By Randy Stevens
As published in Backyard Poultry Magazine

Dubbing is the practice of removing the comb, and the wattles of your fowl, to help prevent frostbite, and the complications that come with it. If you live in a area of the country that experiences below freezing temperatures, you might want to consider dubbing an option to prevent this, because it can lead to serious infections, fertility problems, permanent tissue damage, and even death. It does not hurt the bird to do this, and will make your whole flock healthier in the long run. Like many things that concern chickens, everyone has their own methods of dubbing, and along with that, different reasons for doing it. Birds, like the Old English Bantams, require dubbing to meet the standard for showing them, and some people like to dub their birds at a specific age, to help control the size of the adult bird. I dub all my fowl, including the hens, to promote better health, and prevent them from getting frostbite, which can be a real problem where I live.


To get the best results, dubbing is primarily done when chickens reach breeding age, and their combs and wattles are pretty much full grown. The first thing I make sure of when I am going to dub birds, is to do it at the right time of the month, so the bleeding is kept to a minimum. It is best to dub a bird the last two, or three days of the moon cycle, just before the new moon. This puts the blood of the bird more in the feet, and less in the head of the bird. I also prefer to do it in the evening, when the birds are calm, and will not be doing a bunch of running around after they are dubbed. It is best to avoid doing it during the hot summer months too, because the heat thins the blood. It is also a good idea to take the water away from the bird you plan on dubbing the day before, so their blood will be thicker, and will clot better. Some people also supplement Vitamin K to their birds prior to dubbing, by feeding alfalfa meal in with their normal feed, or using red cell in the drinking water. Others swear by dunking the birds’ head in a cold bucket of water before, and after dubbing too. All of the things I mentioned are meant to help keep bleeding to a minimum, and any of them will help, but they aren’t required. I have seen many a bird get dubbed without following the above steps, and do just fine, but I am trying to provide you with tips to make the process easier on you, and your fowl.


After deciding on a day, the next thing to do is to prepare to do it. You will need a very sharp, high quality pair of scissors that are capable of cutting through the flesh. I use a pair of leather trimming shears, but some people buy scissors specifically made for this. You can purchase them from most high quality poultry supply companies. I can say, don’t skimp on this, as it makes it much easier to dub a bird if you have a good pair of scissors. You will also need some rubbing alcohol, a towel, and some blood stop powder (You can use flour for this too, if you don’t want to spend the big bucks for the blood stop powder.) Next, you will need to decide what you are going to dub. I dub my combs tight to the head most of the time, which is as close as I can, because I like the look it gives my birds, and I remove the wattles and earlobes too, if they are excessively long. Most people dub the comb approximately a quarter inch off the head, and the wattles, and earlobes tight. The birds that have the worst problems with frostbite, are the tall, straight combed birds. Pea combed fowl need to be dubbed too, but most rose, and walnut combed birds are tight enough to the head, that you shouldn’t have a problem with them.


Once you decide how you are going to dub your bird, you need to take your bird to an area for doing this, preferably outside, as you will get some blood. Take your towel, and spread it out on your work area, grab your bird by the feet with one hand, and cradle the breast with your other hand. Lay the bird at one end of the towel, with his head and feet hanging over the edges. Make sure the bird’s wings are tucked in tight, and still holding the feet, roll the bird up in the towel. If done properly, you will have a bird with only it’s head, and feet hanging out of the rolled up towel, and it is unable to move. If you have a helper, it makes this easier, because you can now have them put their hands around the bird, to keep it calm and unable to wiggle loose. If not, I sit down, and put the bird between my legs, and hold it with my knees. You now need to disinfect the area of dubbing, and your scissors, with the rubbing alcohol. You don’t need much, just a damp cloth to clean the comb, and wattles if you desire. Take care not to get alcohol in the birds’ eyes. Ok, at this point, you are ready to start cutting. Remember, you can not replace flesh that you cut off, so if you are not sure what you are doing, it is better to take less off, and trim down to where you want to go, than to take too much off by accident. I like to start at the back of the head. I take the comb between my fingers in one hand, pull it up away from the bird’s head, then place the scissors behind the comb, tight to the top of the birds’ head, and angling up towards the middle of the comb, for the first cut. Once you make the first cut, you will see blood, don’t worry about it, just finish your cutting. Some birds will bleed a lot, some won’t bleed at all, either way, I will talk about what to do about that, after the dubbing process is finished. Next, you want to hold on to the tallest part of the comb left, and pull it tight. Place your scissors parallel to the head, at the distance you have decided on, and make your next cut. You should be done with the comb at this point, unless you need to do some trimming, for cosmetic reasons. If you decide to cut the wattles and earlobes off, now is the time to do it. If your birds have wattles that are over a quarter inch long, I recommend cutting them. These are much easier to cut, as they are thin, but it is very important to not pull on these when you cut them. If you pull them tight, and cut them off where it looks flush, you will end up having a large hole in the side of their necks from cutting too much off. If you do this, don’t worry, it will heal fine, it just looks scary at first, and leaves a larger wound, and will take longer to heal. With cutting the wattles, it is best to cut off less, and trim your way flush to the neck. If properly done, there will just be a slit in the skin where the wattle was. Some people like to trim the earlobes too, but it isn’t necessary to dub them, as it is not an area that will get frostbite typically, unless they are unusually large. If you decide to dub the earlobes, do them the same way you did the wattles.


After you have finished the cutting, you will want to stop any severe bleeding. Most of the time, the bleeding is very minor, and you can just put the bird back in its pen, and it will be fine. If you get a bird that is bleeding excessively, just apply pressure to the area with a clean cloth until it slows down. If you get bleeding that doesn’t want to stop after a couple minutes of pressure, just sprinkle some blood stop, or flour in the wound, and it will help stop the bleeding. The next day, you will want to check the bird and make sure that its nose isn’t plugged with dried blood. If it is, take a moist cloth, and clean it out so the bird can breath properly. It is also a good idea to treat the bird with a broad spectrum antibiotic for a couple of days to help prevent infections. Most dubbings will heal completely within 2 to 3 weeks.  If you have a bird that has frostbite, I dub the bird immediately. Doing this, will keep your bird from getting infections from dead tissue, and they will heal from the dubbing much faster than waiting for the dead tissue to fall off. If the wattles, or earlobes, are swelled to the point that you can’t dub them, I like to cut a slit for the excess blood, and liquids to drain. Usually, after 24 hours of draining, the swelling will have went down enough that you can dub them.


Along with worrying about the head of your fowl, you need to think of your bird’s feet too. Make sure that your roosts are wide enough, that when they are on them, their breast feathers cover their toes. I use 2×4 lumber for my roosts, thin side up for bantam sized birds, and the wider side up for larger breeds. Doing this, will virtually eliminate loosing toes. Chickens can handle the cold surprisingly well, even better than they can handle extreme heat. If you have a spot for them to get out of the elements, keep them dubbed, and have nice wide roosts for them, they should be able to handle just about anything!



11 Responses to “Dubbing”

  1. 1 doc
    January 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I thought this was a great article. I’m glad Elaine published it in Backyard Poultry. As people have moved away from the farm they have forgotten the basics of animal behavior and care. Now it is up to a few of us to do the job that grandparents/parents use to do with their children by passing on basic fundamental concepts in management.

  2. February 12, 2009 at 4:53 am

    Hi, I guess I never thought any one would dub a hen.. I guess here in Georgia we dont dub hens. Is it because of exstream cold where you live? The only thing I ever saw dubed is O.E. games and Pit fowl. It was just odd to see a hen like that. But I guess you have to if your where it’s cold. TMA.

    • February 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm

      Actually, I don’t always dub hens, but at the time of writing the article, that was the only bird left on my yard with a straight comb, so I used her to demonstrate how to dub a bird. I am however, not afraid to dub any fowl that might be at risk of frostbite, as it is a great preventative measure in -20 degree weather! If you have ever had a severe case of infected frostbite, you do what you can to keep it from happening again, and I raise way too many fowl to have the type of housing it would take to keep it from happening in my climate, especially having to keep all the separate pens for the games. Maybe I need to move south! lol

      • 4 Alex McKinley
        June 3, 2011 at 1:56 am

        where do you live and I have a bird who has frost bit comb and waddles but his feet are acting reall wierd his toes will just turn black and come off he does not have leg mites though because I have treated him for thoise his whole life and his scales are not raised

      • June 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm

        That is from having frostbitten toes. They are dying and falling off now from it. They will heal up though, but you will have birds with missing toes now. Proper roosts and housing in the winter will solve this problem.

      • 6 Alex McKinley
        June 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm

        thank you I have been worried about him because its the worst ive ever seen frostbite so i wondered if it was something else

  3. February 18, 2009 at 5:11 am

    -20!!!! Uggg I would die in that kind of cold….Berrrrr…20’s at night a few times during winter is about it for cold here….Come visit me sometime here in Ga. I would love to show you my birds…. Toni-Marie

  4. 8 Cici
    September 4, 2009 at 3:42 am

    This article was very encouraging and extremely well done. We raise a large mixed, breed production flock that is indoor/outdoor and free range in a cold climate area. We have never dubbed any of them although we have suffered some mild cases of frostbite with no cases of infected frostbite. Mostly we prevent frostbite by rubbing wattles and combs with vaseline and leaving a thick layer on them on days or nights when temps are going to drop low enough. A production in itself because of the number of birds we have but a labor of love.

    I am interested in the dubbing process because I raise high quality OEG Bamtams with excellent show potential but because I don’t dub they cannot compete in the USA. My hope of hopes is that there will be a movement against the need to have birds dubbed for showing purposes. They are so beautiful fully wattled and combed and that is the natural state of the bird. The roosters are so proud and handsome. However, my family has come to a place of being very serious on the show circuits and my children are doing extremely well. One of our roosters has been called as having grand champion potential but is now disqualified at this level of show because he isn’t dubbed. I think it is a shame that in the US we don’t share the practice of Europe and Australia where dubbing is not a factor in judging so it is the decision of an individual owner to dub or not. Our rooster is so beautiful and handsome intact and to have to dub him to compete feels like a crime. I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some folk really feel that the OEG’s are more attractive dubbed. Therefore, I think it should not be a requirement for showing, nor should it be banned, let it be up to the individual showman to decide how to present their bird.

    Anyhow, given this dilemma, this was the first and only article on dubbing that I have found that was reassuring and done well enough to make me reconsider the process instead of deciding instead just to keep breeding these beautiful birds because I admire and love them so much but pull out of the OEG show circuit before I even start so to speak.

    Thank you.

    Geneva, NY

  5. 9 labeaux
    December 5, 2009 at 5:39 am


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