additional ventilation will help. Just keep working towards getting the humidity inside the coop similar to outside the coop.

vaseline: mixed thoughts on BYC with believers and non-believers. But, one thing everyone agrees on is that once the skin is damaged and compromised, don’t touch it (this includes applying any kind of remedy/prevention which involves physically touching the skin). Rubbing damaged skin will make it worse.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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I will see about getting pics of outside coop tomorrow. I'm not sure about what ventilation from the inside you talk about, as the coop is isolated from floor to ceiling. Do you mean you want to see the inside of the shed?
Ventilation should be visible from inside coop/shed...
...if nothing more than light shining thru from the outside.
 
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