Winter is coming. Autumn colors in the trees, shorter days, nippy air. Let’s talk FROSTBITE.
What causes frostbite? Chickens poop when they sleep. A LOT. Since they don’t pee, the white runny urates in their poop are the liquid waste, and that creates warm moist air in the coop. Warm air rises. When warm moist air rises it sits at the level of the birds on the roost. Then as the air cools it creates condensation on their combs- boom frostbite. Toes and feet can also get frostbitten if their feet are not protected enough by their feathers and body on the roost
How do you prevent frostbite? You want draft free, with top ventilation to allow the warm moist air to ESCAPE the coop and not sit around the birds’ heads. VENTILATION but NO DRAFTS is the key! I’m going to attach pictures of some of my coops, where you can see the obvious roofline ventilation. I have NO issues with frostbite in these coops. I live in Oklahoma, where we have fairly mild winters. “Coldest winter low” for us is single digits, with averages in the upper teens. If you live further north you may need further modifications than what I provide but the concept is the same. VENTILATION and NO DRAFTS.
To prevent frostbite on the feet, birds need a wide wooden roost bar so they can nestle over their feet and keep their feet warm. I recommend a 2×4 turned on its side so the wide 3 1/2″ side is up. NEVER use anything hollow, this will freeze their feet faster.
As a side note, I see people promoting coating the combs with various things, especially petroleum jelly, to prevent frostbite. This may help a little, but improving the ventilation in the coop is much more effective and healthier for the birds.
How do you treat frostbite? Supportive treatment only. You can put neosporin (without pain reliever) on the comb or feet to help protect and promote healing. The tips will be purple at first, then blacken, then fall off. In mild cases it will be just the tips, in severe cases they can lose their whole comb and look dubbed like a game bird, or their toes or even feet can completely self amputate.