What is sour crop? It is something we all hear about from time to time but hopefully will never experience with our hens.
We are going to delve into what it is, how to treat it and how to avoid it in the future.
Also, we’re going to take a look at impacted crop which is something a bit different from sour crop and sometimes the two are confused.
They are very similar and one can lead to the other. In this article, we will tell you how to differentiate between the two.
First, though we will do a quick and simple review of the crop and the chickens’ digestive system.
Chicken’s Digestive System and Crop
The digestive system starts at the mouth, from there food travels down the esophagus into the crop.
You can think of the crop as a storage pouch if you will, food waits here before it goes through the proventriculus into the gizzard.
The proventriculus adds enzymes to help break down and start digestion before the food gets into the gizzard.
The gizzard is the area where the bird grinds down its food into a digestible paste using stored grit and the muscular action of the gizzard muscle. As the food travels further down the system, nutrients and water are extracted from the paste.
What’s leftover is excreted frequently in the form of chicken poop.
The crop is located just to the right of the breastbone. After a chicken has been feeding you can see it quite clearly and it will feel fairly firm.
When chickens go to roost at night, the crop will be full of food to be digested through the night.
What Is Sour Crop?
Sour crop is a yeast infection of the crop that is caused by Candida albicans; if it sounds familiar that is because it’s the cause of ‘thrush’ in babies and infants.
Candida is a naturally occurring bacteria of chickens. It only creates problems when circumstances allow a bacterial ‘bloom’.
It leads to the thickening of the crop wall and dilation of the crop itself. The Candida disrupts the normal bacterial flora of the crop causing further digestion problems.
This means the hen won’t be able to empty her stomach and creates a blockage. If the condition goes on long enough she will lose weight and may even die.
Does my Chicken Have Sour Crop?
First thing in the morning when the birds wake and before they eat, their crop should be flat. If it is still full and feels boggy or squishy it is likely sour crop – be gentle the crop may feel sore to the bird.
You may also hear the gurgling from fermentation if you listen carefully to the breast area.
The breath of the affected bird will have a distinct putrid sour, smell to it – hence the name. If you can look in the mouth of the bird you may see whitish patches, or in a really bad case, the entire mouth will be white.
The affected hen may also be quieter than normal, have a depressed appetite, and occasionally diarrhea.
If you see fluid coming from her beak there is most definitely something wrong.
What Causes Sour Crop?
There can be several causes of sour crop some of the most common includes:
- A slow emptying crop – will cause ‘back-up’ of food. Food cannot be processed as quickly as it is eaten.
- Impacted crop – food cannot pass if the crop is impacted.
- Antibiotics – treatment with antibiotics causes problems since the antibiotics kill good bacteria too.
- Infection – an ongoing infection can precipitate it.
- Worms – a really bad worm infestation can cause an intestinal blockage.
- Injury – an injury to the crop area can lead to delayed emptying of the crop.
- Long tough grasses – hens eating long tough and fibrous grasses can lead to sour crop and impaction.
- Other possible causes include strange or weird diets and moldy food
How Do You Treat It?
A point to remember here is that unlike humans chickens cannot vomit. Any fluid that you see coming from the beak is basically ‘overflow’.
If the sour crop is noticed early on it may be possible to massage the crop frequently throughout the day to encourage movement.
To do this effectively the hen will need to be isolated without food and water for the first 12 hours. Try gentle massage of the crop every couple of hours if feasible. This can help move the food along to the gut. Massage at this point should be from top to bottom.
After 12 hours she can have plain clear water to drink, but still no food. Hopefully, this resting period will help the digestive system clear up.
If the crop appears to be flat and empty after this fasting period, you can start her on some scrambled eggs and/or plain yogurt mixed with her pellets.
Feed her frugally for the first day or two – 3-4 small meals will suffice. Give as much water as she will drink – no additives at this time.
If she is leaking fluid from her beak you will have to help her get the fluid out of the crop. This measure is not to be undertaken lightly – there is a very real possibility of the hen aspirating fluid into her lungs if this is done incorrectly.
You will be more comfortable sitting or kneeling to do this and wear old pants – just in case. Wrap her in a towel so you can hold and control her. This is better done with two people but it can be done by one person.
Leaning her over with her head towards the ground, massage her crop from bottom to top until she expels the fluid. Do not do this for long (15-20 seconds at most) and then bring her back to normal position.
You can repeat this 3 or 4 times before you put her back into the ‘hospital’. Repeat the sequence no more than 4 times a day. If no fluid comes out she probably doesn’t have any to get rid of, but if some do be prepared for a lot of foul-smelling liquid to be evacuated.
This maneuver should really be used as a last resort and if you cannot afford a veterinarian’s visit.
If none of the above appears to be helping you need to take her to a veterinarian for assessment and, probably a course of Nystatin or other anti-fungal medication.
How to Prevent Sour Crop
As always, prevention is much better than cure, but hens are intensely curious creatures and can get themselves into trouble by sampling things they shouldn’t. Whilst you can’t guarantee prevention there are some things you can do:
- Clean, freshwater is a must-have – you can add ACV to the water to help keep acidity levels stable in the gut.
- Herbal additives such as oregano, fennel seeds, and parsley are all good digestive aids, as is garlic.
- Limit the intake of starchy foods such as pasta, pizza, and bread.
- Mix some natural, sugar-free yogurt (with probiotic) in with their feed occasionally.
- Try to ensure they don’t eat long fibrous weeds and grasses.
- Ensure they have access to grit.
- Regular health checks – important for monitoring general health.
Problems Arising from Sour Crop (Pendulous and Impacted Crop)
Sour crop can be a recurrent thing in some birds especially if the condition went without notice for some time.
The crop can normally stretch and contract, but occasionally it can stay dilated – this can become pendulous crop.
Pendulous crop is notoriously difficult to treat as it will likely keep recurring. To try to assist in maintaining correct posture/placement of the crop, some folks have made a sling or ‘crop bra’.
Another problem which can arise from is impacted crop; this is more serious than sour crop. As the name implies the crop is jammed up with food to the point that nothing can move through.
What Causes Impacted Crop?
Impacted crop is usually caused by eating long and fibrous grasses and weeds, picking up bits of string or twine, ingesting screws, the list goes on…
In other words, eating anything that will cause a blockage.
It can also occur if you use rough cut orchard grass as bedding, as sometimes pullets will eat pine shavings and the like and get crop problems.
Sour and impacted crop seems to happen more in the spring-time when grasses have started to grow and the hens can’t get enough of the green stuff.
Symptoms are roughly the same as for sour crop except that the crop will be firm to touch.
How to Treat Impacted Crop
Mild cases of impacted crop are fairly easy to treat but require time and effort on your part.
The hen will have to be isolated to prevent her from trying to eat anything, although they typically go off their food when the crop is full.
Give the hen nothing but water – absolutely no food. The crop is already full so more food makes a worse problem.
Using a dropper, give her a dropper-full of olive or coconut oil at least three times a day (morning, noon and evening).
You can then start massaging the crop from bottom to top to try and get things moving along and break up the ‘ball’ of partially digested food.
This process may take some time before you feel that there is improvement, but remember no food at all until she has a flat crop in the morning.
If she does get a flat crop finally, feed her as outlined above for sour crop, limit her intake for a couple of days until she seems back to her normal state.
In severe cases, you will have to resort to a veterinarian for a surgical emptying of the crop. This is not something you can do at home.
If you are observant or lucky enough to catch crop issues when they start, you will have much better outcomes than if the problem has been going on for a while.
If you can keep them away from likely sources of trouble (long grasses, nails, small pieces of string) and ensure you pick up rubbish around the chicken yard, your hens will likely be fine.
Small chicks can get into trouble when they start eating their bedding. Give them a small saucer of chick grit to help with their digestion. It’s nice to be able to give them some fresh greens too, but make sure the pieces are easily digestible for them.
We hope you never have to deal with this problem, but if you do this article should help you along the way.
Let us know in the comments section below how you deal with crop issues…