Ever wonder what that fleshy looking thing atop a chicken’s head is called and what it is used for? That red, black, and purple thing is known as a comb, and it is not just an accessory. Both roosters and hens have combs, as they are an essential part of anatomy. Interestingly, there are nine recognized types of chicken combs that you will be able to recognize among different breeds. While some are more common than others, today you are going to learn the most common, as well as what they look like and which breeds have them. Plus, this article will also deep dive into the purpose of the comb. Let’s get started!
What is a Comb and What Does It Do?
Chickens — the more you know about them, the more fascinating they become. Case in point: the comb, the oddly shaped growth atop a chicken’s head. The comb is considered an organ, as it serves a key role in keeping chickens alive.
Here are some of the functions of the comb:
- Temperature Control: Since chickens cannot sweat, they need another way to regulate their temperature. The comb, in combination with the wattles, does this. During the summer, the comb diffuses heat. Meanwhile, in the winter, the comb seals in warmth.
- Health Indicator: The color of a comb says a lot about the health of your flock. Normally, combs are either red, black, or purple, depending on the breed. Pullets may have a light pink one, due to a lack of hormones. If you notice that a comb looks pale or has shrunk, it could mean your chicken is suffering from some kind of condition, such as worms. Furthermore, the tissue should feel fleshy, elastic, and malleable. Dehydrated chickens will have dry combs. Blue combs mean circulatory issues or hypothermia. A comb that is hot and bright could mean a fever.
- Mating: Chicks do not have combs. As the chicks start to grow and their hormones start circulating, their combs begin to gain color and shape. Roosters have large combs that should be red, vibrant, and healthy-looking. To the hen, this signals that the rooster is an eligible bachelor who will produce healthy offspring.
Now, you may be wondering, “Are combs breed-specific?” The answer is yes. Chickens will generally have a specific type of comb that is consistent among all individuals of that breed. However, there can be some variations in comb shape and size among chickens, especially in mixed-breed (hybrid) chickens or in breeds with a wide range of color variations. Additionally, mutations can occur that lead to unusual or unique comb types in some individuals of a breed, although such mutations are rare.
If this information is not enough for you, you can also watch this video:
The 9 Types of Chicken Combs
Here is a look at the 9 recognized types of combs on chickens, including what they look like and which breeds usually have them:
A single comb on a chicken is often described as long, flat, and with a serrated-looking comb that has a rear-facing spike. The comb can vary in size and shape, but typically has five to seven points or ridges along its length. It is highly vascular and can be an indicator of a chicken’s health and vitality. It is also important to note that single combs are often much larger and more upright on roosters than on hens.
It is not uncommon for single combs to flop over to one side.
Breeds with Single Combs:
A pea comb on a chicken is a small, compact comb that is made up of three distinct rows of small, round bumps or protrusions. The center row is the highest, and the other two rows are located on either side and are slightly lower. The pea comb is typically wider than it is tall and has a smooth surface. The small size and low profile of the pea comb make it less prone to frostbite and other cold-related injuries.
Breeds with Pea Combs:
Small and compact, kind of like a chicken’s personal airbag, the cushion comb sits low. Interestingly, the cushion comb is smooth to the touch and does not have any other physical characteristics. You will know a cushion comb when you see it, because it lacks the defining features of the other types. Cushion combs do not extend beyond the middle of the chicken’s skull.
Breeds with Cushion Combs:
- Bantam types
Here is one type of chicken comb that you will not see every day. The carnation comb is much like a single comb, but it has additional spikes that stick out along the top and on the sides of the comb.
Breeds with Carnation Combs:
This rare comb is found on a single breed. A buttercup comb on a chicken is a small, circular comb with a cup-like depression in the center and multiple points or spikes around the edge. The comb is usually about the same width as the chicken’s head and has a relatively low profile. The points or spikes around the edge of the comb can vary in size and shape, but typically number between four and six. It is a unique and distinctive comb type that adds to the ornamental appearance.
Breeds with Buttercup Combs:
- Silician Buttercup
A strawberry comb is low and sits forward along the skull so that the front of it extends over the top of the beak. Aptly named, the strawberry comb looks and feels a bit like the strawberry fruit.
Breeds with Strawberry Combs:
- Select Bantam breeds
7. V-Shaped Comb (Horn)
Here is another comb with an obvious name: the V-shaped or horn comb. This comb is made up of two sharp points that extend up and out, looking a bit like antlers or the letter V. These combs are not mounted on the top of the skull but instead protrude from the base of the beak.
Breeds with V-Shaped Combs:
- La Fleche
8. Walnut (Silkie)
The walnut comb looks a bit like a brain or the outside of a walnut that sits forward on the chicken’s head. Usually, the walnut comb is not red but mulberry-colored, matching the skin color of the main breed you see it on, the Silkie. Interestingly, the walnut comb was made by crossing the alleles of pea and rose combs.
Breeds with Walnut Combs:
A rose comb on a chicken is a low, broad, and tightly folded comb that has a smooth surface. It has a unique shape that is characterized by a central, raised mound with multiple folds of skin on either side. The comb usually covers less of the chicken’s head than other comb types, and it is wider than it is tall. This type of comb is less prone to frostbite and other cold-related injuries due to its low profile and lack of exposed tips.
Breeds with Rose Combs:
How to Keep Your Chicken’s Comb Healthy
If you want your chickens to live a long and happy life, then it is important to not only ensure they have plenty of food, water, and shelter but to keep their combs healthy, too. Depending on the comb, your chickens could end up with frostbite, fowl pox, and scabbed over from pecking.
If your chickens have combs that are prone to frostbite, be sure to provide them with a warm shelter in the wintertime. Do not do anything to a frostbitten comb unless advised by a veterinarian. That means no trimming of blackened ends or popping of blisters. Vaseline is a great way to ward off frostbite.
Secondly, combs can get infected if wounded. Not only do they have ample blood supply, but they can be an easy target. Should you notice that a chicken with a large comb is being bullied, try some Blu-Kote (or something similar) to make the comb less attractive.
As for fowl pox, if you notice any warts or lesions that seem to have popped up from nowhere on the non-feathered parts of the chicken, take them to the veterinarian immediately. Fowl pox is highly contagious and must be treated by a professional.
Final Thoughts on Chicken Combs
Now that you know all about what chicken combs do and the different kinds, why not head out into the backyard and see how many types you spot in your own flock? You should also consider checking out the health and texture of the comb if one of your chickens seems unwell. After all, the comb is a wonderful way to monitor the health and temperature of your flock.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.