Water-filled belly: safe to eat?


8 Years
Jan 14, 2012
Hey guys! Long-time lurker, first time poster.

Recently, one of my hens became lethargic and slow to move around. She would still occasionally eat, but hadn't laid an egg in at least 6 months. I examined her and found that she was very swollen in her abdomen area, and she had some poop caked onto the feathers around her vent. She seemed to be in obvious pain. I tried giving her a lukewarm bath to help dissolve some of the caked-on-poop, but it was pretty firmly stuck, and she didn't seem to enjoy the proces, so I gave up.

After I waited a couple days to see if the condition would resolve itself, I ended up slaughtering and butchering her. I assumed she had been egg bound, but when I opened up her backside to extract the organs, a remarkable amount (I'd guess between 1-2 pints) of clear liquid came out. No evidence of any eggs. I processed her like normal and vacuum-bagged her in the freezer.

Other details:
1) My other three hens are still fine a week later.
2) There were no signs of trauma that I could tell.
3) I wasn't able to isolate her to determine what her poop was like.
4) I live in San Francisco, and the chickens have a fairly enclosed backyard that they inhabit...I have a chicken-wire run attached to the plywood coop, and I let them out of the run once or twice a week to investigate the remaining 30-40 square feet of backyard.
5) The hen in question was an Ameraucana that I think had some Brahma breeding at some point (very feathered feet). My other hens are a Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, and a non-Brahma Ameraucana.
6) I got the hen in question last January when she was already full-grown and laying eggs. The guy I got her from didn't tell me an exact date when he got them, so I'm assuming she was about 18-24 months old when she died.

I've got some photos of the breakdown process here. Basically I'd like to know if it's safe to eat her. There's not much meat on her and her post-butchery weight is ~18oz, so we're not talking a big loss here if I have to toss her out, but I'd like to use her for chicken stock if possible.

I found these two threads one, two, that seem to indicate she might have had ascites, but I can't figure out if that sort of syndrome would affect meat safety or not. Any thoughts helpful (in particular, if you've got experience breaking down chickens and see anything out of place with the photos above.

Can't say officially if it is safe or not. I can only offer my own rule of thumb. If I find one dead, I don't eat it. If I butcher it or have it butchered I eat it. It is a better safe than sorry policy. Good luck.
Welcome to BYC.

The question is, what caused the ascites? It is likely she had some kind of liver disease, or related illness. Since the others are ok, I'd guess it wasn't hepatitis. Nevertheless, I'd err on the side of not eating a sick animal.
I second what alathea said and err on the side of caution. When we see fluid in the abdomen we think of liver disease or paritonitis both of which can be caused by microbes. I wouldn't take the chance with my health.

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