The chicken comb sits on top of the head and in a healthy hen is likely to be red, plump, and glossy, this often denotes she’s in lay. The comb is made up of collagen fibers in the form of protein bundles, similar to that of a rubber band, helping to give the comb its elasticity.
Several layers comprise the comb: The outer layer is called the epidermis. It is the least vascularized area of the comb. Just under the skin is a network of sinus capillaries, packed tightly together. Below that are the deep capillaries. These capillaries are close to the surface of the skin and are why even a small abrasion to the comb will cause bleeding.
Different breeds of hen have different shaped combs like the image below. They can be Rose or Buttercup, Single or Strawberry, Pea or V-shaped. A single comb is the most common type. Most ex-caged hens have a typical single comb with five or six points.
Did you know that a chickens’ comb is actually considered an organ? Like the heart, liver, and kidneys, this red appendage serves a few beneficial purposes. Interestingly a chicken’s health is tied to the appearance of its comb.
There are many reasons chickens have combs and there is a lot a chicken comb can tell you:
Chickens cannot sweat, so they have to control their body temperature by some other method. They control their body temperature with their wattles and comb.
In the summertime, when it is hot, the comb will diffuse some of the body heat to the air, thereby reducing the bird’s temperature, and in the winter, it helps prevent heat loss.
Chicks all have small, inconsequential combs to start with, but once the hormones start to circulate, the combs will grow.
Testosterone for the boys gives them a noticeable comb and wattles. Estrogen for the girls will give them a smaller version of the same.
When selecting a mate, they want to mate with the strongest, so their offspring have the best chance of survival. This is where the comb and wattles help to signal vitality and strength.
A rooster is big and eye-catching – it is meant to be that way. It is his way of telling the ladies that he is fit and healthy and will produce healthy chicks.
Hen’s combs are smaller but still give the same message. A vibrant red comb indicates the bird is healthy and sexually mature.
Each chicken is different, and each breed is different, so gauging changes in comb condition and colour is the best way to determine what’s normal and what’s not.
Pale Pink Comb Color
The first thing you should check is that your hens aren’t overheating. Since the combs regulate body temperature, you can expect that they pale in summer. So if this is your hen’s problem, you might want to check your coop’s ventilation and offer a few cooling treats.
A pale comb could indicate that your chicken is suffering from anemia. Anemia is the lack of oxygen as a result of poor blood circulation. Anemia in chickens is often caused by fleas, lice, and mites. In this situation, you should treat the pests.
If it’s moulting season, that could be the culprit.
Non-laying pullets that are not fully developed yet also tend to have pale combs. In fact, one sign that eggs might be in your near future is the deepening of the comb colour.
Purplish or Dark Red Comb Colour
A purplish comb signals a lack of oxygen in the blood, poor circulation or respiratory/breathing issues.
Your chicken could have something caught in her throat if you notice her comb suddenly turn purple. In extreme cases, it can be the indication of a stroke or heart attack.
If you suspect your chicken has suffered a stroke, consulting a vet is your best course of action.
Pecking is a natural part of chicken behavior and curiosity. However, sometimes this pecking can become excessive and damage the comb. You will often see a few black spots on the comb. Any chickens that are bullying flock members should be removed to prevent further injury.
Multiple black spots or patches that start white and then turn black, especially along the edges of the comb and appearing during the cold weather, generally signal frostbite. A coating of coconut oil can help prevent further frostbite and also help heal the currently affected areas.
Fowl pox is another comb problem many chicken owners have to deal with. Fowlpox is a highly contagious virus that causes white spots throughout the chicken’s body. They eventually turn into little warts and then scabs. The only thing to do is quarantine the infected chickens and wait the infection out.
Mosquitoes spread the virus, so try planting insect-repelling plants such as mints and marigolds around the run/coop.
White spots could be a bit of fungus or just a dry area. Dabbing the area with some apple cider vinegar might help, then applying some coconut oil to help the area from drying out further is beneficial.
Rosy, Deep Red Comb Color
The sign of a healthy, happy laying hen or mature rooster!