Today's question in my series "Answers from The Chicken Vet" comes from several fans: Q: "'What's the difference between impacted, pendulous and sour crops?
|*note crop location|
A: Impacted vs Pendulous vs Sour Crops
Although there are several presentations for crop issues in chickens, the root cause, and the actual disease is usually the same. When chickens gorge themselves on long, fibrous foods, their crop (and occasionally gizzard) can become blocked. Sometimes this results in an impacted crop, which is a crop that is full of a tangle of fibre that is firm, dry and relatively hard. Sometimes, the bird will drink a lot to try to help pass the blockage....this will result in sour crop, which is a crop full of watery, half-rotten, acidic soup that actually smells worse than it sounds. Sour crop may also be associated with fungal infection, although there is some question about whether the fungus causes the poor emptying of the crop, or is a result of it. Finally, if the crop (which is basically a sac of smooth muscle) becomes damaged, the muscle will fail, and the crop loses its form and tension. Unfortunately, it also loses much of its function. This is what results in “pendulous crop”....the sac is saggy and enlarged.The main factor in crop problems is prevention. DON’T give your hens access to long, lush, springy grass, twine or other long, stringy things that they can eat. DO make sure that there is plenty of good, palatable water near where the hens will be foraging. If you yard is large, and you have some “bully” birds, it is a good idea to provide a few “drinking stations” where timid birds can get some water while they are feeding.
These problems are more prevalent in the spring, when the grass is lush, and less likely to break when the hens peck at them. This is especially true when the hens are coming into lay, and have large appetites that may cause them to gorge themselves when they get the chance. You should cut your grass fairly short before releasing your hens for the first time in the spring, and if the cuttings are long, rake them up. Naturally, keeping strings and twine away from the hens is a good idea.
Treatment for crop disorders involves 1) emptying them as appropriate and 2) treating for secondary infections if necessary. Sour crop can be helped by holding the bird face-down, at about a 60 degree angle, and massaging the crop towards the throat....the stinky mess should come out like vomit, and reduce the swelling. Be sure to let the hen breathe between bouts of massaging, and keep her inside for a couple days after, feeding soft foods and adding a little bit (1tbsp/gallon) of baking soda to the drinking water to combat the acidity. Do NOT use cider vinegar to treat this, as it only adds to the acid burden. Treatment with an anti-fungal agent might be of value, but often, once the sour crop is dealt with and the hen is back to eating well, it is unnecessary.Impacted crop can be treated by flushing the crop with water to help soften up the “ball”. Using a syringe and tube, put water gently into the esophagus, behind the opening at the back of the throat that goes to the lungs. Gently massage the crop several times per day, softening the mass. Adding some vegetable oil may help a little, but you will usually get reasonable results from water alone. I would NOT recommend surgery on your own....if you cannot get the impaction resolved through massage, water and oil, contact a vet to help you out....gastrointestinal surgery has a HUGE potential to go horribly wrong in an amateur’s hands.
If the crop becomes pendulous, there is little you can do to help. Feeding very digestible food will help her health, massaging the food through the crop and allowing it to empty fairly regularly will help as well, but the crop will seldom return to normal. This problem is considered to be fairly heritable, so hens with pendulous crops should likely not be used for breeding.*Anatomical illustration reproduced for educational purposes, courtesy of Jacquie Jacob, Tony Pescatore and Austin Cantor, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Copyright 2011. Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, M. Scott Smith, Director, Land Grant Programs, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Lexington,and Kentucky State University, Frankfort. Copyright 2011 for materials developed by University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational and nonprofit purposes only. Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice. Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at www.ca.uky.edu. Issued 02-2011
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc
The Chicken Vet
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc
The Chicken Vet