The chicken comb is a featherless natural growth on the head of most hens and roosters. It’s usually bright red, but the color may be purple, depending on chicken breed and coloring.
A “straight” or “single” comb is most common, but “rose” combs, “pea” combs and other shapes have been part of the creation of different breeds for centuries.
both single comb and rose combs are standard.
The classification of all modern chicken breeds is Gallus domesticus. The ancestor of all our domesticated chickens is the Red Junglefowl, or Gallus Gallus. The word "gallus" means comb in Latin.
You might wonder why chickens have combs or if a comb serves a purpose. In nature, such decorations can signal health and genetic superiority. A rooster with a nice tall and bright red comb will stand out and may be preferred by hens.
A young dominant rooster will not look tattered and battle scarred, where an old rooster or a less dominant rooster may have a damaged comb signaling that he is a less desirable mate.
Since both hens and roosters usually have combs we can safely assume it serves a purpose other than just decoration. As with many animal species head pieces of one kind or another, can draw heat away from the body.
Combs have blood circulating through them, which is cooled as it flows through, helping to keep the brain and vital organs safe in hot weather. There may also be a warming effect in cold weather when sunlight shines directly on the comb.
The comb is the only soft tissue of a well feathered chicken exposed to cold night temperatures. Even their legs and feet are generally tucked under them warmed by downy feathers.
Some modern chicken breeds have very exaggerated combs and it’s the tall single combs that are most vulnerable to frost bite. Some keepers apply a generous coating of petroleum jelly to help insulate chicken combs in sub-freezing temperatures. Bigger combed roosters are most often affected, though hens may be also.
The most common sign of comb frost bite is a dark purple at the tips, indicating lack of blood flow in red combed birds. Sometimes this purple will go away once the comb is warmed and blood flows again. If not, the tips of the chicken comb will turn black, dry and fall off.
Though possible, infection from frost bite is rare in healthy chicken habitats. Those with exhibition chicken breeds often heat their coops to prevent comb damage. Damaged combs would disqualify purebred chickens from competition.
Probably the most unusual chicken comb is that of the Chinese Silky. This is the “walnut” comb and is often naturally dark purple, sometimes looking black, with ridges and bumps like a shelled walnut. These combs are usually close to the head and much less likely to suffer effects of frost bite, except in extreme deformities.
Dubbing is a process of removing a chicken comb. This can be a farming practice to prevent frost bite or chickens from injuring each other, generally performed at 1 – 3 days of age.
Though superficial, for “Game” chickens, such as Old English and American, it is a requirement to be shown competitively in the US and in some countries.
Some countries outlaw the practice as animal cruelty. Like tail docking and ear cropping of some dog breeds, dubbing for show is for looks though seems to have its roots in the fighting history of game breeds.
A chicken in poor health, that usually carries a bright plump comb, may suddenly have discoloration and shriveling of the comb. If blood circulation is poor a red comb will turn purple and a normally purple comb will be darker.
Dehydration and poor circulation may cause a chicken comb that normally stands erect to flop over, though some chickens have grown too tall a comb or it’s been damaged and is unable to stay erect.
Some parasites may attack the soft flesh of a chicken comb and cause damage and a crusty or flaky surface. Changes in comb appearance should be noted and a cause found. This may prevent the spread of illnesses in the flock. If you have a question you would like answered click here.
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