How to Treat Frostbite in Chickens

Three Methods:Recognizing Frostbite on ChickensTreating Frostbite on Your ChickensPreventing Frostbite in Your Flock

Raising chickens is a fantastic way to get free eggs, an all-natural alarm clock, and copious animal comradery in your backyard. The question remains – how do these rounded land birds get through winter? Truth be told, coops are often sufficient for hardy chickens to live in year round. If, however, some of your chickens insist on rolling in the snow or otherwise wind up getting frostbitten, there are proven methods to treat this beak-chilling condition.

Method 1
Recognizing Frostbite on Chickens

  1. Image titled Treat Frostbite in Chickens Step 1
    Recognize the danger posed by cold weather. Frostbite can be a relatively innocuous discomfort for your chickens, but can also lead to significant health issues. Aside from pain, frostbite can cause disfigurement, reduced mobility, and decreased fertility.[1]
    • Effects on fertility are usually temporary. A rooster suffering from frostbite will have a reduced sperm count and decreased interest in sex. Hens suffering from frostbite will see a drastic reduction in egg production. Fortunately, both sperm and egg production will return to normal once your chicken heals.
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    Know the symptoms of frostbite for chickens. Frostbite usually first develops on chickens’ toes, comb, or wattle (the fleshly head-dressing and beard equivalent, respectively). Areas that are affected by frostbite may initially feel warm to the touch, but will later turn cold and hard.[2] If you’re wondering whether your chickens may be suffering from frostbite, look for the following symptoms:[3]
    • Color changes, especially blue or black.
    • Swelling and blisters.
    • Limping or an inability to stand.
    • Disinterest in eating or general listlessness.
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    Identify the degree of frostbite your chicken may be facing. The type of treatment you will give your chicken depends on the degree of frostbite they are suffering from. You want to treat chickens affected by frostbite before there is permanent damage to their body tissue, and immediately if there is any evidence of infections.[4]
    • 1st degree frostbite will irritate your chickens and make their skin softer, lighter colored, and warm to the touch.
    • 2nd degree frostbite will lead to hard, white skin that feels frozen to the touch. Chickens will also start to suffer from swelling, blisters, and loss of sensation, though will usually not suffer significant tissue damage from 2nd degree frostbite. If you’re chickens are showing these signs, take steps to prevent the worsening of their frostbite, as noted in the section in this article on preventing frostbite.
    • 3rd degree frostbite will lead to skin that feels hard and waxy, is swollen, and has blackened. At this point, permanent tissue and nerve damage has occurred.
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    Recognize the severity of your chicken’s frostbite. If they go untreated, or are treated too late, frostbitten areas will dry out, shrivel up, and fall off. If free of infection, however, do not rush to treat frostbite that is not getting worse, as it may be effectively protecting flesh underneath the affected area.[5]
    • Begin treatment as soon as you notice frostbite spreading, or an infection. Crust, weepiness, blood, or puss on or around the affected area require treatment immediately.
    • Remove chickens suffering from frostbite from other chickens, as others may peck at the injuries.

Method 2
Treating Frostbite on Your Chickens

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    Know what not to do. It’s important to avoid making a few mistakes that are commonly made when treating chickens for frostbite. First and foremost, don’t overreact – mild cases of frostbite will heal themselves. For more severe cases, be sure to avoid these missteps:[6]
    • Do no massage frozen, frostbitten areas of the chicken.
    • Do not expose the chicken (or parts of the chicken) to direct or sudden heat. This may further damage the chicken’s nerves.
    • Do not rupture any unbroken blisters. This increases the risk of infection.[7]
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    Wash the frostbitten areas. If your chicken’s flesh is discolored and swollen, they may be frostbitten. If their feet are frostbitten, they will likely not be able to move their toes, and may not be able to stand. If infected, the swollen parts will feel warm to the touch.[8]
    • Bring the chicken inside, but let it rest in the coldest part of the house to ensure they warm up slowly.
    • Once the chicken has warmed up somewhat, wash the affected areas with lukewarm water and Epsom salt. Make sure the water is not hot.
    • Dry the area with clean paper towels.
    • Place the chicken alone in a box with plenty of towels and ample drinking water.
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    Treat infection immediately. If your chicken has an infection, getting rid of the infection is your first priority. After cleaning, consider applying an antibiotic. There are specific antibiotic creams that are safe for birds and available at pet stores and farming suppliers. Your vet can also provide you with antibiotics.
    • Keep the chicken in an area that is covered in a clean layer of newspapers. Change these papers daily.
    • If the infected area doesn’t heal in a week, or worsens rapidly, you should consider trimming the infected area or allowing a vet to do so.
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    Remove the infected flesh. For frostbite on your chicken’s feet, get a vet’s assistance. It is safe for you to remove pieces of your chicken’s comb or wattle flesh are infected. If you’re comfortable doing so, get a clean, sharp pair of scissors, a scalpel, or very sharp knife and clean it with alcohol or antiseptic.[9]
    • After cleaning the affected area, apply rubbing alcohol to the area you’ll be cutting.
    • Secure your chicken or have someone hold it. It will likely scream.
    • Make the incision just inside the infected area (through healthy flesh), taking care to make a straight, decisive cut.
    • Wipe the area with sterile gauze or cotton, and apply a healthy amount of antibiotic or antiseptic when the bleeding stops.
    • Clean and reapply antibiotic cream twice a day for a few days.
    • Do not cut off flesh that is blackened but not infected. Again, only cut off infected parts of the comb or wattle.
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    Reintegrate the bird to your flock carefully. Keep a chicken you’ve operated on isolated in an area that stays between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Ideally, keep it in it’s own cage with a heat lamp at one end.[10]
    • Know that the healing process may take a while.
    • Monitor you chicken’s dietary intake, and make sure they’re eating well during recovery.[11]
    • Do not return the bird to the flock if there is still any active bleeding. The other chickens will likely pick at the wound.
    • Return the bird to the coop at night, after you’ve turned off the lights. This will reduce the chance of fighting as social parameters are re-established within the flock.

Method 3
Preventing Frostbite in Your Flock

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    Employ the deep litter method. The deep litter method is an alternative to cleaning your coop once a week, as you ought to do during the non-winter months. By allowing an accumulation of manure and bedding to begin to decompose, you provide a natural, healthy source of warmth radiating up from your coop’s floor. [12]
    • Instead of removing and replacing your bedding materials, simply turn over the soiled bedding and add a new layer of fresh bedding on top. The chicken poop will decompose beneath the fresh layer of bedding and emanate warmth into the coop.
    • Beneficial microbes that are inevitable products of composting even help control pathogens, making your chickens less vulnerable to disease and disallowing certain common parasites to grow.
    • In the spring, when you give the coop a seasonal cleaning, you wind up with a prime batch of compost ready to till into your garden.
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    Ensure your coop provides sufficient warmth and shelter. Ventilation, heating, and even the size of your roosting bars all impact the likelihood of your birds getting frostbite. The best way to prevent frostbite, actually, is ensuring that your chicken coop safely shelters your chickens.[13]
    • Ventilate properly. Make sure you have an effective ventilation system at the top of the coop. The primary purpose of ventilation during the winter is the release of moisture that would otherwise build up inside the coop, increasing the likelihood of frostbite and infection.
    • Don’t heat the coop artificially. Though this seems counterintuitive, heating actually increasing the chances of frostbite as heat increases the amount of moisture in the coop. Increase ventilation if you see condensation form within the coop.
    • Install a wide roosting bar. A roosting bar that is wide enough for your hens to perch with their bodies completely covering their feet will help prevent frostbitten feet. Try a standard 2x4 board.
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    Consider the breed of the chickens you choose to raise. Different breeds of chickens are more hardy, and can better endure the cold. In particular, those with small combs are less likely to suffer from significant frostbite. Some chickens are actually quite resilient to cold weather.[14]
    • Select a breed with small combs. If you live at a Northern latitude, you’ll likely want to raise chickens with small combs. These include Easter Eggers, Buckeyes, Ameraucanas, and Wyandottes. Avoid breeds with especially large combs such as Andalusians and Leghorns. Note that roosters will likely be more vulnerable to frostbite, as their combs and wattles are often significantly larger than those of hens.
    • Choose a chicken breed known for cold-weather resilience. Birds with large body mass, from breeds that originated in Northern climates can better handle cold weather. These include birds from the four breeds recommended above, as well as Australorps, Bantam Brahmas, Barnevelders, Brahmas, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, Delawares, Dominiques, Faverolles, Jersey Giants, Marans, New Hampshire Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Sussexes, and Welsummers.
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    Protect and hydrate your chickens during cold weather. Applying a preventative coating to your birds’ exposed skin and making sure your chickens are able to stay dry can go a long way in keeping your birds healthy and frostbite-free during winter.
    • Apply a protective coating to wattles and combs. You have several options in terms of coating. Coconut oil, petroleum jelly, or Waxelene (an all natural alternative) are all solid options. Whatever you choose, apply the coating to your chickens after they’ve gone to roost for the evening. [15]
    • Clean any initial signs of dry, damaged skin. Whether a mild case of frostbite or simply a scratch, cleaning a chickens skin can prevent infection. A good cleaning product option is Vetericyn, which is safe to use on all animals. Vetericyn is non-toxic, steroid-free, antibiotic-free, and is free of alcohol. It is designed to clean scratches, skin rashes, cuts, and irritated skin, and more, making it an all-around animal skin care product.[16]
    • Hydrate the heck out of your chickens. Especially during the winter, make sure water is always available, but only use containers that won’t spill. Prevent freezing by opting for plastic instead of metal containers, placing the water where sun will hit it, and floating ping pong balls in the water.[17]
    • Considering adding electrolytes to your chickens’ water supply to ensure hydration. If you’re feeling especially team-oriented, add a shot of your Gatorade to their water supply.[18]

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Categories: General Bird Care