Frostbite and Infected Wattles on Roosters and Hens

I will preface this by saying: I am not a veterinarian. This is not instructional, it is informative. I am a fairly naturopathic farmer, and this is my experience in a specific situation. If your animal is ill, call your veterinarian.

Caveat aside, I’ve got a one-year old rooster with some serious issues.

It has been in the negatives this past week, and our enormous rooster, The Admiral, has not been faring well with it.

I noticed three days ago that his wattles (the red things under a rooster’s chin) and his comb were looking slightly black. In my previous experience, I’ve dealt with hens with frostbite, but their combs are traditionally much smaller and oftentimes the comb would fall off and the hen would be just fine.

But the rooster’s wattles, the next day, warmed up (above 0 degrees) and then froze again that night, resulting in cracking of his wattles.

If you own chickens, you know that if one of your flock is bleeding, the rest will peck at it. I have no idea why they do this, they just do. So our flock of eight hens was pecking at the rooster’s wattles.

The Admiral is white, and with the combination of frostbite and eight other chickens trying to peck his bleeding wattles, they became infected and extremely bloody. The contrast between his gorgeous snowy feathers and the red blood was pretty dramatic and scary. Additionally, he was displaying lethargy, no interest in food or water, and was acting completely passive. For him, this was entirely abnormal.

So I decided to take action. I couldn’t find the kennel I was planning on keeping him in, so I used a 32-gallon plastic moving crate and cut holes in all four sides, put hay on the bottom, got some food and water, and moved him into our kitchen.

Last night was his first night inside. Scott and I attempted to wash the blood off his chest, and to wash the wattles, but most of it was sticking. Even with hot water, we weren’t getting too far. I did NOT apply vaseline or any antibiotics, although if I had Neosporin on hand I probably would have done that, but the best thing in my opinion was to clean it off and let him do the work.

My theory was that in the frigid weather, a perfectly healthy chicken is using its energy to maintain a core heat temperature. How could it try to battle an infection as well as keep up its energy in -10 degree weather? Additionally, his wattles needed to have at least hot water (they were rock-hard frozen) applied, but since I have no idea what sort of infection he was going through, I didn’t want to mess too much one way or another. Livestock are a hardy bunch when you don’t mess with them too much.

When we brought him in, he was lethargic and not fighting our advances while we were cleaning him, and I expected this morning he would be dead. A lethargic (bird especially) animal is not a good sign; it is a sign of systemic infection, especially with no interest in food, water, or fighting us. I crossed my fingers for the morning.

This morning, he was not fully recuperated as I was hoping, not eating, not defecating, and still out of it. I did notice he had his mouth open like he was dehydrated, so I put fresh water in with him and went to classes, hoping for the best.

When I got home, he had eaten all his food and was drinking as well. The swelling has gone down some, and if he continues on this path, I’d say in a couple days he can go back out in the coop.


UPDATE: 12/20/2013

The rooster isΒ much better. He is acting combative, eating, drinking, passing stool, and generally seeming ready to get out of his box. His wattles are still slightly puffy, though there is no bleeding and the wattles are 70% softer than they were. He obviously still has the frostbite marks (black) and always will, unless those parts fall off. But he is going to survive this incident!


4 thoughts on “Frostbite and Infected Wattles on Roosters and Hens

  1. We have a few chickens and we used to keep pigeons. They can always sense when one of their number is ill and will peck it to death if left to it. I think it’s a self-preservation thing. They sense infection and attempt to drive the stricken bird away from the flock – but being cooped up the victim has nowhere to go. That’s my theory anyway.
    You did a great job, by the way. From my experience, when birds get sick they usually die.
    Cheers, Alen

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