Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Chicken's Comb -- more than a fashion statement

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by Rebecca Nickols

My pullets' combs are coming in rapidly now and it completely changes the appearance of my not-so-little birds. It's amazing how only a few months ago they were tiny yellow chicks and now they actually look like chickens! You can't help but notice the variance in size, shape and color of combs between the different breeds, so I thought I would look up the meaning of the comb and wattles. What's their purpose or benefit, or is it just for show?

The hens do take notice of a rooster with a nice-looking, healthy comb, which is one benefit, at least for the rooster. Their head dress is not just for looks however, it acts as a temperature regulator. As the warm blood from the body travels into the combs/wattles, it becomes exposed to the outside air and cools before returning to rest of the body. Because of a chicken's inability to sweat, the comb serves a vital function necessary for survival during hot weather to lower the chicken's internal temperature.

American Poultry Association
The color/shape/size of the comb also has significance. Different breeds sport a specific comb. Color can vary among the breeds also from bright red to purple, but a change in color, as well as the physical condition, can also represent an illness or defect. The combs of hens close to the beginning of their laying cycle are typically bright red.

An interesting fact that I stumbled upon was the recent use of chicken combs for treating arthritis. Hyaluronic acid, a substance that is derived from the combs, is injected into the affected joint, acting as a bio-lubricant that allows the bones to slide easier and thereby relieves the pain.

American Poultry Association
In conclusion, the comb does play a role in attracting a mate, it serves as a cooling agent, an indicator of overall health and it also has unique properties in medical research.

My girls' combs are healthy and bright red and, if I have my facts correct, it won't be long before I have the much-awaited first egg!

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...the garden-roof coop.


  1. Thank you again. I wondered at the purpose of comb and wattles. I did know to watch them as a sign of health, but not about the cooling mechanism. I also use the different sized and shaped combs on some of my hens to identify them as they are alike in other ways.


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