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7 Simple Ways to Prevent Frostbite in Backyard Chickens

Frostbite in backyard chickens can be a problem in chicken coops in the winter, but using these simple tips you shouldn't have to worry  about it.

Frostbite can occur in the cold months in your chicken flock if you're not careful.  

Although usually not life-threatening, it can be painful for the chicken and also in extreme cases lead to infection and/or loss of the frostbitten appendage (usually combs, wattles, toes or feet).  

When temperatures dip into the single digits, especially overnight when your flock is cooped up, the danger of frostbite becomes real. But I've put together 7 simple ways to prevent frostbite in backyard chickens.

7 Simple Ways to Prevent Frostbite in Backyard Chickens

The first two tips involve proper pre-planning. 

 1. Choose Cold-Hardy Breeds

If you live in an area where it gets cold, then when you are first getting started, be sure to choose breeds that are known for being especially cold hardy

These will usually be the larger, more full-bodied breeds with small combs and small or non-existent wattles. Breeds such as those in the Orpington family, Brahmas, Ameraucanas, Buckeyes, New Hampshire and Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques are all good examples of cold-hardy chicken breeds.

And breeds with feathered feet such as Marans, Faverolles and Cochins have a built-in way to keep their feet warm! I've included the link to a handy list of twenty cold-hardy breeds at the end of this post.

2. Opt for Hens Only

Generally, the roosters of any given breed will have larger combs and wattles than the hens.

Roosters also aren't as prone to tucking their head under a wing when they sleep, which is the principal way chickens keep their combs protected.  So if cold is a concern, opt for a hens only flock. 

3. Add Some Spice

Adding some spices with known benefits to the circulatory system can help increase blood flow to your chickens' extremities and may prevent frostbite. 

Some of the best are cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. Just a sprinkle added to your chickens' daily feed can't hurt and just may help.

The other four tips involve coop set-up and maintenance.

4. Feed and Water Outside

Moisture in the frigid air is what ultimately causes frostbite. So keeping your chickens' water outside, not in the coop, will go a long way towards preventing frostbite. 

Chickens don't see well in the dark, so they're not eating or drinking overnight anyway. Leave the water outside. 

5. Dry Bedding

In the winter, it's really important to make sure your coop bedding is dry and not adding any additional moisture. There's enough moisture in chickens' manure and the air they expel as they breathe. 

Leaving the water outside is the first step, but be sure to remove any damp or wet bedding  regularly. And don't let your chickens sleep on the floor. They belong on the roosts. Sleeping on damp bedding can contribute to frost bite.

Put down straw paths outside to allow your chickens to get up off the snow and cold frozen ground.

6. Wide Roosts 

Speaking of roosts, your roosts need to be wide enough that your chickens are sleeping flatfooted. This ensures that their bodies cover their feet completely when they're sleeping. A 2x4 board with the wide side up makes a perfect roost.

7. Coop Ventilation

Last, but certainly not least, be sure your coop has adequate ventilation. There should be vents up high above your flock's heads when they're roosting that stay open year round to provide good cross airflow and allow the moisture (and ammonia fumes) to escape. 

If you see condensation inside your coop, you need more ventilation. If you're in doubt, add more ventilation. It's the moisture even more than the cold that ultimately will cause frostbite.

And lastly, if you do suspect frostbite, the best thing is to just leave it. The damaged tissue will break easily and can become infected. The damaged tissue will actually help prevent further damage to healthy tissue by protecting it. 

You can gently smear some homemade salve on combs that you feel are susceptible, but it can be a hassle, the chickens don't like it, and it makes a mess since then everything will stick to it!

It's a far better course of action to use these simple steps to prevent the frostbite in the first place. As is usually the case, prevention is the best medicine.

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.

Further Reading: 
Treating and Preventing Frostbite
20 Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds
Spice up your Chicken Keeping
Homemade Frostbite Salve


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