What a Chicken’s Comb Can Indicate
The comb, or the red crown atop a chicken’s head, can indicate many things. But before we look at these things, let’s see what the chicken’s comb’s purpose is. Its primary purpose is to act as a blood circulator. It helps keep the bird cool during hot weather. Vascular flow of the blood runs through the comb to the rest of body, expelling body heat and cooling the bird. Chickens hardy in hot weather will generally have larger combs, whereas chickens bred to survive the cold will have smaller combs that can’t freeze as easily. Combs also are the way that chickens recognize each other. Usually, birds with the larger combs will be higher in the pecking order rank.
While chickens can have many different kinds of combs ranging from single, pea, buttercup, strawberry, cushion, rose, V-shaped and walnut they all are alike in how they function and with what they can tell you about the chicken’s health and age. In this article you will learn about what the color, size and texture of a chicken’s comb can indicate about their health.
Believe it or not, the color of a chicken’s comb can tell you how healthy the bird is, what phases of life it’s in as well as how old the bird is. Red, glossy combs indicate that the bird is a healthy, young adult in the prime of its life. Pullets about ready to lay eggs will quickly develop large and deep red combs. Mature, healthy roosters will have huge, rosy red combs.
Chickens that are either young, molting or old will generally have pale pink combs. However, pale pink combs can also indicate sickness or disease. Anemia will always cause a drop in the color or a chicken’s face, including the comb. Coccidiosis can also cause pale faces. Parasites, both internal and external, heat exhaustion or dehydration can all cause pale combs in chickens as well.
Blue-ish / purple combs can indicate many things and, unfortunately, all of them are not good. Diseases such as avian flu, paratyphoid pullorum, chronic aspergillosis, tuberculosis and ergotism can all cause purple-ish blue combs. Signs of a heart attack or stroke can also affect the comb and cause it to change color to a dark purple. Sometimes when a chicken has a simple cold it can also develop a purple-ish comb.
While comb size depends more on breed than anything else, it is important to take note of what is a normal size for your specific chicken so that you can know if it has shrunk or grown. Again, a healthy, mature bird will generally have a large comb (large for its breed, that is). A shrunken comb can indicate sickness, parasite infestation, stress or old age. It can also come as a result of the molting season. Hens who have quit laying will normally experience a drop in comb color and size, which is normal.
Growing combs obviously occur when a chicken is maturing or when they have ended molting season or when they have peaked in their health after being sick or injured. Also, cockerels will develop larger combs at an earlier age than pullets.
While this may seem a bit odd to be paying attention to, the texture of a chicken’s comb can also be a great indicator of health. If a chicken gets frostbite in the winter, its comb will usually turn black at the tips and sometimes get many black dots on it. Speaking of black dots, do not be too concerned if you occasionally find one or a few black spots on a chicken’s comb. They are normally just a result of a pecking incident, scrape or speck of mud. Brown, crusty spots on a comb can indicate fowl pox. If you find these on your bird, watch for other symptoms such as loss of appetite, lethargy or feather loss.
Be sure to also watch out for combs that suddenly flop over, seem to have become paralyzed or don’t feel normal. A chicken’s comb is a wonderful indicator of health, age and breed. Always pay close attention to your flock’s combs, as well as the rest of their physical appearance and behavior. If you catch signs of disease or injury early, fixing the issues will be much easier than they otherwise would be.
Info on combs and wattles in general:
Info on frostbite:
Info on determining gender:
Info on diseases and other problems in chickens:
Info on molting chickens:
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