Frostbite on Chickens – How to Keep Your Flock Safe

Frostbite on chickens -

When the frost is on the pumpkin and the days get shorter in the late autumn, that’s when you need to start thinking about how your chickens are going to weather the winter. You see, frozen chicken at 99 cents a pound in the grocery store is a great find. Frostbite on chickens is not such a great discovery.

We will discuss frostbite on chickens, how it happens, why it happens, and when and where old frosty gets a grip on them.

When we’re done, you will feel better about whatever old man winter has to throw at you.

What is Frostbite?

First things first, what exactly is frostbite? It’s the damage that occurs to bodily tissues when the fluid in cells freezes. This leads to blood clots, depriving the cells of oxygen and causing varying degrees of tissue damage. Sounds scary, right? Well, knowledge is power, and we’re here to arm you with it.

Signs of frostbite include whitish tips on combs and wattles, blackish tips on combs, reddish feet, especially toes, swelling, blistering, and lethargy, including loss of appetite due to being in pain.

Frostbitten combs -

Notice the whitish areas of the combs of these chickens.

Frostbitten tips of comb on a large-combed chicken -

Take note of the blackened tips of the comb. Ouch!

Quick Fact Box: Understanding the National Weather Service Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) Index

When it comes to frostbite, it’s not just the actual temperature you need to worry about; it’s also the wind chill. The National Weather Service Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) Index is a handy tool that calculates the “real-feel” temperature based on both temperature and wind speed.

How It Works

The WCT Index calculates wind speed at an average height of 5 feet, which is roughly the height of an adult human face. It uses readings from the national standard height of 33 feet, which is the typical height of an anemometer (a device used to measure wind speed).

The index incorporates heat transfer theory, focusing on heat loss from the body to its surroundings during cold and windy days.

Why It Matters for Chickens

You might wonder, “Why should I care about an index based on human face height?” Well, the principles apply to your chickens, too. Wind chill can drastically reduce the temperature your chickens feel, making them more susceptible to frostbite.

Practical Tips

  1. Check the WCT Index regularly: Especially on windy days, this index can give you a more accurate idea of how cold it actually feels to your chickens.
  2. Provide Windbreaks: If the WCT Index indicates a severe wind chill, consider adding windbreaks in your chicken run to reduce the impact.
  3. Limit Outdoor Time: On days when the WCT Index is particularly low, it might be best to keep your chickens in their well-ventilated but shielded coop.

By watching the WCT Index, you can make more informed decisions to protect your flock from the dangers of frostbite..

Factors Contributing to Frostbite

Several factors can make your chickens more susceptible to frostbite:

  • Temperature
  • Wind chill factor
  • Exposure duration
  • Humidity/moisture
  • High altitude
  • Diminished circulation

Did you know this fun fact? A chicken’s internal or core temperature is typically between 105 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s how they are able to withstand colder temperatures with their winter down “jackets.”

Because a chicken’s core temperature is relatively high, it contributes to a chicken’s high metabolism. High metabolism means that a chicken stays busy most of the time, which helps to keep it warm. It also means that a chicken has to eat and drink a lot to stay on an even keel (ouch… sorry about that one).

Other techniques that chickens use that contribute to warmth include huddling, growth of winter down, fluffing feathers near the body to trap heat, laying on their feet while roosting or perched, and tucking their heads under a wing to keep the beak warm.

Chickens Most at Risk

Large-combed chicken -

The large comb on this bird is susceptible to frostbite.

Not all chickens are created equal when it comes to frostbite risk. Chickens with large combs and wattles are especially vulnerable. Breeds with single combs are also at greater risk. So, if you’ve got a flock full of such breeds, you’ll want to pay extra attention.

If you live in an area with very cold winters, you might want to consider raising breeds with small combs or floppy combs that rest on the head.

Think of wattles and combs like they are ears. Have you ever had really cold ears? How about fingers and toes? That’s right… extremities are the parts that freeze first on a chicken, the same as humans.

Take a look at some cold weather breeds here:cold-hardy chicken breeds.

Signs and Symptoms

Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:

  • Color changes to tissues (usually paler)
  • Swelling
  • Tissue feeling cold and/or hard to the touch
  • Blisters filled with fluid
  • Blackened tissues
  • Limping or reddish feet
  • Loss of appetite

Do’s and Don’ts of Frostbite Treatment

If you suspect frostbite, here’s your action plan:

  1. Move the chicken to a warmer location.
  2. Gradually warm the affected areas.
  3. Do NOT use direct heat like hair dryers.
  4. Do NOT rub or massage the affected area.
  5. Keep the chicken hydrated.

Slowly bring feet up to an acceptable temperature by using a warm water soak for 20 minutes. Warm means about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gently warm the combs with a warm towel (100 degrees F). Hold the warm towel around the comb, but do not rub.

After warming, you can spray something like Vetericyn on the affected part to help heal.

Keep the chicken warm until it feels better, then reacclimate slowly to the cold.

Pro Tip: Veterinary Care

For severe cases, don’t hesitate to consult a vet for prescription medication for pain and inflammation.

Prevention Inside the Coop

  • Keep the coop dry and clean.
  • Use a digital thermometer and hygrometer to monitor conditions.
  • Ventilate the coop properly.

Wet conditions in the coop contribute negatively to chickens’ health. If you see condensation on your coop windows, you will have to improve ventilation. Keep the ventilation above the chickens’ heads to keep the coop from being drafty.

Product Recommendation: Safe Coop Warming Options

Looking for safe ways to warm your coop? Check out these heat plates that can help keep your chickens comfy.

Prevention Outside the Coop

Social Media Engagement: Share Your Tips

Got some winter wisdom for keeping your flock frostbite-free? Share it with us on our Facebook page! 

Brrrr’apping it Up

There you have it, folks—a comprehensive guide to keeping your chickens safe from frostbite this winter. Remember, the key is to be vigilant and take preventive measures before Jack Frost comes nipping at your flock’s toes.

Do you have questions or tips of your own? Drop a comment below or share this post to help other chicken keepers stay informed.


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