Hypothermia and frostbite in chickens and ducks
Taking care of chickens and ducks during winter has already been covered as a subject but how many readers realise that they can actually suffer from hypothermia and frostbite?
Some chickens, particularly youngsters who are not used to extremely cold temperatures and older chickens that are not as agile as they once were, are at risk of hypothermia. Why they choose to go outside in such conditions is anyone’s guess but it happens.
If you notice a chicken lying down outside the coop, in the cold, frost or snow and they are showing no signs of movement you must check them immediately. A bird with hypothermia will be listless and its body temperature will be cold. Poultry are warm blooded birds so a chicken whose body is cold to the touch is in serious trouble.
Take the bird indoors and stand it on a warm area. Have some towels warmed in the microwave to hand and use a hair dryer on a low setting to gently blow warm air over the feathers. Ensure to warm under the wings and into the chest area – very important because that is where their main blood flow is, so you need to get the heat where it is going to do them the most good.
Alternate wrapping some of the warm towels around the bird then, as they cool down, off start the hair dryer treatment again. It requires a great deal of patience to carry out this procedure because the body needs to be warmed up very slowly in order for the bird to recover. Heating the body up too quickly can do more harm than good and could cause the bird to die of shock.
Ducks are particularly at risk because of their liking for swimming in water. If you have a large pond be sure to keep a very keen eye on any duck whose behaviour is out of the norm. Because their feathers may be wet, drying out and warming up a duck will take much longer. Continue as for chickens by alternating warming the bird with the hair dryer and warm towels until the bird shows some signs of recovery, even a quiet, weak cheep is a sign that you are likely to be successfully
Don’t stop trying to revive any bird that appears to be listless or whose head is lolling about for a long time – patience really is the key to success.
Once the bird appears to be livelier and the body feels warm to the touch, place it in a crate or a box and use a brooder lamp if you have one in order to maintain the body temperature. If you have no brooder lamp place the crate or box near, but not right next to, a heater or radiator. When the bird is recovered it can be returned to the flock but please do ensure that all procedures mentioned in the article on care of poultry in winter are followed.
Chickens can get frostbite on their combs, wattles and toes. This shows up as blackened areas that will eventually fall off. Never be tempted to remove any blackened areas because the tissue underneath will also be frostbitten.
Although it is advocated to rub these areas with cream or petroleum jelly, it is not an absolute preventative against frostbite, it is actually more a preventative against frozen comb. Feeding mixed corn and groats just before bedtime encourages internal body heat as will their natural instinct to roost closely together at night.
Frostbite actually happens when the humidity of the air in the hen house is high and the temperature drops below freezing. Your chickens will be at greater risk if they are kept in a coop with poor ventilation or one that is over insulated. Those of us who wear spectacles know only too well the effect of the lenses steaming up when walking into a warm house from the cold outdoor temperature. This is exactly what happens to a cockerel’s comb if the coop is not ventilated.
It is important to remove water containers from the hen house overnight as this adds humidity to the air.
You should also be aware that chickens can get frostbite on their feet so please ensure that they all sleep inside their coops at night and that at the first sign of any darkening of the skin on their feet or toes a visit to the vet is made. Advice and professional treatment can mean the difference between a chicken with healthy feet or one without toes.
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