This is our mama Silkie Hen, and her six cute-as-a-button little chickies (one’s hiding behind her).
Aren’t Silkies the funniest, cutest chickens you’ve ever seen?
They’re just too posh to put in the coop with the rest of the flock. No. These beauties have their own special coop all to themselves.
Unfortunately, her rooster (who was also quite a character himself) disappeared about a week ago. Guess a fox got him, poor fella.
Also unfortunately, two of these chicks mysteriously died today. I’m not sure what went wrong, but I found one dead in the yard, and the other abandoned and very weak. I tried to nurse it with sugar water, but it died a little while later.
And then, as if that wasn’t sad enough, when I was putting the hen and her chicks up for the night I noticed one of the babies doing some funky thing where she would stretch her neck up toward the sky, open her beak, and act like she was trying to gulp something down. She just kept doing it, over and over again.
My hand took a beating as the protective mother attacked me when I reached into the cage, but I was finally able to get a hold of the baby chick and bring it inside for a closer examination.
I watched as the chick opened its mouth and stretched its neck upward again, and I could see that there was food or something packed in the back of her throat. She was getting weaker by the second.
We couldn’t just let it die! So, Jerry and I went to work trying to do whatever we could to help.
My thought was that she had an impacted crop, and since my chicken made it out okay after the treatment I’ll tell you about later, I think my original diagnosis was correct.
Here’s everything you need to know about chickens with impacted crops.
What is an Impacted Crop?
When a chicken eats, it needs its crop to be operating in tiptop shape in order to properly digest its food.
What is a crop, you might ask? A crop is located just beneath your chicken’s neck and to the right and center of the breast area. When your chicken eats, the food goes directly to the crop, which becomes engorged until the food has moved through the digestive system.
The whole digestive system is only about twelve inches long. The crop is three inches of that twelve inches. If there is any kind of blockage in the digestive tract, your chicken can wind up with an impacted crop.
It takes a long time for a normally-functioning chicken to empty his crop. This usually happens overnight, but depending on the amount of food ingested, it can take a lot longer. Every morning, though, your chicken should have a clear crop – there should be no impaction.
Unless, of course, something goes wrong.
An impacted crop happens where there is some sort of an interference with the natural functioning of the crop. This causes food to become completely or partially blocked – it’s not unlike how your home’s plumbing system might work.
Your chicken’s crop serves as a storage pouch and is where the first stages of digestion occur. If you suspect an impact crop, your chicken will have a crop that feels full and not empty.
What Causes an Impacted Crop?
Crop impactions are most commonly caused by the ingestion of foreign objects. One of the most common items that cause crop impaction are string, feathers, skins from tough fruits, bedding, plastic, metal objects, and long blades of grass.
However, crop impactions can be secondary conditions for chickens who are suffering from issues with muscular contraction. For instance, if your chicken has Marek’s disease, impacted crops can occur because your chickens aren’t able to control the movement of food in a natural, muscular movement.
Signs of an Impacted Crop
If a chicken has an impacted crop, it will display several telltale signs. Here are some of the most common symptoms of an impacted crop. Remember that many of them will vary among the individuals in a flock. However, you can generally expect to see signs like:
- Watery vomit
- Lethargy and inactivity
- Pasted-up vent
- Foul breath
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Increased thirst
- Swollen crop
- Crop that fails to empty
- Repeated movement of neck from side to side
- Poor appetite
Chickens often have enlarged crops after eating. Therefore, you need to make sure your chicken has not recently eaten in order to know whether it has a problem.
If you think your chicken might have an impaction, keep an eye on it over the course of several hours to see if the swelling goes down on its own.
How to Prevent an Impacted Crop
Preventing impacted crops is by far a lot easier than treating them! There are several simple steps you can take to keep your flock healthy and their digestive tracts functioning in an optimal manner.
First, make sure your chickens always have access to grit. Chickens who are allowed to free range can often get enough grit through their daily pecking and scratching routines, but if your chicken does not have access to git, it will be much more likely to develop an impacted crop.
Similarly, you should keep your grass mowed, either through the use of pastured chicken tractors or by actually mowing your lawn where your chickens will range.
It’s very tempting to assume that your chickens will naturally “mow” the grass down on their own, but they are often overzealous, eating too much tall grass that they simply can’t grind down fast enough.
You should also be providing your chickens with lots of fresh, clean water. Dehydration commonly leads to an impacted crop, and the two conditions can also make each other worse.
Make sure your chicken yard is tidy and cleaned up at all times – you should get rid of any objects, including plastic, metal, string, or yes, even feathers, that can be hazardous.
While chickens who are allowed to scratch and forage in compost generally receive a lot of health benefits from this behavior, know that pecking in the compost can be dangerous if there are large items that present a choking hazard.
What is Sour Crop?
Impacted crop and sour crop are quite similar to each other but are not quite the same condition. While a chicken can have an impacted crop and not have sour crop, the opposite is not true.
Sour crop happens when the crop does not open all the way, resulting in contents that become fermented. This leads to a yeast or bacterial infection inside the crop. There are a number of causes of sour crop, such as feeding moldy food or lots of long grass, pasta, or bred. Too little grit can also cause sour crop, as can ingesting foreign objects like small pieces of plastic.
You’ll know your chicken has sour crop if it feels pushed out and squishy. There may be a sour smell emanating from the chicken and she may even have some liquid coming out of her mouth. She might appear to be lethargic and may isolate herself form the other chickens.
Preventing sour crop is much easier than trying to cure it – you should limit all access to tough fibers and provide plenty of fresh water. Adding apple cider vinegar as well as plain yogurt to your chickens’ diets can help improve digestion, as can lots of grit.
Sour crop is a common side effect of other illnesses, as it frequently occurs with severe dehydration. Crops that are filled with food will pull even more water from your chicken’s blood, causing extensive dehydration and even more backup of food. You should provide plenty of fresh, clean water to your chickens at all times to prevent sour crop from getting worse – or from appearing in the first place.
If you suspect sour crop in your flock, you should first make sure you clear the impacted crop that is causing the issue. Just massage the crop toward her head and try to encourage vomiting. You can give her yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil to encourage this.
You can also use oregano oil on sour crop. This natural antibiotic can help prevent infections and also reduces fungal growths.
What is Pendulous Crop?
Like sour crop, pendulous crop is a condition that can arise when an impacted crop becomes severe. Normally, a full crop will feel as though it is about the size of a tennis ball. When the crop becomes larger than this and hangs down – like a pendulum – this can be detrimental. Pendulous crop is the relaxing of the muscle of the crop.
While pendulous crop isn’t necessarily life-threatening and your chicken can live for quite some time with a large pendulous crop, there is some damage that will be done to the muscles in the crop as a result of the weight of the food. Therefore, you will need to empty the crop and treat the impaction just as you would in a non-pendulous case.
Treating an Impacted Crop
There are lots of ways you can treat an impacted flock. The method of treatment that you choose will naturally depend on the health of the bird and how bad the impaction is.
If your chicken has eaten a foreign object, there is often some additional trauma to the digestive tract. You need to make sure you provide quick treatment so that your chicken doesn’t have a secondary infection, dehydration, starvation, or another issue appear – keep in mind that many of these problems, left untreated, can lead to early death.
Usually, you can treat mild cases of impacted crops on your own. This should be done within 24 to 48 hours. Put the bird onto a water-only diet in a mild case before reintroducing food. If it’s a severe case, you will need to engage in more rigorous treatments.
Adding nutritional supplements is a good way to loosen up a crop that repeatedly becomes impacted on a chicken. Because some chickens are simply more prone to developing impacted crops, it’s important that you be aware of the warning signs of impaction so you can catch them early on.
Adding magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salts, to the water can help reduce the likelihood of a crop becoming impacted. In addition, you can also add molasses to the feed.
In extreme cases, you may need to have a veterinarian perform emergency surgery to remove the foreign body that is causing the impaction in your chicken’s crop. This is most commonly needed when your chicken ingests a non-digestible foreign body, like a piece of plastic, that has to be removed or else risk damage to the rest of the digestive tract.
In very severe cases, you might need to empty the bird’s crop on your own. I always recommend consulting a veterinarian before you do this, as it’s not exactly a safe procedure and it can be very stressful for your chicken. This is a two-person job, because you will need to flip the bird upside down to empty the crop through the beak.
Start by pouring liquid paraffin or warm water with olive oil down the throat. Massage for five minutes, then turn the bird upside and massage the contents out. Turn the bird upright to give it a chance to breathe before you continue.
My Method of Treating Impacted Crop in My Flock
Providing your chicken with a gentle massage is the easiest and often most effective way of treating an impacted crop but you don’t always need to pour water or paraffin down your chicken’s throat.
You will need to remove the chicken from the other members of the flock and provide a low-stress environment. You should make sure she is nice and warm as you gently massage her crop to loosen the food.
Holding the chick on its back, I held its beak open while Jerry reached in with tweezers and carefully removed what globs of food he could get. When we couldn’t get any more out, I used a dropper to put two drops of olive oil into the chick’s beak to loosen the remaining food.
I rubbed and rubbed her neck, trying to free the clump from her throat. I had no idea if it would do any good. Her head was rolling back, and her eyes were closing. I knew I was losing her.
I just kept talking to the poor little thing, and massaging her crop. She gasped once again, but this time I couldn’t see any food stuck in the back of her throat. She’d swallowed it down!
I put her beak to a little bit of water, hoping maybe to wash down whatever might be left.
And after a minute, she stopped gasping and was chirping again!
I put her back outside with her mother, whom she was happy to quickly work her way underneath to join her siblings in the warmth of the hen’s body for the night.
My only guess is that she’d had an impacted crop. I REALLY hope she makes it!! I’ll check on her first thing in the morning.
UPDATE (next morning): I’m happy to say the chick is FINE! So glad she made it alright.
Do you have any experience treating an impacted crop?
updated by Rebekah White on August 6th 2019