The first time I felt a chicken’s crop, I was sure my hen had an abdominal tumor. I know I am not alone in the accidental discovery of a chicken’s crop because many of you have shared similar experiences with me. Let’s take a look at the crop’s location, function and several common problems that can arise in the crop: sour crop, impacted crop and pendulous crop.
A chicken’s crop is simply a small pocket where food is stored. When a chicken picks up food with its beak, the tongue pushes it to the back of the mouth into its esophagus. Think of the esophagus as a long water slide that extends from the mouth all the way down the neck, emptying into the crop. Food remains in the crop until it moves into the stomach (proventriculus). The crop is located slightly to the side of its right breast muscle.
AND WHAT’S NOT? NORMAL
It’s good to know what a normal crop feels like in order to be able to identify a problem. To examine a chicken’s crop, pick it up with its tail facing you and beak facing away from you, (think: hug from behind/Heimlich maneuver) then reach around to the front of its breast, slightly to the right of center. If you can’t feel anything, either the crop is empty or you’re in the wrong spot- usually too high up on the neck.
A very full crop.
An empty crop stimulates a chicken’s appetite and a full crop is the signal to a bird to stop eating. The capacity of a normal crop is approximately 1.5 oz (45cc), so a chicken eats in small increments often throughout the day. After eating, the crop feels swollen and slightly firm, but shrinks as food is digested.
Whenever there is a question about whether the crop is emptying properly, eliminate feed and water after dark and check the crop first thing in the morning when it should feel empty. If it feels full or squishy in the morning, there is a problem.
Empty crop first thing in the morning.NORMAL: the crop can’t be felt when it’s empty.
NORMAL: the crop feels swollen, full after having eaten.
NORMAL: the crop feels more swollen than usual, but swelling goes down overnight.
ABNORMAL: the crop feels hard and the swelling does not go down overnight. This could signal a crop impaction, which means food or other fibrous material such as straw is stuck in the crop.
IMPACTED CROP TREATMENT OPTIONS
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc recommends flushing the crop with water to loosen the impaction, which can be a little tricky for the average backyard chicken keeper. It is always best to consult a veterinarian for such a procedure. Ultimately surgery may be necessary to open the crop and remove the blockage manually. While it is possible to perform this procedure at home, it should only be attempted if a veterinarian is not available and death is the alternative.
ABNORMAL: crop feels squishy and the chicken’s breath smells bad or sour. Sour crop, also known as thrush, crop mycosis or a yeast infection caused by a fungus.
TREATMENT FOR SOUR CROP IN AN ADULT BIRD
The treatment I would use for sour crop is detailed in Gail Damerow’s The Chicken Health Handbook.
2) ISOLATE the bird in question
3) FLUSH THE CROP- Mix 1 teaspoon Epsom salts in ½ cup water. Pour or squirt down the bird’s throat twice a day for 2-3 days. (Be careful not to get the solution in the bird’s airway.)
Add ½ teaspoon of copper sulfate (powdered bluestone) to one gallon of water and provide every other day as the only source of drinking water for five days, repeat monthly. Don’t use copper sulfate in metal waterers. Poultry nipple drinkers or plastic waterers are recommended.
Pendulous crop is a much less common crop problem in backyard chickens. Information about the causes, prevention & treatment of pendulous crop can be found here.
Sources and further reading: