Everything You Need To Know About Chicken Combs

Everything You Need To Know About Chicken Combs (Varieties, Colors and More)jpg

The vast majority of chickens have chicken combs, but why is that?

It is a very unique and important part of the chicken, as we shall learn. Scientists found the first ‘combs’ on the dinosaur remains of the Edmontosaurus (one of the last dinosaurs on Earth).

Today we will explore exactly why chickens have combs, what sort of comb types there are, and how to keep those combs healthy.

What Is A Comb, And Why Does A Chicken Have One?

Chicken Combs
You may be surprised to learn that a chickens’ comb is actually considered an organ. Like the heart, liver, and kidneys, this red appendage serves a few beneficial purposes.

Heating Control

Chickens cannot sweat, so they have to control their body temperature by some other method.

They control their body temperature with their wattles and comb.

It is the heating and cooling center of the bird.

In the summertime, when it is hot, the comb will diffuse some of the body heat to the air, thereby reducing the bird’s temperature, and in the winter, it helps prevent heat loss.

Health Indicator

The color of the comb can tell you a lot about the health of a chicken. A normal, healthy comb will be red, purple, or black, depending on the breed.

A pullet that has not yet reached the point of lay may have a small pinkish one – this is normal as her hormones have not yet started surging.

Combs that are pale or shrunken may indicate that something is wrong with your bird.

It may mean she is anemic (think lice and mites), is overloaded with worms, has heat exhaustion, or is molting.

How do you tell with a black comb?

It is tricky, but get used to feeling a normal comb. It will feel a bit elastic, fleshy and the tissue will be malleable to touch.

An anemic or dehydrated comb feels dry and flat.

Deciding what the problem requires you to put all the clues together!

A blue comb can indicate circulatory problems, respiratory problems, or coldness. A fire engine red comb that is hot to touch can be indicative of a fever.

It may feel a bit dry.

Sexual Attraction

Chicks all have small, inconsequential combs to start with, but once the hormones start to circulate, the combs will grow.

Testosterone for the boys gives them a noticeable comb and wattles. Estrogen for the girls will give them a smaller version of the same.

When selecting a mate, they want to mate with the strongest, so their offspring have the best chance of survival. This is where the comb and wattles help to signal vitality and strength.

A rooster is big and eye-catching – it is meant to be that way. It is his way of telling the ladies that he is fit and healthy and will produce healthy chicks.

Hens’ combs are smaller but still give the same message. A vibrant red comb indicates the bird is healthy and sexually mature.

Research has shown that hens with larger combs tend to have greater bone density and lay more eggs.

It is also thought that combs and wattles help chickens recognize their flock mates.

Various Types of Chicken Combs

Chicken Combs

 

There are nine distinct types of the chicken comb. There are also some variations on each of these nine types, but we will stick with the nine today.

Single:

This is the comb we all know and associate with chickens—the upright comb, with distinct points at the peak. Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Faverolles, Barnevelders, and Ayam Cemani are all examples.

Pea:

Pea combs are quite small, rather like a pullets comb before she ‘blossoms’. This type is ideal for hard winters. Birds that have pea combs are Buckeyes, Ameraucanas, and Brahmas.

Walnut:

This comb looks like it sounds. A large mulberry-colored ‘walnut’ is sitting forward on the head. This unusual comb belongs to Silkies and Orloff’s.

Buttercup:

Only one breed has this comb, the Sicilian Buttercup. The comb looks like a dual version of the single, but the points come full circle forming a crown. Sadly, the Buttercup is in critical need of conservation.

Strawberry:

This comb resembles a strawberry. It sits forward on the head and looks like a large cushion comb. Malay and Yokohama birds have this type of comb.

Rose:

Rose combs are flatter to the head than many other combs. This makes them ideal for harsh winter climates as they will not get frostbite as easily as others.

It is ‘nubby’ and should have a leader spike at the back of the comb. Birds that have risen combs are Dominiques Wyandottes and rose-combed bantams.

Cushion:

The cushion comb is a much smaller version of the strawberry and looks more like a small cushion sitting forward on the head.

‘V’ Comb:

This comb is not too common. The ‘V’ or devil’s horn is found on a small number of breeds. La Flèche, Sultan, and Crèvecœur are all members of this select little club.

It really doesn’t need describing as it looks as it sounds!

Carnation:

This is another very rare comb. It is a variation of the single comb where extra points are sticking out at right angles from the back of the comb.

Only two breeds have this kind of comb: the Empordanesa and the Penedesenca.

Common Comb Problems

Chicken Combs

 

Pecking

The comb can suffer from a few different maladies – the usual one is being pecked! If a hen is overstepping her place, another may take a well-aimed peck at her and cut her.

The bleeding is usually not substantial, but it looks like a lot since the wound will ooze for a while because of the ample blood supply.

Applying pressure to the wound will stop the bleeding fairly quickly.

If flock mates have suddenly started pecking at one member of the flock, check her over.

Chickens can sense illness long before we can see it and will attempt to ‘drive away’ a sick or ailing bird.

Fowl Pox

There are two types of fowl pox – we are talking about the dry type here. Fowlpox is a slow-spreading viral infection.

It is also known as Fowl Pox Virus or avian pox and is very contagious within the flock.

It only affects the non-feathered portions of the bird, and it starts with small gray/white spots or lesions on the comb, face, or wattles.

These develop into wart-like nodules and will slowly turn into dark scabs.

It is not contagious to humans, but chickens can spread it from flock to flock by infected clothing or equipment.

Apart from the lesions, symptoms include decreased egg output, weight loss, decreased appetite, and lethargy.

There is no quick cure, and it can last for months or years, depending on circumstances. However, it is not usually fatal.

Prevention in the form of good housekeeping is essential.

Mosquitoes spread the virus, so try planting insect-repelling plants such as mints and marigolds around the run/coop.

Quarantining affected individuals is a must, and minimizing stress will certainly help.

Frostbite

Frostbite can be a big problem for chickens exposed to moisture and freezing temperatures, especially those with large combs.

Prevention is the best cure. This means your coop should have proper ventilation, moisture reduction in the coop, and no drafts blowing across the birds.

Once frostbite has attacked the tissues, the damage is done.

A minor degree of frostbite usually does not do permanent harm to the bird; it will be uncomfortable for a few days but will eventually resolve itself.

When the damage is severe enough that the comb or wattles become blackened, the bird will eventually lose that portion of the appendage.

If you want more in-depth information about frostbite, see our article.

Dubbing

The practice of comb dubbing seems to stem from the days of cockfighting. The dubbing process removes the comb down to the cushion and takes the wattles down to the skin.

In a cockfight, these appendages would be a source of heavy bleeding for the bird.

This is being called into question in many countries and has actually been banned in others.

You know that the comb is a vital organ for the chicken, so removing most of the comb and wattles will have a detrimental impact on the chickens’ welfare.
Walnut Chicken Comb

How To Keep Chicken Combs Healthy

Comb health is an integral part of the overall care for your chickens.

It would help if you kept an eye open for excessive pecking at combs.

If the pecking gets bad, put some Blu-Kote (or similar product) on the comb to make it less attractive to the aggressor.

The other common problem with combs is frostbite. Make sure you don’t pop blisters, trim edges, etc.

If the comb becomes infected, you will need to apply topical or oral antibiotics until the infection is gone. Pain management should be considered as frostbite is very painful.

Any trimming of dead material should be done by a veterinary or experienced professional.

If you have hens and roosters with large combs, you should cover them in Vaseline to prevent frostbite during winter.

Finally, any suspicious lesions should be carefully examined and checked frequently, as should any change in color or texture that seems unusual.

Summary About Chicken Combs

Who knew chicken combs could be so interesting?

I hope this has been informative for you and that you will now look at those combs with a bit more wonder and admiration.

Remember, the comb is a great way to check on the overall health of your chicken.

A healthy diet full of essential nutrients and a stress-free environment will keep their immune system in tip-top condition, ready to fight off illness.

Have any questions about chicken combs? Let us know in the comments section below…

Chicken Combs

32 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Chicken Combs

  1. I love your article but I have lost the one on how to ferment the feed if you could send it to me I would truly appreciate it

        1. Hens and roosters can both have a single comb among different breeds. There is no real significance in a single comb compared to multiple but chicken combs in general have purposes they serve that is related to the conditions they’ve barred and have evolved over time.
          Claire

    1. Mant to know me how we can develop comb in hen because trader demand a big comb hen we are raring hen for meat purpose

    2. Your article on combs is very interesting and very helpful. I think people should contact the APA, American Poultry Association, and ask that they end the dubbing of game chickens. They still require dubbing of these chickens in the standard, which is a throwback to the time of cock fighting. Dubbing is horrifically painful and serves no purpose to help the chicken. It is time that all blood sports were ended and hurting chickens, the way they do, should be stopped. Check the American Standard of Perfection for poultry and you will see what I mean. Maybe we, as people who care, can show them that it is wrong to give a chicken pain.

  2. Hi there. My hens combs sort of change colour between red and purple. They go purple on top. In a day they can change colour. Is that indicative of any illness do you think?

    1. There are several factors here that can come into play. 1) Hormones 2) Blood Flow 3) Clean breathing environment, so 2 and 3 work hand in hand. Can you confirm they live in a clean environment with droppings not being a health or oxygen issue?
      Claire

  3. Thanks for all the great info!! I am interested in large to jumbo eggs. Which breeds are the best for BIG eggs?

  4. I have four hens purchased as 18 week pullets in mid February. Took ages to lay however get 3 eggs a day now.The Isa Brown has a nearly non existing comb but is beautiful and healthy looking however she is the non-layer. Can the comb have some bearing on this…..

  5. One of my hens has something on her comb but I’m not finding it explained in your article. Can I send a picture of her?

  6. my husband just rescued a flock of 25 hens from a bad unhealthy unsanitary overcrowded home. We kept them seperated from our girls but unfortunately within a 2 weekS of him bringing them home We lost one of our teenager Isa browns and my girls have stopped laying. I had to treat every one for coccidia and fortunately have lost no one else. But it’s been a month now and my girls are still not laying which is worrying me because my girls faithfully have laid daily since hitting their first POL. Do you have any theories because I live animals but my girls come first and if the new ones are causing all of these abnormal behaviors I will get rid of new ones for the sake of my girls health. Please help any advice would be greatly appreciated

  7. 1 of my chickens (in a backyard flock of 7) has a pale comb and a pale vent. She also seems skinnier and lighter than her companions and I suspect she may not be laying for a couple of months. What do I do to help her? Flock is coming up on 2nd year of age, never molted. Could she be bullied bec she has a little bald spot at the start of the comb?

  8. In last couple of weeks I have noticed a hen (may not always be same one) gently pecking the comb and wattle of the cockerel. He seems to like it, stands still and presume she is picking off lice or somesuch. Any suggestions as to what particular lice etc it may be?
    Generally they all seem in good health with good colour to comb/wattle etc.

  9. I enjoy everything I’ve read from you! Thank you for all your heartfelt insight! We have a Barred Rock that was the last to get added to our flock, and she’s slightly younger and smaller than the other 14 Lovely Ladies I adore. Because she was last, I believe what I’m seeing on her comb are pecking marks that have scabbed over since she has no other marks on her body. Everyone is free range and no one else has any marks at all. I don’t see a way here to post a picture but I would be very glad to send a pic for your advice? Thank you again for all the wisdom!

  10. can you please tell me the effect of testosteron on comb length of chickens? also what is normal comb length of chicken

  11. I enjoyed reading this article. Please I bought a few broilers about 2days ago. I got them at 2weeks and some days. During my selection of birds I was attracted to those already developing reddish combs and watles. But someone says the early development of combs is a sign that its likely going to have stunted growth. How true is this please.

  12. how can i get images of chickens with defective combs which may have been caused by a disease or infection for research purposes

  13. I have one hen, “Bonnie” she is either an Americana or a Dominique. She lays light blue medium sized eggs. She’s beautiful. Mostly Black with some silver(grey) with very little white on her. I’m concerned at this point because she is almost a year old and still hasn’t started growing her comb or wattle. I felt it growing (size of a pea) a couple months back but it’s still the same. Her hair covers it like a mohawk, lol. She has also recently turned broody, which I heard wasn’t good in the end, but we think she’s lonely in her huge coop. We adopted her from someone who couldn’t take care of her when she was a month old. So we know only what we read from your blogs and readers comments. First time I’m commenting, so if anyone knows what’s going on with her growth and possible breed, let me know. Emailing me could get faster response, not sure. proudparentof4@yahoo.com
    Thank you

    1. Hi, Chickens are flock animals, so she definitely needs a friend or two. I have found that multiples of two are the best.

  14. I have a 7.5 week old golden cuckoo maran rooster who’s comb has gone from red to pink. Could heat or stress cause this? He’s perfectly healthy. I see no mites or lice (I will check again to be sure). How can I help him? He seems lethargic. I added nutri drench to their waterers. He was eating day before yesterday. I didn’t see him eat yesterday though and that’s when his comb was different. He is drinking on his own

  15. Hi great article – i’m wondering if you can help me though. I have one chicken – she was rescued as a 6 week old along with her sister, sadly my neighbours cat got the sister. I did try getting another slightly older hen to be a pal for mine but mine was terrified and the other one was really noisy and because I live in central london i had to take her back. However my bird has been very happy the last few years and she was a very prolific layer. She has not been right since she went through a harsh moult. Since then her comb has got paler and smaller. She also became a very fussy eater (she got used to living in the house when she was moulting and decided she preferred it and also preferred our food) so she has lost a fair bit of weight too. I have been giving her Vermex as a wormer in her food and she also has chicken spice and cider vinegar. Is there anything else i can do for her? Shes four years old now and is a very loved pet. I spoke to my vet but they only deal with the usual dogs, cats and hamsters. If necessary I will take her to one further away but i just wanted to see what you thought. I have not seen any mites etc but will check again. Many thanks xx

  16. Good morning, we introduced 6 new 20 week old pullets to our flock of 6 hens and 1 rooster 2 weeks ago. Yesterday our rooster seems to have stopped crowing and just makes a gurgling type of crow. I also noticed last night that a portion of his comb is purple … wondering if mites could cause this?

    We do clean the coop daily and keep diatomaceous earth in the nesting boxes.

  17. We have only 1 chicken now as 3 have died. The last one has a very dark comb and her legs are very pale. I’m wondering whether there’s anything we can do to help her? They were rescue hens. Thank you

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