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


Chicken Emergency Kits: Making Stressful Situations Less Intimidating!

Chicken Emergency Kits: Making Stressful Situations Less Intimidating!

It’s always a very good idea to create your own chicken emergency kit – and in this article, I’m going to give you ideas about what to keep in it.


While we all might like to think our chicken-keeping experience will be bucolic and without any trouble, the straight truth is you will likely come up against some sort of trouble at some point.


Mites, worms, cuts, or infections tend to rear their ugly head at the most inconvenient times (like when you plan to be out of town for a week – chickens have great timing like that) and having an emergency kit on hand will make a stressful situation easier.


The items in this article are just a suggestion – you can add or subtract or include your own items as you find what works for your particular backyard chicken flock.


There’s also links where you can buy these items directly from Amazon, so you have them on hand.

What should you add in the chicken emergency kit?


The first thing you may want to purchase is a plastic container that also has a cover, like this one. You will want to clearly mark it (write “Chicken Emergency Kit” on it with a marker, for example) so you can easily locate it, and your family doesn’t raid it for supplies for other projects.

Once you have the plastic container ready, you will have to think about the items to include.

Here’s some that are easy to source and can save your butt (and possibly your hen’s life):


Nutri drench

Click here to get it on Amazon

This is powdered electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals that you mix with water. You can offer it to your chicken when they’re hurt to keep them hydrated and healthy enough to combat their illness or trauma. If they’re stressed and in pain, they’re less likely to eat and drink. Very important!


Saline solution

Click here to get it on Amazon

If your chicken has dust or dirt in her eyes or an open wound, saline solution will help you flush it clean.


Triple antibiotic ointment or natural alternative

Click here to get antibiotic ointment on Amazon

Click here to get a natural alternative on Amazon

If your chicken get an open wound, you will need to put something on it after flushing it clean. If you use over-the-counter drugs with your flock then triple antibiotic ointment is great, or a natural alternative if you’re raising them 100% natural.



Click here to buy it on Amazon

Another topical antiseptic alternative. I don’t personally use it, but a lot of people like Blu-Kote because it’s blue, and deters other chickens from picking at open wounds. (However, if you use an all-natural thick salve, you will have the same effect)


Pure organic honey

Click here to buy it on Amazon

(Check the label that there’s ONLY honey in it – no corn syrup or other additives). Honey is great for wounds, especially if the sores are wet and gooey. It can be hard to put salve or ointments on wet wounds, and honey has natural antibacterial qualities and gets into tiny crevices to battle bacteria.


Poultry VetRX

Click here to buy it on Amazon

This is based on an all-natural formula that’s been around since the 19th century. It’s particularly great for colds or upper-respiratory infections, and can come in handy for eye worms, scaly legs as well. Ingredients include Canada balsam, camphor, oil origanum, oil rosemary, all blended in a corn oil base.


Diatomaceous Earth

Click here to buy it on Amazon

Just keep a small bag around for emergencies. It’s great for scaly leg mites, but be sure to apply it on a windy day or at least in a breezy area so neither you nor your chicken inhale it. Food-grade only!


Coconut oil

Click here to buy it on Amazon

If you plant to use essential oils to support a healthy hen, then you can dilute it in the oil. Also great for adding moisture to excessively dry skin.


Heat lamp or heating pad

Click here to buy a heat lamp on Amazon

Click here to buy a heating pad on Amazon

Even if your chicken isn’t a chick, when they’re sick, keeping them warm is a good idea, as long as the ambient temperature in the room isn’t too hot. Also be sure to give them an area to get out of the heat, if your chicken wants to.


Penicillin or Tylan 50

It’s best to get this through a vet or from your local feed store

If you’re using Western medicine to treat your flock then having injectible antibiotics on hand is a good idea. Check with a poultry vet for the correct dosage.



Click here to buy it on Amazon

If you have a sick or injured chicken, giving them probiotics will help ensure their body has good gut health to help them heal (it won’t heal a broken leg, for example, but it WILL ensure your chicken has good gut health to maintain SOME standard of health – a wonky gut will only make healing more difficult).


Some standard chicken emergency kit items also include:


  • Gauze pads
  • A first aid tape
  • Cotton swabs
  • Wooden popsicle sticks to act as a splint for legs or wings
  • Syringes for dosing or helping a hen stay hydrated – Click here to buy syringes on Amazon


I’d like to hear from you!

Do you have a chicken emergency kit created yet? What do you keep in yours? Leave a comment below!

Why Honey’s Antibacterial Properties Should Always Be In Your Chickens’ Emergency Kit

Why Honey’s Antibacterial Properties Should Always Be In Your Chickens’ Emergency Kit

Humans have known about honey’s antibacterial properties for centuries, and it’s something I turn to on the homestead to treat wounds on our chickens.


For generations, our ancestors relied on honey’s antibacterial properties to treat their chickens as well as themselves, and our medical communities are rediscovering the power of honey as antibiotic resistant bacteria becomes more of an issue.


I’ve often found that topical antibacterial ointments that you buy at the store just don’t perform like honey to treat traumatic injuries on chickens, such as large wounds.


Of course if your chicken has an upper respiratory infection, then providing them internal antibiotics after consulting with a veterinarian is the way to go.


But for external injuries, I’ve found that honey’s antibacterial properties are far superior than other topical antibacterial ointments.


Why I use honey


Well, for starters, honey doesn’t spoil; it has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, still edible after 3,000 or more years.


That’s pretty strong evidence that honey’s antibacterial properties are superior. Bacteria just has a hard time growing in it.


Believe it or not, honey is an accepted form of wound treatment in the medical community. As an “old-timey” approach, it fell out of style as drug companies produced topical antibacterial ointment that better fit our society’s idea of progress.


But as bacteria has become increasingly resistant, researchers are returning to some ancient methods to treat common traumatic injuries. 


In our neck of the woods, there are no avian vets, and I’ve seen enough of the veterinary skills in my area to be concerned about bringing any animal to them.


So, on our homestead, we must be self-reliant when treating our flock of chickens, and I’ve learned that knowledge is the best protection.


Secondly, in addition to honey’s antibacterial properties, it also is less viscous than over the counter treatments and is stickier.


Why is this important?


Imagine you’re a chicken that has a large wound on your head from a pecking order dispute. This wound goes through several layers of skin.


But, since you’re a chicken, you still want to dust bathe, peck for food, etc. All sorts of normal activities that will expose your wound to bacteria.


I’ve found that because honey is stickier, when it comes to wet injuries, honey adheres to the wound better than other antibacterial medications. I’ve found that triple antibiotic ointment, silver sulfide, and other topical medications simply don’t offer the same level of wound coverage that honey does.


And in my opinion, when it comes to chickens, this can mean the difference between life and death from infection.


Honey is also able to spread its antibacterial properties where a more viscous ointment cannot, namely, under folds of skin or into crevices that we as humans can’t see well, but where bacteria like to lurk.

When it comes to chickens, honey's antibacterial properties might save their lives. In this article, you'll learn how to use honey to treat traumatic injury in chickens and why it's so important to keep in your emergency kit.

Examples of using honey’s antibacterial properties on our homestead


I’ve successfully used honey’s antibacterial properties to treat both quail and chickens on our farm. 


Recently, one of our quail was involved in a pecking order dispute, and lost literally half the skin on his head.


Although the injury was quite extensive, I wanted to give the quail 48 hours before I put him to sleep. He didn’t seem in pain (although he had to be), so I applied antibacterial ointment to his wound.


I applied silver sulfide, which is commonly used to treat horse wounds, but I couldn’t get it to cover the wound because of the blood and plasma.


So, I gently washed off the silver sulfide, and applied honey three times each day to prevent infection, wearing surgical gloves so I didn’t introduce more bacteria into his wound.


I’ve been very pleased with how honey’s antibacterial qualities helped this quail heal. Although he still has a long way to go, the flesh is healthy, pink, and slowly recuperating.


After I applied the honey, the following day the wound was fresh, but definitely not red or inflamed.


Thanks to honey’s antibacterial qualities, the wound was actually starting to scab over with a hard cover!


Another advantage of using honey’s antibacterial properties is it reduces inflammation (hence why the medical community uses it on burns).


With my quail, I was concerned that he might go into shock from the pain of his traumatic injury. The honey reduced any inflammation, and kept the wound mois.


That way my quail didn’t experience even more pain as his wound dried (which could have caused the skin to tighten).


In a second example, I used honey to treat a pullet that, like the quail, was involved in a pecking order dispute.


The pullet had a deep, dime-sized wound on her head that went through several layers of skin.


In this situation, the wound was smaller, but since it went through several layers of skin, there was a larger possibility that bacteria could grow under the skin, unseen, until the pullet had a full-blown systemic infection.


I used honey to treat the wound, after washing the effected area. Similar to the quail, the honey caused the wound to scab over quickly, and reduced the inflammation.


Another benefit of honey


When it comes to honey, another advantage is it doesn’t have any withdrawal times. 


Other topical antibiotic ointments, such as triple antibiotic cream, have withdrawal time, so while the animal is healing, you can’t eat the eggs or the meat.


With honey, there’s no such withdrawal times, and you can continue to enjoy your chickens eggs.


Sourcing honey to use on your homestead


If you want to use honey’s antibacterial properties on your homestead, you’ll need to pay attention to what you’re buying.


I only recommend using organic honey from a company like Thrive Market which ethically sources all of its products.


In order to be considered honey, according to USDA standards, bee pollen must be in honey sold in the US. Typically, though, to please consumers who demand clarity in the final product, most suppliers ultra filter the honey, taking out all the particulates and the pollen.


In the US, honey you find at the grocery store isn’t usually honey, but a mixture of very processed honey and corn syrup. A lot of the antibacterial properties have been lost.



In the US, as well, most of the honey sold comes from international sources, usually China, and contains more corn syrup than honey. Antibacterial qualities are sub par in these products.


Organic honey, however, has pollen in it because typically it has not been ultra-filtered, and you can be sure you’re getting a product that is 100% honey.


You can also buy honey from a bee keeper in your area, but if you don’t have access to any near you, then purchasing organic honey will do the trick.


I’d like to hear from you!

Have you harnessed the power of honey’s antibacterial properties on your homestead? Would you try it? Email me at [email protected] or comment below!