Rooster with black tips on his comb

by Betty Matteson
(Greenville, TX)


Rooster with black tips on his comb: One of my roosters has a very large and beautiful comb and wattle. We have had severe cold in the Dallas area lately which is not normal.

I kept the chickens in their house, but it was still cold enough to hard freeze their water. I am afraid he may have gotten his comb frozen.

The tips of his comb have turned black and there are some black places on his wattle as well. What can I do?

This sounds like frost bite, which would destroy the outermost tips of a large comb and sometimes the wattles, though wattles get more heat at night when a rooster is resting.

Frost bite generally occurs at night. The temps are coldest, of course, but at rest a chicken’s blood pressure and circulation would be lower/slower.

Feet and legs are kept warm under them, but the tips of the comb will be the coldest part of their body.

I wouldn’t suggest keeping chickens in on cold days. I would give them the option of going out, especially if sunny and not too windy.

The exercise of being out and about will help with circulation. I have heard that using Vaseline on a rooster’s comb can help combat frost bite, I would suggest that or a triple antibiotic ointment to fight any possible infection.

Sadly, once the comb tips have been damaged, he probably won’t have the same nice comb he once had. Those tips will shrink back.

Another solution is to use a poultry heat lamp that he can sit under or near, and keeps the temperature in the coop warmer.

People raising chickens for show generally provide heat to prevent this frost bite damage.

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Swollen comb

by Dawn
(Faribault MN US)

Swollen comb: My hen's comb has become swollen in the past few days, I have a heat lamp on them every day because of our Minnesota weather, and they have been inside our garage the whole time.

She seems fine except the top of her comb is turned kind of gray swollen and crusty. What do you think this is? She looks and acts fine otherwise.

Only two possibilities come to mind:
1)In spite of your best efforts, she has frost bite
2)She may have gotten too close to the heat lamp and burned her comb tips.

Either one would cause similar appearance to the comb. Once the comb cells die they turn gray, then black and will eventually fall off.

You can ease the process, avoid possible infection, and possibly protect the rest of her comb with a triple antibiotic ointment gently massaged into her comb.

If you have constant snow on the ground of a foot or more, I can understand keeping chickens inside.

I’ve lived in snowy climates and my chickens love to get out in it, especially when the sun is shining and there is little wind. This year we kept a few areas shoveled to the grass to allow the chickens access.

They immediately went to those areas and scratched, ate grasses and looked for bugs, seeds and worms, even in sub freezing temperatures.

The coldest temperatures are generally at night, when chickens are at rest. As they sleep, their heart rate is slower, blood pressure lower, and the tips of the combs would be most at risk of frost bite as their body works to keep most vital organs and limbs warm.

It’s generally the rooster’s combs that are affected, as they tend to be taller, more elaborate and the tips further from their body.

Some hens develop taller, more elaborate combs than others and this hen may have had the biggest comb.

There is really no health risk to this problem, just appearance. Once the tips are burned by cold or heat, they won’t grow back.

This would be a problem for show chickens, no longer qualified to compete, but breeding stock would go on to produce the combs they always have.

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Black spots on their combs

by Mel
(Ohio )

We have 2 Rhode Island Reds and 4 Barred Plymouth Rocks all at 10 months old. We started noticing black spots on their combs this winter.

We live in Ohio and it has been getting cold at night. We ran 300 ft of ext. cord to put a heat lamp in their coop, and we have not been letting them out if it is below freezing.

We have not noticed any more black marks, which we assume is due to frostbite. One of our Plymouths has developed a droopy comb.

She seems to be alright other than that. But, tonight I picked her up and noticed an area on her leg that looked like a scab, it was not bloody.

The other started picking at her while I was holding her. Should we be concerned with the droopy comb? I apologize if this is a dumb question but we are new to this! Thank You!

This isn’t a dumb question. It’s a smart chicken owner that seeks advice when stumped by a mystery in the coop.

It does sound like frost bite. The droopy comb can be a result of decreased blood flow as her circulatory system keeps blood flowing to most vital body parts. Often this just affects roosters, but some hens carry a large comb as well.

Unsure what the scabby spot on her leg could be. I would suggest treating with an antibiotic ointment and watching for signs of it spreading, both on her and to other chickens.

Sometimes scaly leg mites invade and the area can look scabby. A pyrethrin based spray can help, if this spreads, and can be used on the chickens and in the environment.

Your chickens might benefit from the exercise of getting out of the coop, even at or below freezing temps, especially if the sun is out and it’s not windy.

They are pretty smart about keeping as warm as necessary. The frost bite generally occurs at night, when they are inactive and blood flow/blood pressure is low due to resting.

Getting exercise will increase blood flow. Sometimes the comb on a chicken just gets too tall to stand up on it’s own, so I wouldn’t worry.

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chicken comb

by David

chicken comb: One of my Orpington chickens which is about 8 months old as developed a very pail comb.

She doesn't seem to move about a great deal but is still drinking. the comb started to go pail about 1wk ago is this anything to worry about?

This is definitely something to keep an eye on. Sometimes the weather is so dark and cold and miserable all a chicken wants to do is fluff up and stay warm.

Blood flow can be reduced in combs in cold weather, preferring to nourish and warm more essential parts of the body.

Something about this chicken’s behavior has caught your eye and she may be trying to tell you something.

Often the weakest chicken in a flock will show signs of what is about to be bothering the rest. This could be a sign that your chickens need more vitamins, protein, fat, or maybe some heat.

Since they can’t just come out and tell us things we have to be good detectives and take action to improve conditions where ever we can and keep the chickens happy and healthy.

You might want to invest in some supplements or a real high quality food to help get them through the stress of cold weather.

On really dark and cold mornings I make a warm mush for my chickens with water and their feed. They are happy to fill their crops with nice warm food.

A couple of times a month, or if I see signs of anyone not looking happy, I add water soluble vitamins.

I’ve been supplementing their usual diet with black oil sunflower seeds since the molt and during the molt I fed them a 50lb bag of chick start for the more concentrated nutrients.

Sometimes it’s so hard to tell just what a chicken needs. I find it best just to double my efforts to feed and care for them well, especially during cold winter months.

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by Kristine Sampson
(Cisne, IL, USA)

My Bantam rooster comb is disappearing and looks scabbed over and almost gone, like something has picked it off.

This sounds like possible frost bite. In freezing and sub freezing temperatures the more elaborate combs of roosters may not get enough warmth; his body sending blood flow to most essential body parts and not this extremity.

They can keep wings, feet and legs warm as they roost, but the comb is exposed to the cold. It’s possible that other chickens are picking at his deteriorating comb.

Unfortunately, once this occurs, there isn’t anything to be done to restore the comb. To prevent this in the future you might want to provide a poultry heat lamp.

Watch for infection, especially if other chickens are picking at him. It’s been suggested that applying petroleum jelly to a rooster’s comb can help insulate from cold.

I can’t attest this will work, but that or a petroleum based antibiotic salve may help heal the remaining comb.

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My chicken looks sick

My chicken looks sick: She has been crouching on the ground for over week now. She no longer goes up to the top of the coup to nest at night just stays on the ground.

Her eyes look bright but she is short of breath, keeps her legs wide apart, swollen belly and now the tips of her comb are black. Do you know why this is happening?

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The tips of her comb being black could be frostbite. The night temperatures would have to be below freezing for this to happen.

The other symptoms sound like Egg Yolk Peritonitis. This is an infection in side the hen caused by egg follicles traveling into the abdomen instead of the oviduct.

Once this happens to a hen there is little that can be done. It generally happens once a hen is becoming “laid out”, meaning she can no longer lay eggs normally.

This often happens when “production” hens reach 2 years of age. The infection causes the hen to retain more and more fluids as her body tries to fight the infection.

Eventually she will have so much fluid built up that she can’t stand or walk. Being on the floor of the coop is much colder that being up near the other chickens she usually roosts with.

Her comb would be the coldest part of her body with no feathers to keep warm.

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