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{Flock Updates} Below Zero Weather

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So, here’s a thing that you have to worry about when you have chickens and you live in a climate that gets cold: frostbite. I’ve never had an animal get frostbite before. With my previous horses and dogs and our current ones, this just hasn’t ever been a thing I’ve worried about. Bit different with chickens, it turns out.

It’s been cold as the ninth ring of Hell since Christmas night here, with the temperature getting down to around -15 or so last night. I have the flock moved from their usual outside run and house to a makeshift coop with a lamp in our barn. I don’t like keeping them in the barn because it’s basically an open top small pen in front of the makeshift coop. The coop is a giant crate we used to use for our Jack Russell Terriers that had litters with cardboard boxes, straw hay, and wood flakes in it to give the chickens some bedding and a place to huddle up in. It’s not ideal but it’s all I have right now and it keeps them dry and out of the wind.

The first things I’ve learned to help keep hens and roosters from getting frostbite on their combs and waddles is to make sure that the coop is ventilated enough (so that the moisture from their droppings and body heat don’t build up) and that the coop isn’t drafty. I’m worried that where they are now, it might be a little drafty so that’s why I added the cardboard boxes – to help block any drafts at the bottom and to give them a place to nest in.

The next thing is to make sure they aren’t getting their waddles in their water. Luckily, the hens don’t have waddles (and their combs are tiny and covered by their crests), and Odysseus’s waddle is small, as is his comb, so it doesn’t end up drooping into the water dish.

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Golden Laced Polish hen feet

 

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Golden Laced Polish hen feet

 

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Silver Sebright rooster foot

 

The final thing I’ve learned is that you can put either Vaseline or Bag Balm on the waddles, combs, and legs to help give them some more insulation during the night. It’s important to make sure you’re using something that doesn’t have any kind of medication in it (like Neosporin sometimes does) and that it isn’t water base (so that it doesn’t freeze on your chickens). Bag Balm is a salve that was made for milking cows utters and is now used as a salve for people and other animals. I’ve read that it turns waxy when it’s cold. Vaseline, as I found out tonight, almost gets the same consistency as hair pomade when cold. I’m not sure if one is better than the other (possibly BB since it was made for farm animals), but from what I’ve read is that both are good as preventative for frostbite, with the added bonus of helping keep mites off the legs of your chickens.

Not all chickens are going to like you messing with their feet. Kinda like people and dogs and horses. Two of the hens put up a fuss, two didn’t object at all to having their feet and legs lubed up. Odysseus is a bit of a diva and likes to be pampered, so no problems messing with his feet, waddle, or comb.

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I don’t know if this is a 100% foolproof way to prevent frostbite. I would think that it’s kind of like birth control in that, it’s probably a good idea to use all the methods available to you to prevent the thing you don’t want while still having the thing you do want.

The other thing that’s been happening with this sudden cold snap is that, Odysseus has developed a snotty nose and a bit of a sneeze. This can either be a respiratory issue or it could be due to the fact that it is unbelievably dusty here, even with the snow. So far, neither the snot or the sneeze has slowed him down or caused any other kind of worrying symptoms. However, to be on the safe side, I bought some VetRX and Gatorade and have been dosing the entire flock with it along with more specific treatment on Odysseus.

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VetRX and a Tupperware of regular Vaseline

 

VetRX is kind of like Vicks for us. It doesn’t cure anything, it just helps clear up the passages to ease breathing. To dose the entire flock, you just add a few drops in their water. To treat the birds individually, you heat up the bottle by letting it sit in some hot water (like VO5 hot oil treatments), then get a few drops on your fingertips and rub it underneath each wing and on the nares (nose holes). Usually when chickens sleep, they tuck their heads underneath their wings. I’ve read that not every breed does that and it’s probably safe to say not ever chicken does this (just like not every chicken will roost at night).

Rub a few dabs of warm VetRX under wings. It can also be applied to the comb, waddle, beak, and feet or used as a spray or in a vaporizer too.

Rub a few dabs of warm VetRX under wings. It can also be applied to the comb, waddle, beak, and feet or used as a spray or in a vaporizer too.

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Before I do this with Odysseus, I bring him in the house and use a warm, damp paper towel to gently work any snot that may have crusted up on his nares off. I usually wipe away from his face and down his beak. It might go without saying, but just like the feet, messing around their beak, nose, and eyes might not be okay with some chickens and they might get fussy. Odysseus is a little less tolerant to having his beak handled but he hasn’t bit me hard enough to do any damage. Make sure that whatever you use isn’t sopping wet because you could end up causing your chicken to aspirate, and that’s not a good thing to do to your chickens.

Mostly what I’ve learned so far is that, chickens are actually really hearty. Even when they’re not “cold hardy breeds” (which mine supposedly aren’t), they manage and can thrive as long as you do your best part to help them.

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