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.
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    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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  1. All Ball
    Nice article! I would add that you may see your hens' comb color fluctuating during the day, with no cause for concern.My girls' combs get red, and they may look like they are blushing or having a hot flash with a red face as they are getting ready to lay. After laying, their combs lighten up. It's a helpful sign for me to get a sense of how many eggs I may be getting that day or how much loud wrangling over a favorite nest is in store.
  2. Michele Chiles
    im trying to post this pic of one of my buff Orpington with black spot on comb
    1. Abriana
      Upload the pic to your gallery and then hit the black camera above the type box. Below the type box you will see the pics in your gallery. Click on the one you want to add. Or you can go below or beside it says post a comment or just post and hit upload a file. Then you can go to your photo library or take a picture and all you have to do is click on it and then hit done at the top right corner. Wait for it to upload and then pick the size. Then it is posted! Hope this helps!
      Michele Chiles and black_dove2 like this.
  3. Michele Chiles
    Oops I forgot the pic I worked so hard at figuring out how to enter but am not sure how to post.
      Abriana likes this.
  4. Michele Chiles
    I read this article about combs. I have a buff Orpington 12 weeks old and discovered about a week ago this small black spot on her comb. She looks and acts healthy however she does shake her head a little daily and has been doing so for at least 6 weeks. I don't believe lice is a problem I have checked all my chicks for that and found nothing in her ears. Should I be concerned? Advise is very welcomed. I am brand new at this.
    1. chicken4prez
      Make a thread.
  5. crity
    This is interesting. One of the Buff Orpingtons my husband adopted a while back came with black on just a few of the tips of his comb. He is very healthy so it might be frostbite in the past?
      Abriana and black_dove2 like this.
    1. Abriana
      Could be but often the black part falls off. If you post some pics that would be helpful.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  6. blackandtan
    Great info! I was paranoid at first about my roo getting frostbite in our -30 winters, but all his bits are so warm when I checked them, I couldn't believe it! Over two winters he has lost a few of the smallest tips on his comb but it's none the worse for wear.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  7. Abriana
    Thank you for your response @TwoCrows, it was very helpful. I feel mug better now. That's what I was thinking originally it might be is I going to cause any issues or do I not have to do anything about it?
      TwoCrows likes this.
    1. TwoCrows
      You might get him on vitamins a couple times a week, probiotics too and make sure he eats a flock raiser type feed, one that doesn't have a lot of calcium. Basically keep his immune system as healthy as possible. And prevent frost bite in the winter with good ventilation. He should be just fine. :)
      Abriana likes this.
    2. Abriana
      He eats layer feed and I put him inside (vets orders) when it gets below freezing outside. Thanks for all the help I will try your suggestions!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  8. Bhapimama
    We noticed our 21 week old Barred Rock who has been laying for several weeks, recently had an episode of temporary fading of her comb after a stressful event. We decided to confine our free-ranging girls to their run after we started having a problem with "secret nests". Wasn't a big deal to the other girls, but Peep was horrified that she wasn't being let out to lay in her private nest and she paced the fence line for hours, popping her head in and out of the livestock wire, until apparently she couldn't hold it in any longer and we discovered her egg just laying along the fence line. After that she was much calmer but we noticed that her once bright red comb had faded to a pinkish color. She was otherwise behaving normally and that evening we let the girls out to free range for a bit before bedtime and her comb had regained its color.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  9. black_dove2
    I would have liked to see captions on photos describing what I'm seeing. I'm new to raising chickens so photos alone didn't help me.

    The article was well written and very informative. I also like the links attached for reference.
      Abriana likes this.
  10. IdyllwildAcres
    Thanks for writing this!

    One question, you talked about chickens getting a simple cold. I did not think chickens got colds?

    Gary
      black_dove2 likes this.
    1. Abriana
      They do actually, you can help prevent them with VetRx and dried or fresh oregano.
  11. chickendreams24
    Loved this article and have personally experienced most of these things that are normal.

    I do have a question about a cockeral we have though that was attacked as a chick by a rat. He healed well but unfortunately the rat did lasting damage to his leg, I believe he ruptured a tendon. Although he could walk and run, standing still for him was incredibly hard and because of that we chose to put him down as his quality of life wasn't great. My question is that his comb had a purple-ish end on it and I've often wondered what could have caused it. He never crowed or attempted to mount a hen. Yet was in good health.
    1. TwoCrows
      A lot of roosters, even hens have a bit of purple on the ends of their combs. Generally speaking it is a circulation issue, he may have a bit of low blood pressure or maybe once had frost bite that damaged the blood supply to his comb. Unless the entire comb is purple, its nothing to worry about. :)
      chickendreams24 and black_dove2 like this.
    2. chickendreams24
      Thanks for the response. He never had frost bite and none of the other birds have a comb that's been like this but perhaps it was a blood pressure issue. He did have a quite large comb. I wouldn't be surprised at all if circulation issues were present with his lack of mobility. Thanks again. It's just nice to know it wasn't something to worry about.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  12. ChickenGrass
    Thank you very much.
    Great information!
    Well done.
      TwoCrows and black_dove2 like this.
  13. Abriana
      black_dove2 likes this.
  14. Abriana
    Wow great job! That was really helpful!
    I have a question, my rooster has a purple comb sometimes. It is only discolored at the end. I also noticed that it is usually purple in cooler weather, whereas in warm weather it is a healthy red. Here is a pic: I don't know if you can really see it here.
      black_dove2 likes this.
    1. Abriana
      Hang on a sec let me get a better pic...
    2. TwoCrows
      Lots of big combed roosters have so purple toward the back of the comb. He looks like a big boy. He may have some low blood pressure, hence the redder comb in the heat verses in the cooler weather where blood is elsewhere. Roosters large combs are prone to frost bite because they, the comb, is so large.
      black_dove2 and Abriana like this.
  15. 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!
      black_dove2 and Mountain Peeps like this.
  16. 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.
      black_dove2 likes this.
    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.
  17. 235chickens
  18. 8MerryHens
    Great article! Thanks for the info.
  19. 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.
      smudge and black_dove2 like this.
  20. jtallant
    Great information! Thanks :)
  21. peastix
    Excellent informative article.Thanks AAA+++
  22. mc79
    Great information...thank you!
  23. 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!
  24. Nardo
    Very interesting; I learned some things that will be helpful, thanks
  25. sunflour
    A+ Very well presented and a good resource for all.
  26. RodNTN
    Nice article! My RIR had a lot of black spots on her comb but they went away :l Hope that doesn't mean anything :)
      black_dove2 likes this.
  27. chicken4prez
    Great article!
  28. Mountain Peeps
    @Lisa Wood A pale face will have a lack of color, be very light pink and "pale".
  29. ChickenLover200
    Out of ovations, but wanted to say, great article!
  30. Lisa Wood
    What do you mean "pale face"?
  31. TwoCrows
    Wonderful article Sarah!! :)
  32. Cluckcluck1215
  33. Chickenchick11
    Great article, Sarah!

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