Napoleon’s Frostbite Story

Recently, the mood started changing around here.  The animals and I have less of that “we’re hunkering down” look.  We’ve made it through the worst part of winter, and we’re starting to think about spring.  The blogs I read are chock full of people going through seed catalogues. Some are already starting their seeds indoors.

We’re not quite that far along around here.  There’s lots of snow in our future still—March is historically our snowiest month.  But the sub-zero nights and single digit days are largely behind us.  And nobody is happier than Napoleon the rooster.

This was taken last fall.  He's gorgeous, isn't he?

This was taken last fall. He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?

Poor Napoleon’s comb and wattles got totally nailed during the first round of Arctic temps in mid-November.  I wrote about it when it happened, when I didn’t know how he would heal.

That first sub-zero day, I went out to find his wattles covered in ice from getting dipped in the water when he drank.  Oddly enough, his comb was greyish-black in the middle, not on the tips. I brought him inside, got the ice off his wattles, told him to be less messy when drinking, and returned him to the barnyard.

At first, it didn't look so bad.

At first, it didn’t look so bad.

I’ve learned if you’re going to let chickens be chickens, things are not nice and tidy.  I could clip wings and they wouldn’t fly over the fence.  But they seem to enjoy flying over the fence.  I could try and make them lay eggs in the nesting boxes.  But I don’t really care if they lay willy-nilly everywhere.  I could lock them up in the coops when the sub-zero temps hit, but I don’t.  The consequence of this freedom is the possibility of frostbite.

This is two

A few weeks later the black areas had darkened and moved toward the tips of his comb.

Lest you think I’m being irresponsible for letting this happen, I talked at length about frostbite with my avian vet.  I don’t care how my chickens look, but I do care if they are in pain.  However, there’s really no good research on how chickens feel pain.  I know that when Hermione and Sophia were sick and dying they acted differently.  Napoleon never skipped a beat, never acted “off”.  He definitely didn’t act like he was ever in pain—the hens can attest to that!

This was the worst of it.

This was the worst of it.

The vet also looked over my coops and barnyard when she was here.  Many websites attribute frostbite to poorly ventilated coops or wet bedding.  Both of my coops in the barnyard passed her inspection with flying colors.

The only way to totally prevent frostbite when the daytime temps are close to zero is to keep the chickens locked in the coop.  My vet’s opinion was while that wouldn’t hurt the chickens, it’s not the healthiest option, either.

Slowly but surely the black parts dropped off.

Slowly but surely the black parts shriveled and dropped off.

So even in the depths of winter, my flock will continue to have the option of free-ranging. When given that option, none of them choose to stay in the coops.  They mostly hang out on the south side of the goat shed, enjoying the stored heat of the wall.  Then they’ll move into the shed and hang out with Doink for a while.  I think of the shed as the animal’s coffee shop, where they mix and mingle to pass the time.

Almost completely healed.

Almost completely healed.

So no more sub-zero temps this winter.  No more frostbite.  I think we’re out of the woods on that, thank goodness.

Just as handsome as ever, in my opinion!

Napoleon today.  Just as handsome as ever, in my opinion!

Today it’s forecast to be 70° and sunny.  Here in Colorado.  In February.  On the day before my birthday.  Now that’s a sweet birthday gift from nature, don’t ya think?

(Shared at From the FarmOld-Fashioned FridayHomeAcre Hop, Simple Lives ThursdayHomestead Blog HopTuesdays With A Twist, Maple Hill Hop(mis)Adventures MondaysThank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks and Simple Saturdays)


  1. Happy Birthday, Joan! I’m so glad to hear that Napoleon is going to be okay. Chickens sure are resilient.

  2. Wow, I didn’t know the wattles/comb keep growing – that’s so wonderful! And happy, happy birthday!

  3. Happy Birthday. So Glad Napoleon is back to his handsome self again.
    Carol Caldwell recently posted…I thought this was cute

  4. Jan in NWGA says:

    Been reading for about 6 months now and I don’t comment on any blogs often but Thank you for sharing the photos and your opinions. This is my first winter with chickens and I’m trying to walk a fine line between going silly crazy and being irresponsible. I kind of lean towards your attitude but didn’t know if my Speckled Sussex boy’s points would regrow. We do get a few below freezing nights in the Appalachian foothills but he’s acting fine – and practicing for spring. Love the blog and especially Doink!

  5. I didn’t realize the frostbitten parts would fall off and healing would start. Animals are so fascinating, aren’t they? Glad he’s okay. Your chickens are so well loved and respected. It shows. Have a glorious birthday!
    daisy recently posted…Wordless Wednesday

  6. Gorgeous guy! I wonder if there’s little to no pain since it’s mostly like cartilage???

  7. Happy Birthday Joan. I also had problems with the combs on three rosters this year during the deep freeze here in Colorado. I even tried the Vaseline on the combs. Wish I had a picture of all the straw stuck to my Baxter’s comb, it was a laugh. Now all three have curved combs and they are all healed. I agree with you that letting them have freedom in more important than how they look, as long, they are not in pain, and are healthy. We try to keep things as close to nature here as possible.
    I hope that your day is a great one. Enjoy the weather while it last.

  8. I’m so glad to have seen this!! We have two roosters and one has gone unscathed in the cold weather we’ve had. The other has a fairly large comb and wattles and after an exceptionally cold day last week noticed he had frostbite. I didn’t know how he would end up looking, so it’s great to see how your boy turned out! Even though he lost some, Napoleon still sure is handsome!
    Monica recently posted…Foodie Friday: Scrambled Eggs

  9. Happy Birthday – glad Napoleon is healing well. I just got my first two chickens yesterday. This post was informative and delightful as always. I love the idea of the animal coffee shop. Today is my birthday – cheers to a fellow aquarian. Best, Kim
    kim recently posted…chicken dance

  10. I’m right there with you. We’re in the Rockies and still covered in snow. 70 degrees in Colorado? Wow–amazing!
    We went through the same thing with one of our roosters this year too. I close the door to the coup at night and open it in the morning because we have so many predators here. But during the day it gets propped open and they are free to go out (and fly over the fences if they wish). We had two days were it got to -26 this year. When it’s cold or snowy, they regulate themselves and stay in.
    I love that you chronicled the pictures. Will be pinning this for future science unit with the kids.
    Deborah recently posted…How Much Do I Plant?

  11. I loved your post. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how industrial chickens are raised in chicken houses which is sickening so I appreciate your attitude to let chickens be chickens. Thanks for sharing. I’m here via Maple Hill link up.
    Patti recently posted…It’s Getting Warmer! Kolomoki Mounds State Park

    • Welcome, and thanks for stopping by! And yes, it is very, very hard to read about the brutal lives those chickens live. It makes me sick, especially when I know how wonderful chickens are.

  12. I’m in Arizona so we do not deal with frostbite too often!
    Heidi @ Pint Size Farm recently posted…Cheap Living: Homestead on a Dime Update

  13. I worry about frostbite too (it is -18 at the moment.) but I am like you…. a chicken has to be a chicken…. For the most part though, our girls refuse, REFUSE to go out during winter (they have a very large indoor space.) Now the ducks…. those idiots will go out in any weather! LOL Thanks for sharing on the (mis)Adventures Mondays Blog Hop. I can’t wait to see what you share next next time!

  14. I want to ask a question and not sure if this is the space to do it.

    Anyways, my chicken “Spunky” has 3 tips on her comb are white — is this a start of frostbite? Also, I heard to put Vaseline on them. Is this correct or what should I do.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Cathy! If it has been really cold where you are, like in the single digits or teens, it might be frostbite. I couldn’t really say without more details, though. I have used Vaseline before, but I felt like it really didn’t do much. Besides, my roosters with the big combs are REALLY hard to catch! Have you tried going to Give them a try—they’ve got lots of great information. Good luck!

  15. I’m sorry he got frost bitten, but it really is so awesome how it’s growing back so quickly and beautifully! Thanks for sharing at the Homestead Blog Hop this week!
    Angi @ A Return To Simplicity recently posted…Planning A Permaculture Garden