How to prevent frostbite in chickens

Frostbite is a huge problem this time of year. With the record cold temperatures we've been having, many people are worrying about their chickens getting frostbite. Frostbite is caused by extreme cold, but moisture and wind chill contribute to it greatly. 

What is frostbite? Definition: injury to any part of the body after excessive exposure to extreme cold, sometimes progressing from initial redness and tingling to gangrene. 

Frostbite is treatable, though in extreme cases a chicken might lose part of their comb, wattles or even toes. Obviously it's better to prevent frostbite then to have to treat it and that's what I want to discuss today.

preventing frostbite | chickens

Frostbite affects chickens combs, wattles and feet primarily. Larger combs and wattles are especially prone to frostbite. I know everyone says "get cold hardy breeds" and it is true that many cold hardy breeds have smaller combs and wattles, thus not being as susceptible to frostbite. BUT it's a little too late to worry about that now, so lets just get to the steps you can take today!

How to prevent frostbite in chickens

Luckily there are a few easy ways to prevent frostbite in chickens and one of the main ways is to reduce the moisture level in the coop. It's fairly easy to tell if you have too much moisture in the coop. The bedding usually feels wet under your shoes or even looks wet. Sometimes you'll actually have water droplets forming on the ceiling, or you might have frost forming on the windows. If you see any of these, you'll want to work on removing the moisture immediately. 

frost inside chicken coop

Remove sources of moisture: Take the water bowls out of the coop in winter. Heated water bowls especially contribute to the moisture level in the coop. Since the water is kept at a warmer temperature then the air around it, it tends to evaporate adding moisture to the air. If you must keep the water in the coop, using a heated water font as opposed to a heated dog bowl allows for less water surface to be exposed to air, thus allowing for less evaporation.

winter heated waterers

Keep the snow out. I know it seems like opening the door and letting fresh air in would be a good thing, but you can also be letting in snow. Shovel the snow away from the areas in front of doors so snow does not get tracked in as you or the chickens go in and out. Once the snow is cleared out, open those doors and let some fresh air in!

Clean up droppings daily. Scraping poop boards or shoveling under roosts daily will remove a lot of moisture from the coop. In the winter when the flock wants to stay inside, the amount of droppings in a coop can quickly get out of hand! Removing the most concentrated areas is the quickest way to remove some excess moisture.

Make sure there's adequate ventilation but no drafts. Chickens give off moisture as they breathe (like we do) and that moisture needs somewhere to go. Good ventilation near the ceiling allows the moisture to escape. Any air holes below ceiling area should be blocked in winter to prevent cold drafts from blowing directly on the chickens.

Clean out areas that accumulate moisture. Right inside the doorways tends to get wet and mushy. Whether it's from snow on chicken feet or the door being left open, once the snow melts it's wet. Shovel these wet areas out then add extra bedding.

Add extra bedding. A thick layer of dry bedding helps to protect their feet from the cold. If you use the deep litter method it also keeps them a little bit warmer. I like pine shavings especially in winter. They are dried before packaging, but since they are stored outside they can become damp before you buy them. Make sure whatever bedding you add is completely dry when you put it down. 

To prevent frostbite on feet, use wide roosts instead of dowels or thin boards. I have tree branches in most of my coops and they work great. Wide roosts allow the feet to spread out flatter and they become completely covered by the chickens body when roosting, thus staying warmer. Heated roosts are the new thing this year. Unfortunately I've seen a few injuries from the heat element being too hot, so I do not recommend these right now. (It would be great if someone came out with a safe model though!)

Unfortunately once you get past the cold snap, you'll have to be even more diligent about checking for moisture in your coop! When it's below freezing, chicken droppings and spilled water tend to freeze very quickly. This is why your coop doesn't smell at all in the dead of winter, everything is frozen solid. 

When the weather turns and it all suddenly thaws out, it releases the trapped moisture all at once and the coop can quickly become damp and stinky. You may have to shovel out areas where dropping accumulated or water spilled. It also helps to leave the doors or windows open on warm days for extra air flow. 

That about covers it on preventing frostbite, next week we will talk about treating frostbite. See ya then!

~L

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