Many of us are fortunate to live in parts of the country where freezing temperatures aren’t a common occurrence. However, there is a large number of chicken owners who live in places where sub-zero temperatures are just another normal day.
The incredible thing is, chickens are capable in living (and thriving) in both of these very different locations.
And while one chicken might be enjoying foraging for worms and insects in a recently rototilled garden, another chicken at the same time might be facing some of the coldest temperatures of the winter.
Chickens and Frostbite
So, if you’re a chicken owner living in a cold region where frostbite is a real threat to your birds, this article is for you.
What I did is lay out some very simple signs and symptoms of frostbite in chickens. These are things you can quickly look for in the event that one or any of your birds have been exposed to the cold too long.
What Is Frostbite?
Frostbite is a protective mechanism that takes place in all of us, people and chickens, when parts of our body become too cold.
When these body parts become so cold, the brain sends a signal to the extremities to constrict blood vessels (limit bloodflow) in those areas in an attempt to transfer more blood to the body’s vital organs in an effort to ensure survival.
Because the passage of blood and oxygen to the affected body parts, such as the comb, wattles, and feet is limited, the tissue and fluids in the tissue may eventually freeze. And when that happens, the cells are forever damaged which can lead to infection and permanent tissue damage.
Frostbite can be minimal, affecting only the tips of the comb, wattles, or toes. Frostbite can also be severe in some cases affecting major parts of the body.
Like many things, there can be mild degrees of frostbite, moderate frostbite and severe. Here’s how those three stages of frostbite look.
3 Stages of Frostbite
- First degree: minor, causes irritation of the skin
- Second degree: causes blisters on the skin, but not major damage
- Third degree: involves all layers of the skin and causes permanent tissue damage
What Can Happen To Your Chickens If They Get Frostbite?
- Infection, especially gangrene
- Body part loss, including amputation.
- Excessive pecking at uncomfortable or irritated tissue, resulting in even more injury.
Signs That Your Chicken Might Have Frostbite
Change In Tissue Color
One of the earliest signs that your chicken might be suffering from frostbite is a noticable change in color to the affected tissue.
Tissue that is pale, gray or white in color around the edges of the comb or wattles is a good first place to look.
Your chickens feet may also change color. Check for feet that have turned a reddish color. In more sever cases, your chickens’ feet may turn pale or white.
Change In Behavior
Another more obvious thing to look for when assessing for frostbite is a change in your chicken’s behavior.
A hen or rooster suffering from frostbite may be in pain, have difficulty walking or seem slow and lethargic.
Change In Appetite
Keep in mind that frostbite is painful for your chickens, so it’s no surprise that victims of frostbite more times than not will lose their appetite and simply just not want to eat.
Swelling and Blistering
Once frostbite has occurred, there can be swelling of the comb, wattle and toes. Then, after another day or two, you may notice blistering of the affected areas. These blisters are fluid filled and can be milky in color.
Black Colored Tissue
In severe cases of frostbite, the edges and tips of your chickens’ comb and wattles may turn black. This can also happen on their feet and toes, where black, discolored patches will appear.
Tips To Help Protect Your Chickens From Frostbite
The last thing any of us want to do is see any member of our flock suffer. This is especially true with frostbite.
So what are some things we all can do to help protect our chickens from getting frostbite to begin with?
- Make sure your coop has enough ventilation but no drafts.
- Make sure that hot, wet air from respiration and droppings can escape, especially in small coops.
- During extremely cold weather, provide extra warmth by placing a safe infrared heater near the roost.
- If any of your chickens exhibit frostbite symptoms, call your vet for treatment options.