Comb color proxy for health in broilers?

OHSpartan

Songster
8 Years
Apr 30, 2012
118
12
134
Ohio
I have mature cockerel broilers and we have been harvesting them of late. As they get into their 10th week we are getting some congestive heart failure issues. One thing I noticed was each of the three birds that we harvested/lost had pale combs. Is comb color a proxy for heart health?

I can see my way to bright red color coming from blood flow and oxygen content in blood. Both would point yo a healthy heart. I can also see my theory being a bunch of bunk.

If pale color indicates health it would sure be nice to have a way to know to harvest them before you find them dead in the coop, knowing they suffered in their last hours.
 
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OHSpartan

Songster
8 Years
Apr 30, 2012
118
12
134
Ohio
Eta...mods if this fits best in medical and diseases feel free to move it. I have only ever observed this with broilers.
 

Sally_O

In the Brooder
9 Years
Aug 4, 2010
52
6
48
Kentucky
We are about to process our first broilers and a few died of heart failure... I witnessed a heart attack yesterday. Pretty violent... I have noticed that the ones who died had combs that were going almost purple, like lack of oxygen. FWIW!
 

BCMaraniac

Songster
6 Years
Mar 27, 2013
1,860
417
176
We are about to process our first broilers and a few died of heart failure... I witnessed a heart attack yesterday. Pretty violent... I have noticed that the ones who died had combs that were going almost purple, like lack of oxygen. FWIW!
This past week, I found one of my CX roosters just sitting away from others who were scrambling for their breakfast. It appeared to have labored breathing, and his comb was cyanotic. I am a retired physician, and the parallels with humans are very real. I would compare a rooster's comb to the lips of a human in that there is a large amount of blood flow in the skin. If a human is having difficulty breathing, and their is some compromise of oxygenation of the blood, you will first see the lips and skin pale. As their condition deteriorates, and oxygenation of the blood becomes more and more compromised, the lips become cyanotic(bluish purple). This happens because blood with decreased oxygen is darker in color.

So paleness of the comb of a rooster, compared with the other roosters in your meat bird flock, in my opinion, is indicative of some compromise of its cardiovascular system. So, if noted, I would seriously consider butchering as soon as possible. If the bird gets to the cyanotic state, butchering will have to be done emergently so the heart will still be pumping blood. Even then, the blood will not drain as well as with a healthy bird. Also keep in mind that a bird that is in severe congestive heart failure(purple) with have retained fluid in the remainder of the body, so organs could be swollen and more susceptible to rupture. I would consider skinning the bird, harvesting the breast, wings, legs and thighs, and not opening up the abdominal cavity. My bird this past week had a very distended abdomen, which was most likely fluid, as well as food in the abdomen.

I think the key is monitoring the birds for these early signs of cardiovascular compromise, so you URGENTLY(within a day or two if possible) process the bird rather than EMERGENTLY (within a few minutes). This will give you time to withdraw feed, etc. to perform a normal butchering process, and will also reduce your stress level.

All of that being said, this will be easier to do in the roosters as opposed to the pullets, because their combs are pale to begin with. I would be willing to bet, however, that there is a disproportionate number of roosters with congestive heart failue compared to pullets, because they grow more quickly.

Just my two cents worth.....
 

OHSpartan

Songster
8 Years
Apr 30, 2012
118
12
134
Ohio
Bc, thank you for the medical insight. While I have never found any kind of veterinary or husbandry discussion on this topic I think it should be explored. I sought out several resources with no mention. i really wanted a medical opinion to confirm my novice hypothesis.

One bit of new info...when we harvested the flock, we did so over multiple days. I told the kids to pick out the birds with the palest combs first. The first 6 birds almost died before I slit them and their hearts were packed in water. As the flock progressed the water around the heart lessened and by the 10-12th bird the hearts were normal. Ironically the next load the kids informed me they couldn't tell a difference in any of the combs. We let 3-4 birds grow several more weeks without any sign of distress. Upon butcher, their hearts were healthy and their bodies were the size of turkeys.
 

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