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

Sour Crop In Chickens What Is It And How To Treat It Blog Cover

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

Chicken Digestive SystemThe 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 left over 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?

Sour Crop In ChickensFirst 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 include:

  • 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 through 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 yoghurt 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 does 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 veterinarians 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

Chickens RoamingAs 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, fresh water 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 yoghurt (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…

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  1. Judy Hayden says

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

  2. carolyn studd says

    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. LaTrecia Jeffcott says

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

  4. Kate says

    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?

    • Heather says

      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. Katie says

    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. Felicea says

    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. The Chicken Whisperer says

    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!

  8. Jojy says

    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. Valerie says

    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. Laura Butler says

    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. Jay says

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

    • Maeve Medhurst says

      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. Wendy says

    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. Diana says

    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. Karrie says

    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?)

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