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Ascites Need to Know Facts

By Miller Hatcheries

Ascites refers to an accumulation of abnormal fluid in the abdomen, which is secondary to right heart failure. The problem of ascites or congestive heart failure gets much worse as you near the end of the growing out period.

Condemnation in the commercial killing plants due to ascites has risen from 0.062 in 1986 to 0.42 in 1998. There is no denying that there has been a dramatic outbreak of ascites in the last decade.

The modern day broiler, due to its rapid growth rate has a hard time pumping enough blood through its relatively small lungs. This gives us two different results: a build up of pressure in the right side of the heart, leading to pulmonary hypertension and heart failure causing leakage of fluid into the abdomen. Secondly, heart failure can also result in a back up of blood in the skin muscles creating a dark bluish carcass.

The four major things to help control ascites are:

  • Growth rate of the bird
  • Altitude of farm
  • Cold exposure (radical temperature changes)
  • Sodium intake of bird

The higher the altitude the higher the demand for oxygen. Alberta has the highest rate of ascites in the country, probably due to this fact.

Cold exposure also raises the need for oxygen to keep the bird warm. Trying to maintain a consistent temperature is the only way to combat this particular problem.

Controlling the level of sodium intake is important. If you are in an area prone to high sodium content in the water, you may have to adjust the sodium in their feed accordingly.

At the start it is good to decide what you want out of your broilers. If you sell your broilers commercially and time is a factor in how many flocks you produce in a year, restricting their feed consumption may not be an option. For the small flock farmers this is not the case though. By restricting the bird's feed intake from days 4 to 25 you can cut your chances of an outbreak in ascites dramatically. We recommend two feedings - one in the morning and again around suppertime. This is a sufficient amount of feed while they are on the chick starter. When your birds switch to grower, we recommend letting them eat whenever they want and you can just watch them grow.

There is good news on the horizon. Primary breeders have selectively used breeders that show greater resistance to attacks of ascites. This will help reduce ascites in their progeny in the future.

We at Miller Hatcheries feel extremely confident that the use of this information along with your own knowledge of poultry will make raising your flock of broilers a worry free enterprise for the whole family.

For a more detailed report about Ascites - see Alberta Agriculture's report.