Frostbite is an extremely common issue when it comes to winter time issues with your chicken flock. Your chickens might suffer from frostbite on their combs and wattles, while your neighbor’s chickens never get frostbite—why is that? It comes down to science and method, really. But no matter what you do, you should always know about naturally preventing and treating frostbite in chickens. It could happen to anyone at anytime no matter how much prevention. Let’s go over frostbite, some ways to prevent it, and how you can easily treat it by keeping a simple salve on hand.
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite occurs when the fluids in tissue freeze and the cells die. If you’ve ever touched a chicken’s comb or wattles, you’ll notice that it’s naturally soft and well moisturized, but it’s not wet. Therefore we know that frostbite typically only occurs when the tissues become went and then freeze. This can happen for multiple reasons, but the main ones being poor ventilation in your coop (chicken’s breath cause moisture that can’t escape), wet bedding or a wet coop, outside weather conditions that your chickens have been roaming around in, or chickens with large combs and wattles that are simply more susceptible to frost bite.
Frostbite can happen on combs, wattles, and even the toes of chickens, especially if they’ve been walking around in the snow or rain.
The signs of frostbite are white/black patches on the affected areas of the chicken. They are often dry, they may peel, and if toes get frost bite, they can fall off. It can be very painful if left untreated.
Naturally Preventing Frostbite in Chickens
An ounce of prevention goes a long way, and this is true with preventing frostbite as well. Chicken flocks on the homestead and farm aren’t something you want to have to babysit all of the time, therefore, it’s so important to utilize prevention with your chooks.
Here are some ways to prevent frostbite:
- Choose Hardy Breeds—
Choosing breeds with smaller combs, or breeds that thrive best in your climate, will do your homestead well. Don’t choose tropical large combed birds if you live in Alaska, etc. Instead, choose breeds with pea combs or more cold hardy characteristics.
- Ventilate Your Coop—
A well ventilated coop will help prevent frostbite very well. With air flow (not draft), it will allow the moisture in the air from your chicken’s breathing at night to escape instead of hover over your flock in the coop. This helps keep the moisture that causes frostbite to a minimum.
- Don’t Use Heat Lamps or Heaters—
They simply aren’t necessary, but also, they cause moisture in the air with the constant changing temperatures.
- Keep Bedding Clean and Dry—
One of the biggest culprits to frostbite is wet bedding. This is especially true in the winter months when there is snow on the ground. Practice the deep litter method by adding wood chips, straw, or bedding of your choice in a thick layer to your coop floor. Stir it each day and add more when necessary. This creates what we call a giant “carbon diaper” in your coop that allows good bacteria to flourish, moisture to escape, and creates a nice dry stable bedding for your flock. Also, don’t put waterers into your coop, as this causes excessive moisture in the air.
- Put Down Straw or Wood Chips Outside—
Snow and rain in the winter months are horrible on chicken feet, especially if the temperatures drop quickly. Make sure you’re putting down a layer of thick straw or wood chips from your coop to a sunny area so that your chickens have something dry to walk on.
Naturally Treating Frostbite in Chickens
There are certain things we keep on hand in our herbal livestock apothecary on this homestead, and black drawing salve is one of them. Years ago, a friend of mine turned me on to ichthammol for our livestock. Naturally, I wanted a more natural alternative, so we started making our very own black drawing salve that was even more amazing than the ichthammol. We use black drawing salve for everything when it comes to our homestead and livestock. Not only does it effectively (tried and true!) treat the frostbite on chicken combs, wattles, and feet. But it also causes the rest of the flock to leave your ailing flock member alone, as they don’t like pecking at the black drawing salve.
If there’s one salve you should keep on hand at all times, it’s this one. It is so versatile when it comes to ailments. Use it on frostbitten rooster combs, bumblefoot, wounds, irritations—the possibilities are endless. This salve not only soothes and heals, but also draws out infection and helps with inflammation. Note: Activated charcoal and bentonite clay can be purchased from most health food stores and online. They can sometimes be found in the health and beauty section of regular stores as well. I’ve linked them in the recipe below.
This recipe calls for infused-oils. Learn how to make them ahead of time here.
How to Make Herbal Black Drawing Salve
6 tablespoons calendula-infused oil
3 tablespoons plantain-infused oil
3 tsp beeswax
3 tsp activated charcoal
3 tsp bentonite clay
10 drops tea tree essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
- Add about 1-inch of water to a saucepan and turn on to medium heat. You’re making a double boiler so that your oils won’t be touching direct heat.
- In a glass or tin jar, add calendula oil, plantain oil, coconut oil, and beeswax. Place the jar in the saucepan to create a double boiler. Stir oils and beeswax until melted completely.
- Add charcoal and clay, and mix well. If you need a thicker consistency, add a little more clay.
- Remove the jar from heat, and add essential oils. I like to add tea tree and lavender because of their healing properties, but the possibilities are endless.
- Optional: If you’d like a more whipped consistency, leave the salve in the jar until almost hardened, then whip it with a whisk or immersion blender.
- Pour the salve into a new jar or individual tins—something that you can easily dip the salve out of. Allow to cool completely, then cap tightly, label, and store for up to a year in your medicine cabinet.
- When needed, use a small amount topically. Cover with a bandage for up to 12 hours before rinsing off if using on feet.
And that’s it! It’s just that easy!
Find this information and more in my new book,
The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook!
Amy K. Fewell is an author, family herbalist, entrepreneur, homesteader, and homemaker. Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, her and her family live a natural homesteading lifestyle where they promote self-sufficiency and liberty. Amy is the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. You can discover more on this website and at homesteadersofamerica.com