Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, frostbite, and cold. These three things don’t necessarily all mix well, do they?

Yes, chickens can get frostbite, and yes, they can spring back from it. Every year on our farm, we have to tackle frostbite on combs, wattles, and the occasional toe.

 

You’d think living in the South, we wouldn’t have chickens getting injured from the chilly temperatures. It’s typically in the 30s and 40s here in the winter!

 

It’s not very much fun, but it’s just one of those parts of chicken ownership. And honestly, we’ve not had any chickens effected long term by it.

 

This article is an excerpt from my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock You can buy it on Amazon or directly from me (and get the digital version free).

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

Most of the chickens just go on about their business.

 

If your chickens free range and aren’t kept in a coop during cold temperatures, they’re even more susceptible to frostbite, so it’s important to observe them daily.

 

In this article, I’m going to show you what frostbite in chickens looks like, when to call the vet, and how to help chickens when they do become victims of frostbite.

 

The information below is for informational purposes only and isn’t meant to treat, diagnose, or cure. Use your best judgement and always seek a vet’s advice first.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

What exactly is frostbite & how do I know if my chickens are effected?

In case you’re not 100% sure what it is, here’s a working definition of frostbite (chickens, humans, etc) from Wikipedia:

 

Frostbite is when exposure to low temperatures causes freezing of the skin or other tissues. The underlying mechanism involves injury from ice crystals and blood clots in small blood vessels following thawing.”

 

It’s hard to give an exact temperature when frostbite is an issue for chickens. Just’s just going to depend. In our area, it’s very cold temperatures of below 20 degrees where we’ve had the most trouble.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

The thing about frostbite that’s a problem for chickens

With frostbite, there’s an extra quirk. It’s not just about cold temperatures.

 

Unlike conditions like hypothermia, frostbite occurs not just when temperatures are very low, but more often when there’s cold temperatures plus moisture.

 

Yep, good ol’ moisture. Those extra bits of water droplets freeze on the skin, causing more damage than cold temps alone.

 

Which means that when our chickens drink water (aka dunk their wattles in the water), and can’t get dry (or run away when we try to help them dry), their tiny bodies are more susceptible to frostbite.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Signs of frostbite in chickens

The first thing to remember about frostbite and chickens is the condition doesn’t always present in a dramatic way. It might just be a spot here or there on the comb, rather than effecting the entire area. 

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

And it can also be extreme, with blackened areas that have clearly gone necrotic.

 

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Dark or blackened areas on the comb, wattles, or feet
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Limping
  • Lying down/not wanting to stand

 

It’s easy to confuse frostbite with fowl pox since they can look similar from blackened areas, but it’s important to also consider the season.

 

Chickens are unlikely to get frostbite in the summer, for example. Fowl pox, which also effects the combs and wattles, also looks more raised and scabby.

 

(You can see photos of fowlpox right here)

 

It’s also possible to confuse frostbite with bumblefoot, since both can cause the pads of the feet to swell.

 

While there’s varying degrees of frostbite, what I’ve observed in chickens is that their skin will turn either white or black (depending on severity), and in extreme cases turn black, harden, and start to curl.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

At the point of hardening and curling, it’s likely the skin on your chickens’ combs and/or wattles has died (confirm this with a vet, however).

 

Toes and feet are relatively rare victims of cold weather here, although in other areas of the USA, it’s a frequent occurrence. (If toes or feet are involved, you can follow the procedures below.)

 

Just remember that if this happens to your chickens, it’s not the end of their lives unless it goes untreated.

 

In nearly all of the cases of frostbite we’ve had on our farm, it’s been mild enough that the skin returns to normal and the chickens are perfectly fine, although it can take a while for the skin to return completely back to normal – it’s been damaged after all!

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Preventing frostbite

First, let’s talk about how to prevent frostbite because it’s relatively easy as long as you can catch your chickens.

 

Petroleum jelly is approved by the Food And Drug Administration as a skin protectant, and that’s because – you guessed it – it protects skin.

 

Basically, it acts as a barrier between your chickens’ body and the cold and/or wind. If your chickens drink, it will help keep water off their wattles, which also helps prevent frostbite.

 

We apply it when we get cold snaps, and daily until the temperatures rise.

 

In addition, keeping your chickens inside on particularly cold days or chilly, wet days will reduce the chances your chickens will suffer from frostbite. It’s generally a good idea anyway, since freezing rain can kill your chickens.

 

If your flock keeps getting frostbite because they dunk their wattles in water, then you can change to a different type of waterer, or raise their water dishes off the ground.

 

For feet, you can put straw on the ground in their coop and run, which is a great insulator.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

How help chickens with frostbite

This is what we do on our farm. Use your best judgement to determine what’s best for your flock.

 

To help chickens effected by frostbite, first bring the area of concern (combs, wattles, limbs, etc) lukewarm water.

 

It’s important not to warm them too quickly (which can cause nerve damage), so bring your chickens inside and allow them to get warm.

 

For combs and wattles, you can apply warm water with a cloth until you see circulation return and the area feels warm or “normal.” For feet, you can place them in lukewarm water until you see circulation return.

 

Apply an antibacterial ointment (natural or pharmaceutical) to help the skin become healthy and ward off infections.

 

Place them in a crate in a quiet area with a towel, food, and water and keep them inside until the very cold has passed or your chickens seem back to normal.

 

If the damage is severe, it’s best to consult a vet. Even a vet inexperienced with chickens can provide advice since the procedure won’t be that different than helping any other domestic animal.

 

If you think your chickens might have an infection or need to lose a limb from frostbite damage, you should consult with a veterinarian who can advise you whether the effected area should be removed (again, even a vet inexperienced with chickens can advise you best.)

 

In my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, I show you how to care for your chickens so they stay healthy, regardless of the season, and there’s detailed information about chickens, frostbite, and the cold. You can get your copy here.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Use This Insanely Foolproof Hack To Keep Your Chicken’s Water From Freezing This Winter!

Use This Insanely Foolproof Hack To Keep Your Chicken’s Water From Freezing This Winter!

Cold weather will soon be here….and that means frozen chicken waterers.

 

The last thing we want on our farm is for our hens to go without water but it’s sometimes hard to avoid when the temperatures drop – especially if those stainless steel nipples are involved. (Want to get 7 more GENIUS hacks to keep your flock’s water from freezing? Click here)

 

This article is an excerpt from my best selling book, Chickens! You can grab it here and use coupon code WINTER to save 10% and get the digital version FREE!)


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Yes, they do freeze, and it’s not super easy to prevent them from freezing because of the metal.

 

We only use tubs for water in the winter – even the mason jar waterers get frozen and clogged.

 

But the tubs aren’t foolproof either – they still freeze unless you use a tank heater (and then you’re talking about using electricity).

 

Last winter, we tested a bunch of ways to keep our hen’s water from freezing and found a method from another blogger, Staci at A Chick And Her Garden, that worked better for us than anything else out there.

 

In fact, it’s nearly foolproof, at least for us it was!

 

What’s the deal?

We use large tubs of water – think 40 gallon tubs – for our livestock. I’ve learned that the larger the body of water, the less likely it is to freeze solid.

 

Because we’re soda drinkers, we always have empty 2 liter bottles hanging around the house….perfect for creating a buoyant object to place inside the water tubs.

 

First we filled the empty soda bottles with water, then added 3 cups of table salt to the bottle.

 

Each bottle then went into a 40 gallon tub – and we kept our fingers crossed it would keep the water from freezing.

 

While in very low temperatures the water will still freeze (when it’s 20 below, it’s going to happen no matter WHAT you do), we found that even when it got in the teens in our area, the fresh water didn’t freeze!

herbs for backyard chickens

Word of warning

Now bear in mind, that you don’t want to add salt TO your chicken’s water – that will potentially dehydrate them and mess up their electrolyte balance.

 

You just want to add salt to the water in the bottle.

 

You want to make sure you use a plastic bottle – glass or metal will conduct cold faster. Plastic is better to use in cool temperatures.

 

For this experiment, we found that table salt is better than kosher or other large-crystal salt since it’s easier to create a high-salinity solution with table salt.

 

So why does this work?

Well, you might think it’s because salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water, and the higher the concentration of dissolved salt, the lower its overall freezing point.

 

However, we’re placing the salt water inside a bottle – which is then placed in the water tub and not in direct contact with the fresh water.

 

So, the lower freezing point of salt water has little effect on the water around it.

 

So the other, more applicable, reason this method works is that the salt water bottle moves in the fresh water because of wind/air currents, mini waves caused by chickens dunking their beaks into the bucket, and natural movements in the earth around it – and moving water is less likely to freeze.

 

Animals also learn that any surface ice around the bottle is weaker, and therefore easier to break (this is why salt water bottles work better than say, ping pong balls which are smaller, less dense, and easier trapped.)

 

Ok, so why not use fresh water in the bottle?


Great question. Adding fresh water would do little to keep the water liquid in lower temperatures – the water inside the bottle would just freeze as fast as the water around it.

 

The lower freezing point of the salt water means it’ll stay liquid and moveable on the water surface longer.

 herbs for backyard chickens

Does the size of the bottle matter?

 

Kind of. If your tub is large and filled with gallons and gallons of water, a small bottle of salt water would have less of an effect.

 

In a smaller tub, a large bottle of water might make it hard for chickens and livestock to get to the water – so in this case, size does matter.


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Worried about your backyard chickens not getting enough water this winter? Use this GENIUS hack to stop water from freezing!
Easiest DIY Automatic Chicken Waterer You’ll Ever Make

Easiest DIY Automatic Chicken Waterer You’ll Ever Make

With it getting hotter, I wanted to show you a DIY automatic chicken waterer we made right on the homestead.

 

It cost us under $5 to make, but it solves so many problems on the farm. The last thing we want is for our animals to be thirsty or get heat stroke, and this DIY automatic chicken waterer prevents health issues.

 

Here’s a step-by-step video, and there’s also directions below.

 

The chickens love that it makes water available all day, and I love that it’s close to the ground and shallow enough that chicks won’t drown in it (unless their seriously committed).

 

It’s easy to disassemble and clean and because it’s made of plastic and rubber, it’s easy to sanitize.

 

Here’s the DIY automatic chicken waterer we made:

 

DIY automatic chicken waterer with chick

 

You can use galvanized steel instead of rubber, if you prefer.

 

Seriously, this took us about 5 minutes to make. Once you have the materials, it’s super simple.

 

What you’ll need to make this DIY waterer:

  • A 5 Gallon bucket
  • Plastic top that fits on the bucket
  • A 1/2″ to 1″ drill bit
  • Electric drill
  • Ground feeder or oil pan


Here’s how to make it!

 

Start with a 5 gallon bucket

 

We found one at our local big box store, but you can buy it on Amazon as well.

 

The most important part of choosing a bucket is to make sure it’s food grade, since your chickens will drink from the DIY automatic chicken waterer.

 

 

How do you tell if it’s made of food grade plastic? If it has a 2 and the HDPE designation, it’s safe for food.

 

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

If you do use a bucket that’s been hanging around, either clean it with bleach or avoid making a DIY waterer with it altogether if you don’t know what’s been in it.

 

Our bucket was brand new and cleaned with bleach when we brought it home.

 

Drill holes in the bucket

 

We got a 1″ drill but for about $3.

 

With the bit, drill evenly-spaced holes as close to the top of the bucket as possible – it’s these holes that will create the automatic part of your DIY chicken waterer.

 

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

If you don’t have the right drill bit, here’s what we use:

 

 

You want to DIY holes so they’ll be large enough to let out enough water, but not so large that the water will come gushing out and all over the place.

 

 

Drill a hole in the top

 

We were able to source a bucket top for our DIY waterer at our local big box store.

 

Once you’ve drilled holes in the 5 gallon bucket, drill a 1″ hole in the top.

 

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

Secure the top to the bucket by snapping it into place.

 

This forms an air-tight seal when under water so the pan refills only when the water level has sunk low enough.

 

 

Get a ground feeder or oil pan

 

We used an old ground feeder for horses that we had lying around, which made this project super cheap, since we just had to buy the bucket and top.

 

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

Ours is rubber, but a galvanized steel one will work well since it also will be easy to clean.

 

Whatever you use, the water line must be able to rise higher than the holes you drilled in the 5 gallon bucket when it’s inverted and placed into the ground feeder.

 

Here’s the rubber one we use (and next to it is the steel one, if you prefer):

 

 

Fill the bucket with water

 

Through the 1″ hole, fill the bucket with water.

 

After the bucket is full, quickly flip it upside down and place it into the ground feeder or oil pan.

 

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

The ground feeder will fill up with water, and should stop filling once the water line exceeds the holes in the 5 gallon bucket.

 

Anytime your flock drinks down the water, the bucket will automatically fill.

Time to make a DIY automatic chicken waterer and reduce the amount of time you spend on barn chores. Make an automatic chicken waterer in just a few easy steps!

 

Doesn’t get much easier than that, and our flock loves to drink water from it!

 

Have the DIY waterer mastered? How about trying a DIY automatic chicken feeder?

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Would this DIY automatic chicken waterer work for your flock? Why or why not? Email me at [email protected] or comment below!

 

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