Interesting Facts about Chicken Combs
Chickens have many interesting features and one of these is their comb. The chicken has the scientific name of Gallus gallus domesticus. It is a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl. There are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird. It is one of the most common domestic animals.
Chickens are kept primarily as a source of food with both their eggs and meat being consumed. There is also great interest in breeding chickens for exhibition.
The Latin word 'gallus' in the chicken's scientific name means 'comb'. The comb is a fleshy growth on the top of the head. Chickens also have 'wattles', fleshy pieces of skin which hang under the beaks and combs. Wattles and combs have an important role to play in acting as cooling agents. Blood circulates through the comb and the wattles. Because the blood is so close to the surface at these points, it is cooled before it is pumped back around the interior of the body. This is one reason why single, upright combs with large points are at risk of frostbite during winter.
Combs vary from bright red to purple in colour depending on the breed. Combs can indicate the health of a chicken with healthy combs being nice and bright. If the comb seems to be shrivelled or much darker or lighter than usual, this can be a sign of sickness.
Chickens are also able to detect colour and a bright colour in a cock's comb will attract hens.
Through the ages, the combs of cocks were thought to have mysterious powers. And today, when not actually attached to the rooster and doing their cooling duties, combs have several interesting uses.
There is an FDA approved drug available which is a skinceutical said to be beneficial in the treatment of facial wrinkles and skin folds. It is being touted as an anti-aging skincare cream.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) occurs naturally in the dermal layer of the skin and is a natural moisturiser. By using HA, much lower levels of emollients and oils are needed thus providing a virtually greaseless base for cosmetics. HA is obtained from cock's combs and other animal sources although it can now be created from various yeast sources.
Cocks' combs were once cooked and eaten. In France, they were often used as a garnish on dishes. They were also minced and added to a sauce. An old Italian recipe, Cimabella con cibreo, combined combs with chicken livers and eggs into a sauce. A ring was moulded with potato and ricotta, the sauce was mixed with tagliatelle and placed in the centre of the mould. The American chef, Chris Cosentino, specialises in dishes made from offal. One of his dishes is candy-coated cockscomb.
In a hen, the appearance of a bright red comb (brighter than normal) means she is about to start laying.
Combs come in a number of styles. For exhibition fowls, championships can be won or lost on the quality and shape of the comb.
- The single comb is most commonly seen. This is moderately thin with a smooth soft surface texture. It is firmly attached from the beak back along the top of the head and sits upright from a solid base. The top of the comb has a number of serrations or 'points' with the middle points being higher thus forming a semi-oval shape in profile. The cocks have larger, thicker combs than the females. The hens may have a lopped comb depending on the breed. The part of the comb which extends past the rear of the skull is called the posterior or blade. Australorps have a single comb which should have five distinct points. The Dorking has a large, single comb and may require protection during really cold weather.
Other breeds which have single combs include the Langshan, Minorca, New Hampshire, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red and Sussex. Most Leghorn chickens have single combs but there are several colour varieties that have rose combs.
- The rose comb is a low, fleshy comb that is solid, broad and nearly flat on top. The top surface is somewhat convex and covered with small rounded protuberances. It finishes with a well-developed tapering spike at the back. The spike may turn upwards as in the Hamburgs, or be more horizontal as in the Rose Comb Leghorns. In the Wyandotte breeds, the comb follows the contour of the head. The Minorca and Derbyshire Redcap have spiked Rose Combs.
- The pea comb is low and the top is marked with three low lengthwise ridges. The centre ridge is a little higher than the outer ones which are either undulated or marked with small rounded serrations. The comb is a medium length. Brahmas, Buckeyes, Cornish, Cubalayas and Sumatras all have pea combs.
- The V-shaped comb is formed from two sections. These are well-defined, horn-like and joined at the base. Houdans, Polish, Crevecoeurs and Sultans have V-shaped combs.
- The strawberry comb is low, compact and set well forward. It gets its name because it resembles the exterior portion of half a strawberry with the large end nearest the chicken's beak and the comb not extending past the midpoint of the skull. The Malay has a strawberry comb which gives the bird a very stern appearance.
- The walnut comb is solid, almost round and rather lumpy. It is often wider than it is long and is covered with small corrugations. There is a narrow transverse indentation slightly to the front of the comb. There may be two or three small rear points hidden by a crest. It occurs as a result of two dominant genes for the Rose and Pea comb. The surface of the comb shows some furrowing like that of a walnut shell. The Yokohama and Silkie breeds have walnut combs.
- A cushion comb is solid and low. It is moderately small, compact and smooth on top with no spikes or depressions. It should not extend beyond the mid point of the skull. The Chantecler chicken has a cushion comb.
- A buttercup comb has a single blade from the base of the beak leading back to a cup-shaped crown. This is set firmly on the centre of the skull and is surrounded by a circle of evenly spaced points. The comb is fine in texture and the cavity within the points is deep. The circle must be closed at the back. A very objectionable defect is the occurrence of points in the centre of the cup. The Sicilian Buttercup chicken has, naturally enough, a buttercup comb.
In the American Poultry Association show world, the comb accounts for 5 points out of 100. But for those of us with pet chickens, the combs hardly count at all.