Well, we thought we had done okay with the critters in that month-long stretch of -30C temperatures, but now that it’s warmed up and we’re having a chance to really examine everyone in the sunshine, we’re finding some frostbite on the chickens, particularly on the combs, and, on some of the roosters, the wattles.
We think it has to do with humidity. Last winter, and even earlier this winter, the chickens weathered colder temperatures without issue; we’ve seen -40 with no frostbite at all. However, those were all short cold snaps – a few days, at most. This time, there were only three days in a month-long stretch where it was warm enough to open up the barn and coops and let the critters roam around outside.
With so many creatures breathing in such a confined space, the humidity does build up right along with the body heat. Especially in the barn, where we have a coop of chickens next to two stalls full of goats, it can get almost muggy after a few days with the doors all closed up tight. Interestingly, it was the roosters in the barn coop that seem to have suffered the worst frostbite, even though that barn would have been warmer than the small coop.
Frostbite turns the skin black, and, after a while, the dead skin sloughs off, leaving a smooth surface (unlike the usual ridges and texture of a rooster comb). We don’t normally do much of anything about the frostbite after it’s happened (we prefer prevention), but we do monitor the affected chickens, as sometimes there is a little blood when the dead skin is coming off. The blood itself is usually minimal, but if it starts attracting the attention of the other chickens, it can become a problem, as they will peck at it and cause much bigger issues. We’ve had to quarantine a badly affected rooster in our first year. He didn’t even have bad frostbite…but he did bleed a teeny bit, and the hens went after him like sharks.
It looks like a couple of roosters are going to lose parts of their combs, and a few have black spots on their wattles. Nobody is bleeding, which is good. We are going to have to revise our tactics for long cold spells, though, and find a way to air out the coops to keep that humidity down.