Chicken Frostbite: 8 Easy Ways Identify And Treat It

Chicken frostbite occurs in the winter when your flock is exposed to the elements, just like frostbite in humans. The best way to avoid dealing with chicken frostbite is to ensure your chickens have a warm dry place but accidents happen. So in this article, we are going to teach you how to recognize and treat chicken frostbite. 

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As always the best way to deal with chicken frostbite is to prevent it by preparing your chicken coop for winter before it actually gets cold.

What Is Frost Bite?

Frostbite happens when bodily tissue is exposed to extreme cold causing damage. Fluid freezes, which causes blood clots to form which deprives cells of oxygen. This causes tissue damage to different degrees. In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes. 

Can Chickens Get Frostbite?

Just like humans, chickens can get frostbite as well. Roosters along with breeds with large single combs are at the biggest risk of getting frostbitten. However, toes and waddles are also at risk of chicken frostbite. 

Factors that can contribute to chicken frostbite:

  • Humidity, Moisture, & Wetness
  • Length Of Exposure
  • Wind Chill Factor
  • Diminished Circulation
  • High Altitude 

In cold weather, chickens can retain their body heat by restricting the blood flow to their combs, waddles, and feet which puts these extremities at greater risk for frostbite. Water dripping onto the combs or waddles also raises the risks of frostbite for your chicken. Chickens with very large waddles and comb are especially susceptible to chicken frostbite but any chicken can get it under the right conditions. 

What Does Chicken Frostbite Look Like?

What chicken frostbite looks like varies depending on how bad the case is but you can identify it by:

  • Color changes to the tissue of the feet, comb or waddles.
  • The tissue of the feet, comb or waddles feels cold and/or hard
  • Swelling in the feet, comb or waddles.
  • Blisters filled with clear milky fluid (may not show up until 24-36 hours after your chicken has gotten frostbite)
  • Loss of appetite in your bird.
  • Blackened tissue on the feet, comb or waddles.
  • Your bird begins limping
  • In a severe case of chicken frostbite, the chicken may seem lethargic

Can Frostbite Kill Chickens?

Generally, frostbite will not kill your chicken, however, it’s very painful and should be avoided if at all possible.

How Do You Prevent Chicken Frostbite?

Prevention is the best thing when it comes to chicken frostbite, thankfully there are a lot of ways you can do this. 

  • Thick Layer Of Dry Bedding 
    Add a thick layer of shavings or straw to the bottom of your coop and remove any wet bedding. Avoid placing any water in the coop. 
  • Ventilation
    Even in the winter proper ventilation is really important to prevent chicken frostbite. Place the vents high above your chicken roosts to prevent moisture from building up at the top of your coops. 
  • Avoid Heating Your Coop
    If possible avoid heating your chicken coop as this can add moisture to your coop. If you see condensation on the window of your coop, it’s too warm and too moist inside your coop which means you need more ventilation. 
  • Wide Roosting Bars
    Use roosting bars that are wide enough for your chickens to cover their feet with their feathers while perching will help to prevent their feet from getting frostbitten. Use a 2×4 with the 4″ side up. Avoid using things like a metal pipe in your coop for roosts. 
  • Choose Breeds With Small Combs
    If you live in a place where it gets very cold you may want to consider breeds with smaller combs like Americana, Easter Eggers, Buckeyes, and Wyandottes. These breeds will handle the cold much better than other breeds, which lowers their chances of getting chicken frostbite.
  • Choose Cold Hardy Breeds
    In general chickens with large stout bodies do better in cold weather, which lowers their risk of chicken frostbite.
  • Add Cayenne To Your Chicken Feed
    Cayenne pepper helps with blood circulation and can help prevent your chickens from getting frostbite. It’s also a natural pain reliever that can help chickens already suffering from frostbite. 
  • Apply A CoatingAs a preventive using a coating like Waxelene (an all-natural alternative to petroleum jelly), Musher’s Secret, Softened coconut oil, or Green Goo. This can help protect the rest of the skin after exposure, gently apply it to the undamaged skin.
  • Provide Outdoor Shelter & Wind Breaks
    This will help protect your chickens from the wind and extreme temperatures. 

Firstaid For Chicken Frostbite

If you think you have a case of chicken frostbite on your hands, take imidate action. If possible contact a vet and get your chicken medical attention. However, this isn’t always possible so we’re going to give you some ways to treat chicken frostbite at home.

  • Remove your chicken from the coop and slowly warm, never use a blow drier, hot water, or heat lamp, etc. 
    Instead of bringing your chicken inside where it is warm slowly raise your chicken’s body temperature up, if the feet are affected place them in lukewarm water (100F – 101F) for 20-25 minutes to get the circulation going. If the frostbite is on the combs or waddles gently place towels or washcloths that have been soaked in warm water on them. DO NOT RUB FROSTBITTEN AREAS OR BREAK ANY BLISTERS.
  • Consult a vet for prescription medication for pain and inflammation. Alternatively, 5 aspirin (5 grain each) dissolved in a gallon of water may be given for 1-3 days. 
  • Hydrate chickens and add vitamins and electrolytes to their water. This can help prevent shock in your bird. 
  • Keep the injured area clean, but DO NOT REMOVE ANY BLACKENED PIECES. This is protecting the live tissue beneath. Depending on the extent of the damage blackened tissue may or may not dry up and fall off. Areas that dry up and fall off will not regenerate. 
  • Treat the frostbitten area with colloidal silver, and or a first aid salve. Apply it very, very gently with the least amount of touching possible.
  • Monitor the damaged area for infection (signs may include swelling, redness, oozing, and foul-smelling discharge), if an infection occurs you’ll need to treat it with an antibiotic that will require a prescription.
  • Monitor your chicken’s food intake, rubbing the waddles against the feeder or water can cause pain and discourage their eating and drinking. 
  • Continue treating the frostbite injuries once or twice a day for several months (for severe cases) while your chicken is in a temporary indoor area. Soft bedding like old towels will make your chicken more comfortable while it is healing from frostbitten feet. 
  • Keep the chicken with a severe case of frostbite warm for the rest of the winter, and don’t allow the extremities to refreeze, and thaw can prevent further damage. You can add a safe heating source to your coop to help. 

Does Vaseline Prevent Chicken Frostbite?

Some people use vaseline on their chicken’s comb and wattles to help prevent frostbite, it’s not proven to reduce the risk but it couldn’t hurt. Apply it over the comb only when temperatures are quite cold and frostbite is possible. 

Does Chicken Frostbite Go Away?

Chicken frostbite will eventually go away, provided there are no complications. Mild cases can disappear in a few days to weeks, while worse ones can take months. 

Will Frostbite Heal On Its Own?

Very mild cases of chicken frostbite generally will heal on its own pretty quickly, while the worse cases of frostbite will require medical intervention to heal. 

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