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Treating and Preventing Frostbite in Chickens Naturally

Frostbite is a real concern with backyard chickens, so what's the best way to prevent it? Well, a well-ventilated, dry coop is a good start.

Did you know that frostbite is usually caused more by moisture and dampness than by the actual cold itself? Roosters, and chickens with large combs, are most susceptible, although wattles and toes can also suffer frostbite.

While frostbite isn't generally fatal, it can be painful for the chicken so avoiding it is a good idea if at all possible.

Read how to prevent frostbite in your backyard chicken flock - and also how to treat it naturally, if you need to.

Treating and Preventing Frostbite in Chickens Naturally

When we lived in Virginia, we enjoyed pretty moderate temperatures most of the year, but the humidity in the summer was  a killer, as was the dampness and moisture in the winter.

Our temperatures often dipped below freezing and sometimes into the teens and twenties, and were usually accompanied by lots of moisture in the air.

This makes for prime frostbite conditions, but fortunately, we were lucky and have never had any problems. Now that we live in Maine, it's far colder in the winter, but the air is much drier and again, no problems with frostbite in our flock.

Recognizing the Signs of Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the liquid in the tissue freezes and cuts off circulation, denying blood flow to the area. Frostbite in chickens appears as black spots or regions on the tips of the comb or wattles.

That is dead tissue and it won't grow back, but it does help protect the underlying tissue, so never try to break it off, rub it or trim it.

If you see blisters, leave them, they are also helping the affecting area heal.

Minor cases of frostbite aren't anything to worry about, but more serious cases can cause pain to a chicken or even get infected.

In extreme cases, frostbitten toes might actually fall off.

Preventing Frostbite in Chickens Naturally

Here are some ways to help prevent frostbite in your flock:

Thick Layer of Dry Bedding 

Adding an additional layer of bedding (preferably straw for its superior insulating properties) and ensuring it stays dry helps to insulate the coop and keep it warmer. 

Remove any wet bedding and even better, don't leave water inside the coop.


Even in winter, your coop should be well-ventilated (up high, above the heads of your roosting hens), to prevent a build up of moisture inside the coop.

Forego Coop Heat 

Ironically, heating your coop can actually increase the chance of frostbite because the heat creates moisture.

If you see condensation on the inside of your coop windows (whether you heat your coop or not), your coop is too damp, too warm and needs more ventilation.

Wide Roosting Bars

Prevent frostbitten feet with roosting bars wide enough for your hens to perch so that their bodies completely cover their feet from above and the bar completely covers their feet from underneath.

A 2x4 with the 4" side facing up is perfect for roosting.

(Note: Metal pipes aren't a good choice for roosts in northern climates obviously.)

Choose Breeds with Small Combs

Preventing frostbitten combs can be a bit more of a challenge. Choosing breeds with small combs if you live in the extreme north is prudent.

Those breeds with small pea combs such as Easter Eggers, Buckeyes, Ameraucanas, and Wyandottes fare far better in the cold than breeds with larger combs such as Andalusians and Leghorns.

Obviously roosters with large combs and wattles will be the most vulnerable.

Hens generally tuck their heads under their wings, so they protect their combs at night that way, however roosters aren't apt to do that, so keep a close eye on your roosters.


Choose Cold-Hardy Breeds 

Some breeds are more suited for cooler climates than others. In general, those with large stout bodies tend to be more cold- hardy.

Add Cayenne Pepper to the Feed

Cayenne pepper aids in blood circulation which can help prevent the extremities from suffering from frostbite. Cayenne also acts as a natural pain reliever for a chicken suffering from frostbite.

Apply a Coating

As a preventive, try coating large combs and wattles with Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve, softened coconut oil, or my Homemade Frostbite Ointment (recipe below).

This is easiest done after your flock has gone to roost.

Don't attempt to coat already frostbitten tissue except as a last resort, because you might inadvertently break it off and cause more damage.

As with most things, prevention is the best medicine!

Treating Frostbite in Chickens Naturally

If you think you have a case of frostbite, warm the chicken slowly. Never use a blow dryer, hot water, heat lamp, etc.

Instead bring the affected chicken inside where it's warm. If the feet are affected, you can soak them in warm (not hot) water to get the circulation going.

Keeping the chicken warm the rest of the winter and not allowing the extremities to refreeze and thaw can prevent further damage. Recovery of the frostbitten tissue can take 4-6 weeks.

It's a good idea to keep some first aid salve around year round, but even more so in the winter. Dab on some of my Homemade Frostbite Ointment to help treat frostbite.

If you do spot frostbite, smearing some ointment on the as-yet-unaffected areas can help them from succumbing.

If you do use the ointment on affected areas, apply it gently so as not to cause more damage.

Homemade Frostbite Ointment

This all-natural ointment can be used to prevent and treat frostbite.

2 ounces beeswax
3/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon liquid vitamin E (helps repair damaged skin)
10 drops calendula essential oil (anti-inflamatory, aids in healing wounds)
10 drops lavender essential oil (relaxant, pain reliever, antibacterial, anti-fungal)
10 drops lemon essential oil (antibacterial, antiviral)

To Make

Grate beeswax and melt with coconut oil over low heat in a metal can (like a dog food or canned veggie can) set in a saucepan of boiling water, stirring with a wooden chopstick.

Remove from heat and stir in the Vitamin E and essential oils until well mixed. Leave in the mason jar or pour into a covered container and cool. Store in a cool, dry place and use as needed.

Not feeling ambitious? 

One last thing I keep on hand is my Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve. I keep one container in our coop first aid kit and another in the house. 

I love that it's natural, we can use it on all our animals - chickens, ducks, geese and dogs - and that it helps to protect and heal cuts, abrasions, and and bug bites. It's 100% natural and not only helps keep wounds from getting infected, it helps speed healing - naturally.