Types of Chicken Combs
How this Distinct Feature of Chicken Anatomy can Indicate Good Health
Reading Time: 4 minutes
How many types of chicken combs are there?
When I was gifted a Leghorn by a neighbor, I was scared that it was a rooster and not a pullet. The comb was so large that it gracefully flopped over to one side. After a few online searches, I saw that the bird was indeed a single comb hen, one of the most common types of chicken combs. The comb was deeply and evenly serrated with five points and extended beyond the back of the head. This female White Leghorn was christened Betty White Leghorn.
While there are nine types of chicken combs recognized, Dr. Brigid McCrea says children and backyard hobbyists who are interested in genetics would find the results of breeding different combs very interesting. According to The Livestock Conservancy, “Strawberry, cushion, and walnut combs result from the interaction of the dominant genes for rose and for pea-shaped combs.”
Dr. McCrea has her Ph.D. in poultry science and is the Extension Specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. She adds that combs should be, “Red, large, not shriveled, waxy, free of cuts, lesions, and any sort of fungus.” Favus, or avian ringworm, is first seen on the comb or face. The comb can indicate many chicken ailments including chicken frostbite.
Winter is the most critical time to comb health. Dr. McCrea says, “Severe frostbite will turn the comb yellow at the base and even into the thumb. You may also see black tips. You could also see frostbite on the comb and not the wattles, but depending on the chicken, you should check both. Not all breeds have wattles.”
Dr. McCrea suggests adding a thermometer that records the min and max temperature inside the coop. “If the internal temperature of the coop is 30 degrees F or 32 degrees F, frostbite happens. Even tiny coops that have heat lamps can experience frostbite.”
If you do not insulate the coop and your backyard chicken becomes injured seek veterinary care.
Chickens that have fowlpox, a viral infection that affects chickens and turkeys, will have unhealthy-looking combs that have scab-like lesions. Dr. McCrea says do not forget the palliative care that veterinarians can provide.
“Comb should look appropriate for the breed,” Dr. McCrea says. She reconfirms my findings, “Leghorn combs flop over — that’s normal.”
Some breeds of chickens were admitted to the American Poultry Association’s standard with different comb varieties. Ancona, Minorca, Rhode Island Red, Nankin, and Leghorns to name a few, can be exhibited in rose or single comb varieties. In the 1750s, barred chickens with rose and single combs were common. The rose-combed Dominique becomes the standard in the late 1800s while the Plymouth Rock was created by breeding single-comb Dominiques with Java chickens.
Originally published in the Backyard Poultry Special Subscriber 2020 issue — Comb to Tail Health — and regularly vetted for accuracy.