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Backyard chickens are both fun and entertaining. But have you ever wondered about their combs? Like, what their purpose is? Well, the chicken comb is the fleshy bit on top of their heads. Additionally, some are big, while others are small. Interestingly enough, there are 9 recognized types of combs on chickens.
And the chicken comb serves a few purposes. For instance, the comb is an outward signal of chicken wellness. Thus, depending on the color, you’ll know the health of your flock. Also, since chickens don’t sweat, their combs and wattles act as a sort of ventilation system. That’s how they get cooled off. So, the bigger the combs, the better the birds fare in summer. Likewise, the smaller they are, the better they do in harsh winters.
The next function of the chicken comb is to help establish the pecking order. Typically birds with bigger combs are more dominant than ones with smaller combs. However, it also depends on the breed. We have one black Sex-link, one Wyandotte-mix, a Cream Legbar, a few Plymouth Rocks, Cuckoo Marans, and the rest are Ameraucanas. One of our Ameraucana hens is the most aggressive hen out of the bunch since the Wyandotte sisters left. But that’s atypical of the Ameraucana breed.
Furthermore, the last role of the chicken comb is sexual attraction between roosters and hens. There are sites that claim this is the purpose of roosters’ combs in attracting hens; however, hens do not want to mate. Ever. Therefore, it’s been my experience, in watching roosters with chicks, while they’re maturing, the roos are just waiting for the chicks to develop. Maybe they’re waiting for some indication before mating with those birds. Who knows? The chicks change from this fluffy poofball into this creature that the rooster wants to mate with again and again and again.
Types of Combs on Chickens
Warm Climate Comb Types
Large, flamboyant combs are prominent in chickens that do well in warm temperatures. And there are only 3 types that feature for warm, or hot weather. Although, in freezing temperatures, they are more at-risk to frostbite. So, care should be taken in very cold weather with breeds that have the following kinds of combs.
- Single comb: This is generally the comb we picture when we think of chickens. Thus, it’s referred to as the classic comb. It’s bright red, stands upright, and has 5 or 6 points. Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Ayam Cemani have the single comb, though the latter sports a black comb.
- Buttercup comb: The buttercup comb looks like a variation of the single comb. However, it looks like a cup-shaped crown with a circle of regular points. Further, there’s only one breed with this unique comb–the Sicilian Buttercup.
- Carnation comb: This comb is another rare comb that mimics the single comb at first. But it has extra points that stick out at right angles at the back of the comb, also giving it the appearance of a crown. In addition, the only 2 breeds with this type of comb are the Penedesenca and Empordanesa.
Types of Combs on Chickens
Cold Climate Comb Types
Smaller combs, that sit lower to the head, usually characterize cold hardy chickens. That’s because these types of combs conserve heat, rather than expelling it. Therefore, if you have any birds with the following types of combs, watch them in hot weather for signs of heat stress.
- Pea comb: This comb can be either small or medium in size, and presents as 3 rows of growths or ‘peas’ that extends in length from the beak. Additionally, the pea comb got its name from the little growths that favor peas. Breeds with pea combs are Araucana and Ameraucana, Brahma, Buckeye, and Sumatra.
- Rose comb: Thick and level, the rose comb is layered in small, round growths. And dependent upon the breed, the comb can have a slender point at the back, extending over the back of the head. In addition, some breeds have rose combs that curve upwards, while others have combs that lay horizontal. Rosecomb Bantams, Wyandottes, Hamburgs, and Sebrights are the breeds with this type of comb.
- Strawberry comb: Similar to the Pea comb and peas, this comb derived its name from its likeness to strawberries. Additionally, the texture is rough and bumpy. And on some chickens, the comb just barely folds over their beaks. Breeds with this kind of comb are the Malay and Yokohama.
- V-shaped comb: Due to the thick, obvious, horn-like points reaching left and right from the base of the beak, alternative names for this style include Devil’s Horn, ‘horn comb’, and ‘antler comb’. Crevecoeurs, Houdans, La Flèche, Polish, and Sultans all have the V-shaped comb.
- Walnut comb: Yet another comb that got its name for having a likeness to the item it was named after, this time a walnut. In addition, the comb is usually red, flat, and bumpy. And you can most often see it on Silkie roosters; though the hens have them as well. However, due to their size, it can be more difficult to distinguish the type of comb.
- Cushion comb: This last comb is small, compact, and also sits close to the head. And there are no spikes, points, or serrations on this one. Furthermore, the Chantecler dons this type of comb.
What the Chicken Comb Can Tell You
I already mentioned that, due to the color of your birds’ combs, you can determine the health of your flock. Generally a sexually mature chicken’s comb should be bright red, except for the Ayam Cemani, which is black. Sexually mature means ready to mate for the roos, and ready to lay eggs for the hens. In addition, rooster combs develop faster than hen combs.
The following is a list of things to look out for.
- Dark red to purplish combs can be a sign of a few different issues, like respiratory or breathing problems, heart issues, or stroke. The last broiler we had, named Natalie, was displaying this kind of comb a few days before she laid her final egg, and ultimately died. She lived to be a year old and was probably every bit of 15 lbs. If you see one of your chickens with this type of comb, consult a vet immediately.
- Pale combs most often indicate when hens are going through molt and don’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. However, it’s always a great idea to examine your backyard flock for any kind of sickness, including parasites (internal and external), and dehydration. Both of which can cause pale pink combs. But birds with dehydration will be panting and unresponsive. Therefore, if you have a chicken that’s dehydrated, get it to a cool, dim place; and using a medicine dropper, if the bird is too weak, give it water with electrolytes. On the other hand, if your chickens have parasites, treat them topically with Ivermectin. Click here for further instructions.
- Black spots on the comb could either be caused by fowl pox or pecking. And you can tell the difference mainly be looking at the bird’s feet and wattles, because the birds typically don’t get pecked on the latter body parts. Otherwise they look very similar. There is no treatment for fowl pox, except to keep the affected birds separated. Although, you can get a vaccine for your flock to protect them. That’s what I did after 3 of our chickens came down with it.
- Black tips on the comb is caused by frostbite. And that part of the comb will most likely fall off. But at first the area will appear off-color. Some people apply petroleum jelly to their birds combs during harsh winters; but the best prevention is deep litter in the coop.
Punnett Squares on Comb Types
You may remember learning about dominant and recessive genes and Punnett squares from when you went to school. Well, I’m not going to give you a lesson in that today. But I am going to tell you that Walnut combs are produced by chickens that breed true for Pea combs that are crossed with chickens that breed true for Rose combs.
If you show poultry, there are 9 recognized types of combs on chickens. But if your birds are your hobby, pets, supply you with eggs, or all of the above, and you breed them, you could come up with a unique comb on your birds.
Not to mention, the comb is one of the first places we recognize if something is wrong with our birds. Whether dark red, purple, spotted, or pale, the comb won’t lie. And it’s usually easy to see. We just have to pay attention.
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