Chicken Headgear? Already?
We don’t know whether to be proud or nervous about the precocity of two of our chicks. At two weeks old, they are proudly exhibiting one of their secondary sexual characteristics – combs! Our other four chicks are still fluffy-headed; not a comb in sight. But the two Americaunas are definitely struttin’ their stuff.
If we could be sure it’s a breed thing and not a rooster thing, we’d be happier. However, say the books, it’s too early to tell. In fact, most of what I’ve read indicates that fourteen days is early for combs. “Several weeks” say most sources, and I have always believed that ‘several’ is more than two. However, the fact that it is both of these little ones, gives us hope that they are just early bloomers.
Americaunas are supposed to have “Pea Combs” which are medium-sized and have three ridges running lengthwise from the top of their beaks to the top of their heads. Definitely early days yet.. Both roosters and hens have combs, of course, but the male’s comb is usually larger and brighter than the female’s – a useful fact to know only if we have one of each to compare, which I hope we don’t, but only if they are both hens.
The American Poultry Association recognizes nine different kinds of combs. Nine! In addition to Pea Combs, there are Single, Buttercup, Cushion, Strawberry, Rose, Silkis, Walnut and V-shaped. Plus there is a tenth one, the Carnation (or King’s) that only one breed, the Penedesenca sports. Who knew? Our Wyandotts are scheduled to have Rose combs and the Complines will have large, Single combs.
The main purpose of the comb is to keep the chicken cool in hot weather, since they are unable to pant like dogs or other animals. Not too necessary here in Oysterville, but good to know I guess. Blood circulates in dense networks of tiny blood vessels and capillaries from the chicken’s comb to its wattles. This gives the comb its deep red color and allows the blood to be cooled by the air before traveling to other parts of the bird’s body.
A lesser function of the comb is to help a chicken attract a mate. In the pecking order of a flock, it’s often the bird with the biggest and brightest comb who becomes the alpha hen or rooster. If there is no rooster – and we have our fingers crossed about that - the alpha hen may even begin to crow. We’ve actually had that happen in the past and it can be a bit unnerving.
However, for us backyard chicken growers who are primarily interested in eggs, the comb is a good indicator of a pullet’s readiness to lay. She’s usually ready when the comb reaches a bright red or pink color. Whether she knows it or not.
So, let’s hear it for chicken headgear and hope for the best!