The relationship between the comb and social behaviour in laying hens

Emily A. O'Connor*, John E. Saunders, Hannah Grist, Morven A. McLeman, Christopher M. Wathes, Siobhan M. Abeyesinghe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The question of whether attributes of the combs of laying hens have any consistent relationship with dominance behaviour has yet to be answered unequivocally. This study sought to address this by investigating whether a relationship existed between the competitive ability of hens within stable groups and the size or colour of their combs. Pullets (n=120, Hy-line® Variety Brown) were allocated randomly to eight groups of 15 hens for 32 weeks. Over this period the length and height of each hen's comb was measured regularly to estimate the total comb area and hens were weighed. In weeks 3-10 the aggressive interactions between hens in each group were observed to calculate a behavioural dominance score (David's score) for each hen. This score was based on the outcome of agonistic interactions with other group members; and accounts for the relative strengths of all opponents. Thus dominance scores reflected the competitive ability of hens from their overall within-group fighting success. The luminance, purity and dominant wavelength of the colour of each hen's comb was measured in week 27 using a telespectroradiometer. Hens with higher dominance scores had larger combs than those with lower dominance scores (gradient of slope=0.008±0.002, P<0.001); this relationship was consistent across the experiment. There was no association between body weight and dominance score but there was a significant inverse relationship between dominance score and the dominant wavelength of the comb (gradient of slope=-0.067±0.023, P<0.01). This indicated that hens with combs perceived by humans as more yellow-red than pure red were generally more successful competitors. Further research is required to ascertain whether or not hens utilise this information on comb size and the underexplored area of comb colour to assess the competitive ability of their opponents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-299
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPrint publication - 31 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Comb colour
  • Comb size
  • Laying hen
  • Social behaviour\


Dive into the research topics of 'The relationship between the comb and social behaviour in laying hens'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this