Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a chicken’s comb? A comb certainly gives a chicken’s face character, particularly the big, bright comb of a rooster. The shape and size of chicken combs have been manipulated by selective breeding over thousands of years to suit the preferences of different poultry keepers. But is there a practical function for a chicken’s comb?
The answer is yes—several functions. Here are some of the uses that a chicken’s comb serves:
- Regulating temperature. In hot weather, blood flows to the comb, where its heat is readily dissipated. Cooled blood then returns to the body, reducing the overall temperature of the chicken. This is necessary since chickens can’t sweat and panting is not an efficient method of temperature regulation. Unfortunately, this handy feature can become a problem in cold weather, leading to frostbite in some cases.
- Recognition. Experiments suggest that chickens recognize other individuals of their flock by their facial features. Combs are useful memory aids.
- Establishing pecking order. More dominant, aggressive chickens (both hens and roosters) typically have bigger combs, although this is not a hard-and-fast rule.
- Attracting mates. In large flocks living in a natural free-range setting, hens may prefer roosters with large single combs, hence the reason that roosters typically have the bigger combs of the two. Some speculate that this preference may have been designed to ensure the genetic quality of chickens in general, since a healthy-looking comb will usually be found on the head of a healthy rooster.
A chicken’s comb can be useful to its owners, as well:
- Hen or rooster? With most breeds of chickens, it can be difficult to tell if you are looking at a hen or a rooster when the bird is very young. Fortunately, checking the size of a chick’s comb is a fairly reliable way to tell which is which with a little practice. The baby roosters will have bigger combs than their sisters, even when they are freshly hatched. (Of course, some breeds have hardly any comb, and these will be more challenging.)
- Sign of health. To the caretaker of the flock, combs are very useful! When a chicken’s comb is either unusually pale or unusually dark, it’s a sign of a health issue that needs to be looked into.
- Pullet age. When a pullet is growing up into an adult hen, her comb will grow larger and become either red or purple, depending on the breed. This change is a good indicator that she will begin laying eggs soon.