If you’ve ever tried to draw a chicken, you’ve probably included that little red thing on their head. Chances are that little red thing you drew looks nothing like the actual little red thing on a chicken’s head. Well, that “little red thing” is called a comb, and there are many different kinds of combs that come in all shapes and sizes. The comb is formally defined as a “fleshy growth” on top of the chicken’s head (maybe we should just keep referring to it as that little red thing?) Combs are most commonly red on chickens but can sometimes be black or dark purple.) A rooster’s comb is more often than not bigger than that of a hen. Oftentimes how “robust” or prominent a comb is plays a major part in mate assessment.
While the single comb is the most common style seen in chickens, there are many other comb shapes and sizes too!
The single comb is the most common type of comb you’ll see in backyard chicken breeds. It is the quintessential red and pointy growth that most people would include if they were asked to draw a chicken. The comb extends all the way from the bird’s nose to the back of its head. It’s a beautiful and striking style that’s usually a bright red color featuring varying amounts of points depending on the breed. The single comb has a base, points, and the blade, which is the last point on the comb that is usually thicker and more pronounced than the others. Some breeds with this style include Australorps, Barnevelders, Cochins, Plymouth Rocks and more. The main drawback to the single comb is it’s susceptibility to frost bite. A little vaseline on the tips of the comb during the harshest days of winter can sometimes help protect the single comb from frostbite.
Though not as “dignified” or common as the single comb, the rose comb is another prevalent style among backyard breeds. This type is a lot flatter and closer to the head than the single comb. The rose comb has no spikes but will sometimes extend to a point at the back of the comb. Despite not having the classic look of a single comb, rose combs are beautiful in their own way! Rose Combs are also beneficial for colder climates as they are not nearly as prone to frost bite as the single comb. Some breeds you might find with rose combs include Wyandottes, Dominiques and Sebrights.
Cushion combs remind many owners of the rose comb except without a point at the back. Cushion combs are quite simple. Without the bumps or spikes of a single or pea comb, cushion combs might get their name for their smooth “cushion-like” surface… but don’t quote me on that. In most cases you will find Chanteclers as one of the only backyard breeds who own a cushion comb.
Pea combs are also fairly common. They feature 3 orderly lines of “peas,” or little bumps. Sometimes there may be only one row of peas though. The peas differ from the points of a single comb because they’re much less sharp or pointed and don’t extend nearly as high off the top of the chicken’s head. The comb will grow and mature with the bird, though sometimes it will lose its concise rows of peas and just become what looks like a giant red blob on the chicken’s head (still quite fun to look at.) The comb will go all the way from the beak to the top or back of the chicken’s head. The middle of row of peas will typically stick out more than the other two. The Brahma and Cornish are two popular backyard breeds who possess pea combs.
Buttercup combs are quite rare. They are in fact so rare that only one breed possesses the buttercup comb, and that is the Sicilian Buttercup (what are the chances?) The buttercup comb is incredibly beautiful and unique and does in fact resemble a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, except it’s red and not brown. The “perfect” comb will have a deep cup shape with sharp points going around the side.
Strawberry combs look a lot like rose combs and if you’re keeping score, you’ll realize that many of these combs are seemingly slight variations of another one. Like a cushion comb, the strawberry does not have the point at the back like a normal rose comb. They are also not as flat or as smooth as a rose comb. Their “bulging” look coming off of the top of the bird’s head mixed with the bright red color makes it look like a strawberry. If you squint you might actually mistake it for a strawberry so beware. Malays and Yokohamas are two examples of birds with a strawberry comb.
V-combs are very interesting. This comb style looks exactly like the horns of a gazelle, except they’re red and on a chicken…. not a gazelle. They carry almost a sinister look to them, looking like two giant red horns coming out of the chicken’s head. Houdans and Polish chickens are two of the various and popular breeds that sport a unique V-comb.
Last but not least are walnut combs. Though not as common, they are equally as beautiful… kind of. The walnut comb is an irregular knobby looking comb that resembles a walnut. You remember the last time you saw an actual walnut right? Cool we do too. The walnut comb somewhat resembles the cushion or strawberry comb. Silkies are the most popular breed that have walnut combs.
The amount of different comb styles isn’t an exact number. Simply perusing the internet will show you that every breeder or raiser has their own idea of what the different types of comb styles are. These are just simply some of the more common and recognized ones, especially if you’re raising a backyard farm. With the amount of cross-breeding and hybrid chickens out there, comb styles are changing every day and not one comb is the same as another. Check out eFowl.com for a great selection of breeds with all sorts of comb styles.