Frostbite is a common concern for backyard chicken keepers during the cold winter months. Not usually fatal, it can still put unnecessary stress on a chicken or even worse, result in infection or the loss of a foot or comb. Contrary to popular belief, moisture contributes more to frostbite than actual cold.
Even in winter, your coop should be well-ventilated (up high, above the heads of your roosting hens), to prevent damp conditions or a build up of moisture inside the coop. 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, your coop is too damp and needs more ventilation.
Preventing frostbitten feet, in addition to having a well-ventilated coop, requires 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 feett from underneath. A 2×4 with the 4″ side facing up is perfect.
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 pea combs such as Easter Eggers, Ameraucanas, and Wyandottes fare far better than breeds with larger combs.
If you have roosters or hens with large combs, applying some softened coconut oil (or my homemade Frostbite Ointment, recipe below) can help protect against frostbite. (Conventional wisdom recommends treating frostbite with petroleum jelly, but I prefer to use a natural product instead.) Carefully slathering coconut oil or Frostbite Ointment on a frostbitten comb can also help prevent further damage and aid healing.
The telltale sign of frostbite is dark black spots on the comb or wattles. Don’t break off any blackened frostbitten tips because they help protect the comb underneath, however sometimes infection can set in, in which case the comb will need to be trimmed – but only as a last resort.
This all-natural ointment can be used to prevent and treat frostbite, as well as to treat any wounds, burns or injuries on you or your flock.
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)
Grate beeswax and melt with coconut oil over low heat in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in the Vitamin E and essential oils until well mixed. Pour into a small covered metal or glass container and cool. Store in a cool, dry place and use as needed.
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