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What a Chicken's Comb Can Indicate

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  1. Mountain Peeps
    What a Chicken’s Comb Can Indicate
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    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.


    Color
    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.
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    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.


    Size
    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.
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    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.


    Texture
    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.
    [​IMG]


    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.


    Further Reading
    Info on combs and wattles in general:
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/caruncles-combs-and-wattles-the-features-functions-and-healthcare
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/all-about-chicken-combs-single-pea-rose-v-shaped-etc
    Info on frostbite:
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/frostbite
    Info on determining gender:
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/tips-for-successfully-sexing-your-chicks
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/f/15/what-breed-or-gender-is-this
    Info on diseases and other problems in chickens:
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/chicken-injuries-diseases-how-to-diagnose-treat-your-chickens
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/f/10/emergencies-diseases-injuries-and-cures
    Info on molting chickens:
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/what-happens-when-chickens-molt

    Have any questions or comments? Feel free to leave them down below. Thanks for reading!

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    ajpomales and Bonniebooboo like this.

Comments

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  1. RockyRose
    A good article for most chicken lovers! I would edit it to add that much of the information does not apply to chicken breeds like silkies, especially hens, that have very flat black combs. Pet quality silkies are an exception; red can be found in silkie mixes. Silkie roosters do have larger combs, often mulberry colored, and the above information may help in understanding the silkie rooster's health. I have silkies and also have Buff Orpingtons - this article does contain a good bit of advice!
      Mountain Peeps likes this.
  2. lhaolpa
    Some Neighbors,when moving,gave me a pair of game fowl,a Rooster and Hen typically used for fighting[but not this one] before they moved away. The Rooster has it's comb removed,a common practice when preparing them for the brutal practice of Cockfighting. I figured that the large,beautiful Rooster would mix well with our white,speckled Hens,but after several attempts,I've found that he is infertile. I had heard that if the comb freezes,it can render the Rooster infertile. I guess I have rescued the pair,but the beautiful Fowl cannot reproduce as is. The Hen is completely black,with no other color,the Rooster has black legs and breast and red and black feathers on top.They are both calm and the Hen lays nice medium sized eggs.
    1. RockyRose
      The black may indicate silkie genes or possibly Ayam Cemani genes. It sounds like the rooster is a mix. I don't believe that a comb that gets frozen or removed would cause infertility, but someone else may know better. Sometimes mixes can be infertile. If you haven't had them for long give them a chance - in time his fertility may return after a more normal life with you. Thank you for rescuing them!
      conchopearl likes this.
  3. 235chickens
  4. 8MerryHens
    Great article! Thanks for the info.
  5. olivigus
    I liked this article! I've noticed that since our broody hen weaned her chicks, her comb has become bright red again and less floppy. It was definitely much paler after sitting on eggs for three weeks and then giving all of her focus to the chicks for another five. I figure that's a sign she's back to getting good nutrition and enough exercise (not to mention some down time) again.
  6. jtallant
    Great information! Thanks :)
  7. peastix
    Excellent informative article.Thanks AAA+++
  8. mc79
    Great information...thank you!
  9. cukuriku
    Amazing info, thanks a lot! I didn't know this stuff, and I'm so amazed at the wonders of creation from the Creator!
  10. Nardo
    Very interesting; I learned some things that will be helpful, thanks

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