Wattle I do Without You (or Chicken Love 101)

(Cartoon courtesy of http://www.savagechickens.com)

 On Valentine’s Day, chicken love is in the air. Okay, probably not…but I thought it was a great excuse to talk about chicken combs and wattles. Why? Well, you might not think your hen’s comb is sexy, but it is to a rooster! (Go figure. ) And it’s the best I could do in the chicken love department, sorry!

So, here goes a little Comb and Wattles 101:

The comb and wattles on your chickens are the fleshy (usually some sort of reddish) flaps of skin on top of the head and under the beak. Aside from being rooster-attraction-device, the comb serves another important function: it’s a chicken coolant machine (heats up the rooster, cools down the hen…hmmmm).  As blood circulates through the both the comb and wattles, it releases heat, helping to keep the chickens cooler in the summer.

(Maybe the rooster is attracted to the comb because it functions sort of like a car radiator?? And men + cars = love, right?)

Interestingly, it’s the rooster’s wattles that contain the sex appeal for hens. Macquarie University conducted research using animated roosters and found that the hens responded less quickly to the roosters without wattles. (Maybe it’s something like a flashy smile or sexy pick up lines to a hen searching for love.)

Olivia (a California Grey) has a huge floppy comb and wattles!

Both roosters and hens have combs and wattles, although they’re larger in roosters. Chicks are born with a tiny comb and wattles that grow and change color as the chicken matures. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, depending on the breed of the chicken. Some chickens, having been bred specifically for cold weather, have smaller, ‘tighter’ combs—this helps protect them from frostbite in the winter. Others, bred to be more tolerant of hot summers, have larger, more floppy combs—which help them cool off more in the summer.

Now that you’re all educated on the finer details of chicken combs and wattles, next time you see your hens, compliment them on their beauty. After all, chances are there’s no rooster around to get excited about her looks and that can be hard on a girl’s self-esteem sometimes!

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