21 Important things Your Chickens Comb is Telling You

WHAT IS YOUR CHICKENS COMB TELLING YOU

Changes in a chickens comb and wattle can tell you many things about their well being, sexual maturity and can be used to attract mates, distinguish between others in the flock as well as be used to cool themselves down. There are 21 important things your chickens comb is telling you.

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What is a Comb and Wattle?

All chickens have some type of a fleshy growth or “comb” on top of their head. They also have two thin, fleshy growths hanging down below their bill called a “wattle.”

BCM COMB AND WATTLE. 21 important things your chickens comb is telling you.
BLACK COPPER MARAN HEN WITH A HEALTHY, SINGLE RED COMB AND WATTLE.

Red, Rosy Comb and Wattle on a Chicken

A (1) happy, healthy and sexually mature chicken should have a red, rosy comb and wattle. There are several signs to look for in your chickens comb and wattle that can be a sign to you that something is going on with your chicken.

COMB AND WATTLE
SIGNS
WHAT IT MEANS
1. RED, ROSY COMB
AND WATTLE
HAPPY, HEALTHY,
SEXUALLY MATURE
CHICKEN
2. EXTREMELY RED
COMB AND WATTLE
YOUR CHICKEN IS HOT
3. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
NOT SEXUALLY ACTIVE
OR MATURE
4. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
IS SUFFERING FROM
HEAT EXHAUSTION
5. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS STRESSED
6. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE OR
TURNING WHITE
CHICKEN IS MOLTING
7. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS
DEHYDRATED
8. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS UNDER
STRESS
9. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS SUFFERING
FROM PARASITES
10. PALE COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS ILL
11. BLACK SPOTS ON
COMB AND WATTLE
CHICKEN IS SUFFERING
FROM FROSTBITE
12. BLACK SPOTS ON
COMB AND WATTLE
FOWLPOX
13. BLACK SPOTS ON
COMB AND WATTLE
CHICKEN MAY BE
BEING PECKED AT
BY FLOCK MATES
14. PURPLE OR EXTREME
RED COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN MAY BE
CHOKING
15. PURPLE OR EXTREME
RED COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN MAY BE
HAVING A HEART
ATTACK
16. PURPLE OR EXTREME
RED COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN MAY BE
HAVING A STROKE
17. FLOPPY COMB
ON HEN
DEHYDRATED
18. FLOPPY COMB JUST LAID AN EGG
19. FLOPPY COMB SIGN OF BROODY
HEN
20. FLOPPY COMB SIGN OF AN OLD
CHICKEN
21. MISSING PARTS
ON COMB AND
WATTLE
CHICKEN IS BEING
BULLIED OR
PECKED AT BY
FLOCK MATES

Extremely Red Comb and Wattle

A chicken with an extremely bright red comb and wattle has a lot of blood circulating throughout it. It can be an indicator that (2) your chicken is hot. It will use its comb and wattle to cool down.

Combs and Wattles Can Cool a Hot Chicken

When the weather is hot, blood circulates through the tiny capillaries inside the comb and wattle, thus cooling the chicken down.

Chicken’s aren’t like humans. They cannot sweat. When blood runs through the comb and wattle, heat is easily transfers to the outside air. So, blood running through its comb and wattle is like having its own built in air conditioner.

You will notice that breeds of chickens that have adapted to living in a hot climate have larger combs and wattles. Chicken breeds that have adapted to cooler climates have smaller combs and wattles.

HOT CHICKEN panting, respiratory illness possibly,
A HOT CHICKEN NOT ONLY WILL PANT, BUT IT ALSO USES ITS COMB AND WATTLES TO COOL ITS BODY DOWN.

What Does a Pale Comb and Wattle Indicate?

A pale comb and wattle can indicate a hen or rooster is not sexually mature yet, has parasites, is stressed, molting or just laid an egg.

When a hen or rooster has a pale comb it could mean they are (3) not sexually mature. Sexually mature hens and roosters have a bright red colored comb and wattle.

A roosters comb and wattle are usually quite larger than a hens. He uses his large comb and wattle to woo her when he is wanting to mate. The larger and redder it is, the more likely she is to recognize him.

ROOSTER-LARGE-COMB
SEXUALLY MATURE ROOSTER WITH LARGE, RED COMB AND WATTLE.

A pale comb chicken can also be telling you that it (4) is suffering from heat exhaustion. If this is the case, it is imperative that you cool your chicken down. Make sure that they have access to cool drinking water and shelter to get away from the heat.

A pale comb or wattle can also indicate that your chicken (5) is stressed for some reason. This can be due to multiple reasons. I have indicated the most common in the list below.

COMMON STRESS
TRIGGERS IN CHICKENS
CAUSING
FLOPPY COMBS OR
PALE COMB
AND WATTLES
PREDATORS Getting Into Coop at Night
NEIGHBORHOOD DOG IS
TERRORIZING THEM
KIDS ARE CHASING THEM
OVERCROWDED
INJURY
ILLNESS
INSECT INFESTATION
EXTREME HEAT
EXTREME COLD
CHANGE IN DIET-
LACK OF FOOD OR
NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCY

Why is my chickens comb turning white? When a chicken is (6) molting, it is very common for their comb and wattle to turn pale in color. Molting is when a chicken looses its old feathers to grow in a new set of full, fluffy feathers to better insulate them during the upcoming cold weather.

When a chicken is molting, it puts most of its energy into growing new feathers. It is hard work growing new feathers! This is also why most laying hens stop laying during a molt.

A chicken comb turning white or a pale chicken comb and wattle can also signify it is (7) dehydrated, (8) stressed, (9) suffering from parasites or (10) is ill.

What Causes Black Spots on Comb and Wattle?

Black spots on your hen or rooster can be an indicator that it (11) had suffered from frostbite.

Chickens, generally are pretty hardy birds and can tolerate cold temperatures. But they are prone to frostbite on their combs and wattles in extreme cold weather.

This is especially seen in chickens that are exposed to humidity and cold temperatures at the same time. Any moisture on a chickens comb or wattle during extreme cold temperatures can cause frostbite to the tissue.

FROST BITE ON TIPS OF COMB
BLACK SPOTS ON CHICKEN COMB: FROSTBITE ON TIPS OF ROOSTERS COMB

When the fluids in a chickens comb or wattle freeze, the tissues are neglected of circulating blood flow. This causes the tissue to die and turn black.

Have you ever watched a chicken drink water? It dips its beak down into the water, (if it has a large comb it can flop into the water) and then throws its head back, sometimes dribbling water down its wattle. Wet + Freezing Temperatures = Frostbite

A chickens comb and wattle is the only soft, fleshy skin that is exposed to extreme cold temperatures. When they perch at night to sleep, they cover their shanks and feet with their downy feathers!

Pea Comb Easter Egger
PEA COMB ON EASTER EGGER HEN

The best thing to do is to protect your chickens from developing frostbite in the first place. I like to wait until my chickens are roosting at night and then I rub a little bit of petroleum jelly on their combs and wattles.

It’s a lot easier to wait until they are roosting at night to do this than chasing them down in the daytime!

FROST BITE AND SCABS ON COMB AND WATTLE
FROSTBITE ON ROOSTERS COMB AND WATTLE, SINGLE COMB.

For more information on how to keep your chickens warm during the winter read my article:

Another reason your chicken may have black spots is due to having (12) fowl pox. This is the chicken form of “chicken pox” that humans get.

If your chicken has fowl pox it will also exhibit other symptoms such as lethargy, diarrhea, loss of interest in moving around, not wanting to eat and weight loss.A

Black spots can also be (13) scabs from being pecked at by others in the flock. Keep an eye on this. Chickens can sometimes bully others in the flock. They go crazy when they see blood too.

You might need to separate them or at least keep a careful watch that they don’t take it too far. Sometimes, when they are trying to establish their pecking order, they can get quite mean! If you have to, re-home the chicken that is the bully.

Purple or Extreme Red Comb or Wattle

If your chicken develops either a purple or very, very red comb or wattle this can indicate that they are having some sort of circulatory problem. They can be (14) choking on something, (15) having a heart attack or even a (16) stroke.

FLOPPY COMB ON OLD HEN
FLOPPY COMB ON AN OLD HEN.

What Does a Floppy Comb on a Chicken Mean?

If your chicken normally has a comb that stands upright, but is suddenly floppy, that may be an indicator that (17) it is dehydrated. A chickens comb is made up of mostly water and if it is dehydrated can flop over.

Make sure that your chicken has access to more than one source of water. You can even add a little bit of electrolytes to the water to help perk it up.

Another reason that your hen may have a floppy comb is because she (18) just laid an egg or is (19) broody Normally, a laying hens comb is bright red.

When she is working on laying an egg, the blood redirects to the muscles that contract to help her lay an egg. This is why sometimes your hen’s comb will be drooping when she leaves the hen box! Give her a little time and it will be standing upright again.

Another reason for a floppy comb can just be that your chicken (20) is old. As a chicken ages, their comb and wattles continue to grow. Kind of like as humans age, our ears and nose continues to grow.

BROODY-HEN-COMB-IS-FLOPPY-SCABS-PALE-
BROODY HEN WITH A PALE, FLOPPY COMB WITH PECK MARKS AND SCABS ON HER COMB.

Floppy Combs: Chicken Comb Flopped Over (Stress Triggers)

COMMON STRESS
TRIGGERS IN CHICKENS
CAUSING
FLOPPY COMBS OR
PALE COMB
AND WATTLES
PREDATORS Getting Into Coop at Night
NEIGHBORHOOD DOG IS
TERRORIZING THEM
KIDS ARE CHASING THEM
OVERCROWDED
INJURY
ILLNESS
INSECT INFESTATION
EXTREME HEAT
EXTREME COLD
CHANGE IN DIET-
LACK OF FOOD OR
NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCY

Missing Chicken Comb and Wattle Pieces

Chickens will fight to establish a pecking order within the flock. This can happen frequently when changes occur in their group. This can be due to integrating new members into the flock, when a chicken dies or there is a sudden decline in available food.

Sometimes this can get out of hand and result in (21) missing chicken comb and wattle pieces. If you see this happening, it is best to single out the bully chicken and put it in “chicken jail” to knock it down a few notches in the pecking order.

It’s ok for chickens to peck at each other to establish their pecking order, but it should never cause any bloodshed.

Different Types of Combs

CRESTED CREAM LEGBAR SINGLE RED COMB SCAB AND BLACK SPOTS
HEALTHY, MATURE CRESTED CREAM LEGBAR HEN WITH A SINGLE RED COMB.

There are a total of 9 different types of recognized chicken combs; Buttercup, Carnation, Cushion, Pea, Rose, Single, Strawberry, V and Walnut.

Many times due to cross breeding, it can result in a chicken having a comb that the breed does not usually have. These are typical breeds that possess each of the combs.

COMB TYPECHICKEN BREED
1. SINGLE ORPINGTONS, COCHINS,
ANCONAS, ROCKS,
AUSTRALORPS, MINORCAS,
LEGHORNS, REDS, MARANS,
FAVEROLLES, DORKINGS,
SUSSEX, LAKENVELDERS,
TURKENS – NAKED NECKS,
GIANTS, PHOENIX, LANGSHAN
2. PEA AMERAUCANA, ARAUCANA,
BRAHMA, CORNISH, BUCKEYE,
CUBALAYA BREEDS
3. WALNUT SILKIE
4. V-SHAPED POLISH, SULTANS, HOUDANS,
LA FLECHE, CREVECOEURS
5. BUTTERCUP SICILIAN BUTTERCUP
6. CARNATION PENEDESENCA, EMPORDANESA
7. ROSE WYANDOTTES, DOMINIQUES,
SEBRIGHTS, HAMBURGS
8. CUSHION CHANTECLERS
9. STRAWBERRY YOKOHAMAS, MALAYS
9 COMB TYPES AND BREEDS THAT POSSESS THEM

COMB TYPECHARACTERISTICS
SINGLESingle, smooth, soft comb beginning
at beak – back of head.
Contains about 6 fleshy ridges.
PEALow, medium sized comb with 3
ridges from top of beak – top of head.
Center ridge is slightly raised with
pea-like protrusions.
WALNUTMedium sized, solid comb.
Combination of both Rose and
Pea Comb. Resembles a walnut.
VV-shaped. Two solid, thick points
at base of beak. Looks like horns.
BUTTERCUPHas a very short single comb
down the center with two larger
combs on either side.
CARNATIONSingle comb with several lobes
in the back.
ROSEFlat and close to the head.
Runs from beak to back of head.
Front 2/3 covered in round bumps,
similar to a rose. Back end comes
to a point.
CUSHIONRound, small, smooth comb without
any ridges or points.
Runs from top of beak –
only short way up head.
STRAWBERRY Similar to Rose, but are not as flat
and does not form a point.
Looks like a strawberry.

CONCLUSION: Do You Know What Your Chickens Comb is Telling You?

Changes in your chickens comb and wattle can tell you many things about them, including their health, sexual maturity and well being.

Everyday, take time to observe your flock so you are aware of any problems that may be going on.

The appearance of your hen or roosters comb and wattle is their way of telling you how they are doing. Listen to what they are telling you and if there is something going on, take care of it as soon as possible.

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