From our friends at Chicken Run Rescue, and re-printed with their permission.
Strong winds, sub-zero temperatures and dangerous wind chills are predicted for the next week in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area. These conditions are extremely dangerous to chickens and other domestic fowl. Domestic chickens are all descended from wild jungle fowl native to a habitat that is spacious, richly vegetated, diverse and warm. Winter in Minnesota is as far from a tropical jungle as you can get.
Chickens need protection in cold weather. The optimal temperature range for chickens is “Minimum Temperature 55°(f) , maximum temperature 70°(F)”* Below 32 degrees birds are uncomfortable and cannot maintain body temperature. Below 15 degrees frostbite begins, and hypothermia increases.
Signs of hypothermia include, shriveled and pale face, comb and wattles, head tucked into shoulders, fluffed feathers, shivering, huddled and inactive.
Frostbite can take weeks to become apparent long after the damage and injury has occurred. If the extremities of the toes, comb and wattles are cold to the touch but are warm closer to the body, take action. Its best to know that frostbite can and does occur and prevent it in the first place. It is necessary to allow the damage to run its course to determine where the healthy tissue stops and the dead tissue starts before amputation. The birds are given a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for the pain, and antibiotics and food based immune supplements to manage infection. They are kept quiet in a warm, clean area with soft bedding to reduce the chance that they will break off the frostbitten appendages prematurely if there is too much physical activity. They also receive weekly laser therapy which speeds up the healing process remarkably.
Signs of frostbite include pale and swollen comb, wattles and toes, bleeding of comb and wattles as blood vessels rupture, exposed skin tissue on head and feet that turns yellow then black and crusty as blood supply shuts down and tissue dies- painfully.
The photos in this album document the early, mid and final stages of frostbitten birds we have rescued. When subzero temperatures are predicted, get the chicken to a warm environment immediately. Hypothermic birds can go into shock and die quickly. They need extra calories and fresh water. In severely cold weather. Bring them into the house or a heated garage. Your bird will be very comfortable in and grateful for a medium sized dog carrier with soft clean bedding and hook on dishes for food and water brought into the warmth of your house.
An unheated and uninsulated coop is deadly and cruel. Fluid filled safety heaters are completely closed and sealed systems. The fluid is heated from within and the heat is radiant so there are no exposed heating elements that create dangerous problems. Heaters should be caged to protect birds from direct contact and secured to prevent tipping. Heat lamps are a fire hazard and the bulbs may burn out unexpectedly. Fluid filled heaters can be purchased for the price of two heat lamp bulbs, are safer and have thermostats to regulate the temperature. Smoke alarms are also highly recommended. Extra clean, dry bedding should also be available to keep animals warm and comfortable in cold seasons. Heat lamps and bulbs are not sufficient heat sources.
Consult your veterinarian if you suspect hypothermia or frost bite.
--Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue, 2013
Photo credit: Sebastiaan-Pruis--istockphoto