A supplement of 69 μg 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25-OH-D3)/kg feed increased livability in feed restricted (R-hens) broiler breeder hens by 9.9% and by 65.6% in hens allowed ad libitum feed intake (Ad-hens) in a feeding trial from age 26–60 weeks. Hens with higher bodyweight and/or adiposity suffered sudden death (SD) earlier in conjunction with compromised heart rhythms and over-ventilation. In the study with the same flock of hens, we demonstrate that 25-OH-D3 improved hen’s livability and heart health by ameliorating systemic hypoxia, acidosis, and cardiac pathological hypertrophy through calcineurin-NFAT4c signaling and MHC-β expression in association with reduced plasma triacylglycerol and hepatic steatosis and fibrosis (p
< 0.05). In contrast to live hens sampled at 29, 35, and 47 weeks, SD hens exhibited severe cardiac hypertrophy that was either progressive (Ad-groups) or stable (R-groups). Actual and relative liver weights in SD hens from any group declined as the study progressed. Heart weight correlated significantly to total and relative liver weights in SD-hens of both R- and Ad-groups. In contrast to normal counterparts sampled at 35 and 47 weeks, R-hens exhibiting cardiac hypertrophy experienced severe hypoxia and acidosis, with increased bodyweight, absolute and relative weights of liver and heart, hepatic and plasma triacylglycerol content, and cardiac arrhythmia (p
< 0.05). The present results demonstrate that pathological cardiac hypertrophy and functional failure are causative factors of SD and this pathogenic progression is accelerated by hepatopathology, particularly during the early age. Increased feed efficiency with rapid gains in BW and fat increase hens’ risk for hypoxia, irreversible cardiac hypertrophy, and arrhythmias that cause functional compromise and SD. Additional supplementation of 69 mg/kg feed of 25-OH-D3 to the basal diet is effective to ameliorate cardiac pathogenesis and prevent SD in broiler breeder hens.
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