Preventing frostbite on chicken feet

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by jsmith2952, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. jsmith2952

    jsmith2952 Chillin' With My Peeps

    115
    5
    78
    May 22, 2013
    Ontario, Canada
    This might be a dumb question but as a new chicken owner approaching my first winter with the girls I find myself with all these random questions that I can't always find answers for (maybe because they're so obvious no one would ever actually ask them!)
    my question is: how do chickens get frostbite on their feet and is there a way to prevent it? My girls free range all day and we've just gotten our first snowfall (almost 2"). Other than being hesitant to come out of their coop for the morning-until the brave one had enough and took the bulls by the horns!, they happily spent the day in snow well-above their ankles. I understand how it works at night because they sit on their feet, but if they're out, wading in the snow all day won't their feet freeze? It just doesn't seem to affect them at all, and I know they're birds, but they're also domesticated birds and I can't figure out if that means that they're not as tough as wild birds...

    Thanks in advance for any insight! :)
    Jen
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

    34,028
    453
    448
    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
  3. jsmith2952

    jsmith2952 Chillin' With My Peeps

    115
    5
    78
    May 22, 2013
    Ontario, Canada
    thanks, flockwatcher, for the great links! I love anything by PatandChickens!

    I still though am unclear--if the hens are free ranging all day out in the snow, can they develop frostbite just from exposure? Do they know their feet are cold and will go warm them up?

    I already have a 2x4 roost for them in the coop and I have tried to follow all the rules regarding ventilation/drafts--but is there preventative stuff I have to do for chickens who like to wade in snow all day?

    Thanks!
     
  4. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    17,708
    2,337
    466
    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I have.an alternative position and have experience with frostbite. Most of my birds are confined to cages with minimal protection from wind although have also had lots of experience confining birds in a henhouse as well as coops. They often contend with a strong draft (sometimes no wind protection) even when temperatures are less than -10 F during blizzard conditions. They roost on round, rectangular, or flat roost sites and that seems to make no difference although it is always made of wood. Tonight, slip out and look how your birds cover their feet while sleeping. Coverage of toes by feathers and actual contact with warm breast is excellent regardless of surface they are standing on. Birds standing up are not fully asleep unless it is hot. The ventilation should be adequate to prevent moisture building up to point where condensation occurs in feathers. Condensate, whether liquid or frozen, degrades insulator value of chicken feathers. Material birds stand on can be extremely important. Avoid having them standing materials that are cold or have a have high capacity to absorb and/or conduct heat. Some surfaces seem to suck heat out of their feet. To test your self, go outside with bare feet when it is very cold then stand with one foot on dry wood or straw and with other foot on wet otherwise similar surface or something like concrete or metal that is dry. You should figure out the wood or straw is much more pleasant to stand on. When frostbite does occur for me which is very seldom, it is secondary to some other issue. Examples of other issues include infection or energy deprivation which interfere with birds ability to shunt adequate warm blood to peripheral tissues such as comb, wattles and feet. Additionally, birds in poor nutritional status as result of inadequate feed intake or high parasite loads also will have difficulty generating heat. Keep them in good nutrition. At your higher latitude is may pay to provide supplemental lighting earlier in the morning so they do not go so long between emptying crop overnight and feeding back up in the morning. The crop enables translating a couple of feeding bouts in 24-hour cycle into near constant delivery of food to absorptive part of digestive tract so the metabolic furnace has constant supply of energy without having to tap into fat and protein reserves.
     
  5. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

    34,028
    453
    448
    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    I've never actually read of birds getting frostbite from walking on snow. They seem to vary a lot in their willingness to do so. I would think that dueing the day, they would go warm their feet if they got cold enough. I know Patandchickens' birds wouldn't always go out in the winter, and I know lots of folks shovel them a path or a small area to go out in, or else put up some sort of shelter or roof so an area stays relatively snow free.
     
  6. jsmith2952

    jsmith2952 Chillin' With My Peeps

    115
    5
    78
    May 22, 2013
    Ontario, Canada
    I figured they would go on snow if they wanted to and not if they didn't--I would hope that chickens are smart enough to figure that out, however, they ARE pretty bird-brained sometimes!

    Thanks all for the info/advice. (I'm watching them right now as I type, eating snow and wandering around in it...weirdos!)
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by