chicken crop problems

Crop Ailments in Chickens, All You Need to Know

If you want to be a good chicken keeper it’s crucial that you know how best to care for your chickens. If you want to be a great chicken keeper you should not only know the best way to care for your feathered friends, but you should also understand how their bodies work.

Regular health checks are so important but so are knowing the parts of their digestive system and how they all work together. The you’ll be able to  quickly identify and diagnose any digestive issues that might arise, like crop ailments.

What’s A Crop You Say?

Glad you asked. The crop is the part of a chicken’s digestive system that helps it to store food that’s waiting to be digested. It’s located just to the right of the breastbone and under the esophagus. It maintains a good amount of bacteria which also helps to break down the food the chicken eats, including grain and dry feed, fruits, vegetables, and insects.

In appearance a crop resembles a small pouch. The main function of that pouch is to expand and hold food when the chicken eats. It will usually be visually noticeable right before your chickens head into the coop at night. A slightly bulging crop should also serve as a good indicator that your chicken is full, healthy, and happy.

A chicken with a healthy crop should always head to the coop with a reasonably full crop at dusk and come out at dawn with an empty one. If you notice a plump chicken in the morning or a skinny chicken at dusk, you should take a closer look at its crop as that could be an early indication that a crop ailment is beginning.

Crop Ailments To Watch Out For

Just as with our own bodies sometimes we get sick or something just stops working correctly, the same goes for a chicken’s crop. Typically it isn’t too difficult to spot crop issues, and this is especially true if you know what to look for. Here are four crop issues that can seriously affect your chicken if left unattended.

Diagnosing Sour Crop

A sour crop, or slow crop, occurs when your bird has ingested too much too fast. If the crop is unable to digest it all fully and fast enough this can cause food stored inside to basically begin fermenting. This process will cause the food to turn sour as the bacteria and yeast start building up.

You will easily be able to discern this ailment as it comes along with extremely foul-smelling sour breath. Also, you’ll more than likely be able to hear a gurgling noise if you place your chicken’s beak up to your ear. If you take a moment to examine the crop, you may notice that it looks full, but it feels a bit squishy.

Treating Sour Crop

You can begin treatment for sour crop by first removing the chicken from the rest of the flock. You will need to block its access to any food or water for a 12 hour period. This forced fasting will ensure that your chicken doesn’t keep adding more and more food into a crop that’s still trying to catch up with what’s already been ingested. It should also allow an opportunity for the crop to eventually empty on its own.

You can help the process of moving the food along by lightly massaging the crop. You should start at the top near the esophagus and work your way down the breast of the bird. Some say that feeding your chicken certain foods, like yogurt and garlic, can help to bring some balance back into the gut bacteria, so that might be worth trying, too.

One other extreme tactic to try is to turn your chicken upside down to get any excess liquid out. This move should only be attempted if your chicken is gurgling a lot and it sounds like it has a copious amount of liquid built up in their crop. It’s important that you do not hold the chicken upside down for longer than 15-20 seconds at a time as this can lead to aspiration and even death.

Diagnosing Impacted Crop

An impacted crop, which is one of the most common issues that a chicken owner will run into, typically occurs when a chicken has eaten too much fibrous food. This includes items like long grass or wood chips. It may also occur when it eats something that is not intended to be eaten, like a small piece of plastic or string, which is not easily digestible.

You can distinguish an impaction of the crop has occurred if the crop feels hard to the touch and looks full. It may feel like there’s a little ball in its breast area. If an impacted crop is left alone, and the bird is unable to relieve itself of it naturally, it can be lethal as it may turn whatever food or item is in the crop into a toxic mess.

Treating Impacted Crop

To treat an impacted crop you will need to first figure out why the crop has become impacted to begin with. There are some other causes that can cause an impacted crop, like a hen being egg bound, for example. After giving some thought about where your chicken has been feeding recently, and what it may have been exposed to, you should be able to come up with a good idea of why the crop has become impacted.

Treatment for an impacted crop should start with isolating the chicken and removing it from any source of food. We don’t want it to make the problem worse by continuing to eat food it won’t be able to digest and pass. Water is fine as drinking water will only help the digestive process.

It’s also beneficial to manually feed your chicken some olive oil with a syringe as this can help coat the lining and aid in pushing things along the digestive tract. You can help alleviate the issue by applying light pressure to the affected area and trying to break up the object that seems to be causing the impaction.

If it seems to take a while and you want to feed your chicken something make sure that it’s either soft bread (no crusts!) or small bits of bugs or worms. If it still hasn’t resolved itself in 2-3 days it may be time to call your vet as they are trained professionals and can manually empty the crop out.

Once the bird is back to normal make sure that you offer all the chickens in your flock constant access to grit. Grit is good for the digestive system overall, but especially for the crop, as it will help the process of grinding the food down into smaller bits for digestion.

Diagnosing Doughy Crop

A doughy crop is not very common, compared to the other two crop issues mentioned above, but does have its own causes and treatments. You will know your chicken is suffering from doughy crop if it is “kneadable” like bread dough. If you press on the crop and it’s really soft and maintains its shape after being pressed down, you’re probably dealing with a doughy crop.

Doughy crop has a few different causes. One may be that your chicken is extremely dehydrated, possibly due to an obstruction that’s preventing fluids from flow

Treating Doughy Crop

A doughy crop can usually be treated with a simple solution of ACS, or Acidified Copper Sulfate. It may take a few days, but if given regularly you should be able to eliminate doughy crop easily.

Diagnosing Pendulous Crop

Pendulous crop is a crop that is no longer able to shrink down to its normal size, so it just kind of hangs there when it’s not full. In the chicken community it’s widely considered as one of the most difficult crop issues to deal with. It generally occurs in older chickens when their body’s muscles begin to malfunction. Pendulous crop is also notorious for worsening and even causing other serious crop issues as it is not able to empty fully.

Treating Pendulous Crop

As far as treatment for pendulous crop goes there’s really not too much you can do. There is no cure or magic medicine to improve it. They do have bras for chickens to help with this issue. They go around the chicken’s wings and breast to help hold the crop in place for your bird for easier digestion, but they are relatively expensive and only prolong the inevitable.

Unfortunately, most would agree that a chicken with a pendulous crop should be humanely euthanized rather than have to suffer a sick and miserable life.


Getting Prepared For Chicken Crop Problems

You will want to become familiar and comfortable with ACS and other healthy natural solutions. This includes items like Epsom salt and ACV (apple cider vinegar), as they will likely become your new best friend when it comes to dealing with crop issues and your chickens overall health.

You should institute a daily (or at least weekly) crop check for your flock so you can make sure to catch any crop ailments early. This regular check will help you with crop problems that may pop up as it will allow you more time to treat it before it becomes too bad. 

It’s also crucial that you always keep clean water readily available so your flock can stay well hydrated. It may be beneficial for your chicken’s health to add other nutrients and minerals, like ACS and ACV, to it to help boost their immunity and keep their gut bacteria balanced and in check. Probably the most important thing you can do to prevent crop ailments in your flock is to maintain a clean chicken run with short grass and plenty of grit. These items will ensure that your birds (and their crops) stay in fitting shape.