Sour Crop in Chickens: What is it And How to Treat it

Sour Crop in Chickens- What is it And How to Treat it

What is a sour crop? We all hear about it from time to time but hopefully will never experience it with our hens.
We will delve into what it is, how to treat it and how to avoid it in the future.
Also, we’re going to look at impacted crops, which is something a bit different from the 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, we will do a quick and simple review of the crop and the chickens’ digestive system.

Chicken’s Digestive System and Crop

Sour Crop in Chickens

 

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 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 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. 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?

Sour Crop In Chickens

When the birds wake, their crop should be flat first thing in the morning, and before they eat, their crop should be flat. If it is still full and feels boggy or squishy, it is likely a 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 bird’s mouth, you may see whitish patches, or in a nasty 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.

Sour Crop in Chickens

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. They cannot process food 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 nasty 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 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.

Very Important To Consider

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 genuine possibility of the hen aspirating fluid into her lungs if 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 one person can do it.

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 one 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

Sour Crop in Chickens

 

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)

The 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 a pendulous crop.

A pendulous crop is notoriously difficult to treat as it will likely keep recurring. To assist in maintaining the correct posture/placement of the crop, some folks have made a sling or ‘crop bra.’

Another problem that can arise from is impacted crops; this is more serious than sour crops. As the name implies, the crop is jammed up with food to the point that nothing can move through.

What Causes Impacted Crop?

The 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 the 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 eating 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 an improvement but remember no food 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 surgical emptying of the crop. This is not something you can do at home.

Summary

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. Please give them a small saucer of chick grit to help with their digestion. It’s nice 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 this article should help you along the way if you do.

Let us know in the comments section below how you deal with crop issues…

Read Next: How To Do A Chicken Health Check (Checklist Included)

Sour Crop in Chickens

30 thoughts on “Sour Crop in Chickens: What is it And How to Treat it

  1. We need to know what causes a rooster to peck at the hens. The hens are loosing feathers on their back.

  2. Just had one of my two hens become quiet and stop eating/drinking. She moved her head and neck from side to side in a stretching motion.she was like this for 48 hours with no change. I could hear a slight gurgling noise when I held her so took her to our local vet. He diagnosed sour crop and tipped her up, massaged her crop and up came two lots of smelly brown liquid. He said to syringe water into her mouth for a few hours then leave her quietly with water. Within a half hour she was drinking water happily and the following morning I gave her Yakult with the syringe which she loved and live organic plain yoghurt mixed with some of her pellets. Really quick recovery – I think because the vet emptied her crop. Its now 72 hours ago and she seems full of beans again! And they both love the yoghurt mix!

  3. Just read the article about crop issues. Solution portion mentioned putting ACV in water. What is ACV?

  4. Hi there, I have a chicken that I recognised had sour crop two days ago so I read up on your site and watched some videos on how to empty the crop. Did so. All seemed well! She survived the night which was more than I expected…but now, I noticed she’s acting that way again so I emptied her…although I can now hear a sound as she breathes implying perhaps that I did it wrong and there’s fluid in her lungs. Very bad. Do you have any suggestions? Is that it for her? Or is there anything I can do now?

    1. Hi Kate, what happened with your chicken? I have experienced the same thing with my chicken. I think she aspirated on her vomit. She has been drinking, but I have her in a kennel. She is making a weird noise, I assume it’s a cough.
      I have read penicillin to treat an infection of pneumonia, I am trying that.

  5. I take care of 25 chickens. I love spending time with them and I occasionally give them healthy snacks. They love fresh kale, tomatoes pumpkins, and watermelons, but they also like scratch and the occasional grasshopper. I noticed a few of the hens and one of the roosters “spit up” when they eat. It’s very, very rare when they do this and they act completely normal when it happens so I thought nothing was wrong. There is another person who owns the hens and will often give them leftovers like old pizza, pretzels, cheese sandwiches, and other starches which are supposedly not good for chickens. I don’t know what I should do. Should I cut back on the treats, tell my friend that the starches will hurt the chickens, or should I wait and see what happens with a grain of salt since it’s rare when the chickens get sick? I really don’t want to lose any of these chickens. I love them and I want to help them. ?

  6. Noticed one of my hens today very quiet, bedding down, head tilted sleeping in nesting box.. I thought she was dead at first. Took her out from the rest of the flock and put her in a dog crate separated from the rest. She’s very tired, sleeping. I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out whats wrong with her.. thought it was a bound egg then kept looking on internet and saw blocked crop.. tried to help her and she did vomit fluid and some her feed, very mushy.. she’s still very tired, head down, body down, very limp…. I hope she survives the night. Breathing heavy and very tired.. I think I got it just as it was starting. fingers crossed. If she survives will follow the regiment as suggested above. Going to try and get up in middle of night to see how she’s doing and try massaging her again. Going to leave her in my laundry room until she’s better away from the rest of the flock so they don’t bother with her.

  7. Our Golden Laced Wyandot Hen has sour crop. The crop is very full of liquid and when I tried to empty her it, foul smelling stuff came out. I am worried, because yesterday she was lethargic and fluffed up. It looked like she wasn’t breathing that well, but her crop wasn’t swollen. I didn’t know what to think. Now it looks like whatever was in her throat moved down. I am in the process of treating her. I am restricting food and water. We rarely get sour crop in the chickens, but I’m hoping this case turns out ok. This post helped me so much! Thank you!
    Shylah

  8. My 7 month old rooster drinking water and has crop problem. Becoming weak. Can’t digest the grains although 3 days earlier he ate.

  9. I have a very sick chicken… I think she has a sour crop and we are 5 weeks in she weighs like a pond or two… very thin does not drink or eat and spits stuff out.. did 5 days of penicillin because I had NO idea what was wrong… now she can barely walk.. tried giving some water and she spit out a bunch of stuff… I’m going to try anti fungel cream tomorrow as I had none… and don’t have a vet near me to take her too… so frustrated I just want to save her but getting scared it might be to late!!! Help!!!

  10. In your article you wrote “Candida is a naturally occurring bacteria of chickens. It only creates problems when circumstances allow a bacterial ‘bloom’.”
    Candida is a yeast (fungus) not a bacteria.

  11. One of my four ladies has been “vomiting” brownish yellow liquid. I have only seen her do this twice. What do this mean?

    1. She needs emptying as it sounds like her crop is full of sour liquid – sourcrop. Get her to a vet if you can. Failing that, watch a YouTube video and do it yourself.

  12. My chicken has been walking around with her tail kind of droopy. I wormed them about a day before I noticed her lethargic. We noticed yesterday she had really bad sour crop. A lot!! I got it all out and gave her some probiotic yogurt and ACV. I also emptied her crop again last night and this morning. This morning she wasn’t walking. She’s still up and alert but not walking. I removed all food and water and out her in the house in a box to keep her still and quiet. I’m more worried about her not walking now. I’m wondering if I should start her in yeast meds? What if she was wormy and she’s blocked up? Ugh. Not sure where to go from here. Thank you!

  13. My silkie was lethargic and I took her to the vet. He diagnosed her with sour crop and prescribed 14 days of Nsyatin. He told me she was loaded with candida and probably wouldn’t survive. She is still here, 4 weeks later but very thin, won’t eat or drink, and I don’t know what else to do

  14. Hi Diana,
    Out of interest, were you advised to put apple cider vinegar in the water (1tbs per gallon of water) and/or to give her yoghurt or other probiotics?
    (I get that you say she wouldn’t eat or drink, but perhaps a syringe would work, if you are gentle? Or even coconut oil with the syringe?)

  15. I just got 8 chicks four barred rocks and four rhode island reds, my rooster and too barred rock Hens came down with sour crop, The two barred rock hens seem fine the crop is smaller. My rooster is acting lethargic and wont stand I took him inside and took away his food and water and massaged his crop downward. This morning I gave him water back and the crop is smaller but not gone, I checked the other two ones smaller one bigger I massaged both but left in the coop with the other and gave them all start feed mixed with water and sprinkled slightly with ACV. Did I do every thing okay?

  16. Sadly I lost myhen this morning to what I think was sour crop . She had been sick for 4 days before she couldnt fight anymore. I did what I thought was the right steps but I guess I didnt catch it early enough or she had been without food for longer than I knew. Kicking myself now. But I want to do better next time.
    My question is what to do if the crop isnt flat? Her crop had gotten smaller by the 3rd day of treatment but was still big. By then she was refusing scrambled eggs. What should I have done different?

  17. I just read this article yesterday I’m so glad I did cause just after reading this my hen Jewels wasn’t acting right and as I looked at her more there was thick clear fluid coming out of her beek so I picked her up and rubbed her crop bottom to top and everything came out. Yes it was sour crop thank God for this article cause without it really I could have lost Jewels. She’s doing much better now. Jewels is one of 8 australorp chickens I have they’ll be 1yr June 8th thank you again MizFit Farm Edwall Wa

  18. So I’m having the same issue. One of my girls crop is big. I emptied her a few times and put her in a separate location . watching her now. I have some nystatin liquid and don’t know how much to give her. Can someone help with that? Also what and where dies this candida bacteria live or get picked up from ?

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