Ascites in Meat Broilers

As if I didn’t already think Cornish X were bad enough, I recently learned of a new ailment that the breed suffers from. Because they grow so large so quickly, they are susceptible to broken bones, especially in the legs, muscle injuries, and any and all manner of physical ailments because of their quick growth. Another issue I have found is ascites – aka congestive heart failure.

About 3 weeks ago, I noticed one of our broilers was gaping and having respiratory issues. I immediately began treatment with all manner of “natural” remedies, including VetRx (natural poultry respiratory aid), colloidal silver, and a natural dewormer on the chance it was gapeworm. While the bird didn’t exactly seem to be improving, it also did not seem to be getting worse. It was noticeable, however, that the bird was not growing like the others.

About a week ago I found the bird, freshly dead in the corner of the pen. Immediately I opened it up for autopsy. My first area to check was the esophagus/trachea, looking for signs of any gapeworm. All clear. The second I opened the body cavity however, a yellowish, gel-like fluid came out. It reminded me of a great bone broth after it’s been chilled. I was alarmed as I have never seen such a thing before. I took to Google, and found out that this happens in Cornish X, and it is called ascites.

Ascites is also known as water belly, and is found almost exclusively in meat birds. It is a form of congestive heart failure. The ‘jelly’ is an accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the body cavity. Short explanation, increased pressure within the veins causes blood pressure to rise and fluids leak from organs, primarily the liver, into the body cavity. The main cause is genetics.

Common signs include cyanosis (blue flesh), and respiratory issues (dyspnoea). They also tire easily and develop poorly. The best way to control ascites is to slow the growth rate of your birds by restricting feed and using low energy and protein diet. We did have the birds on high protein feed (the same as our entire flock, 22%), and in the spring we will use a lower protein 16-18% feed.

Learning something new every day!

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