Backyard chickens are super fun to watch as they chase and peck at the dirt for yummy goodies. They are usually not terribly picky about their menu choices either, which is why their digestive system is pretty complex.
Like many birds, chicken rely on their crop for proper food digestion. The crop is a muscular pouch located near the chicken’s throat (also known as a gullet). The purpose of the crop is to be a sort of holding tank and moisten whatever munchies the chickens decides to eat. It helps sort food into either the proventriculus or the gizzard. The gizzard handles the harder to digest food by mechanically breaking down the tougher stuff using grit, or fine rocks, that the chicken has swallowed for this very purpose. This is why it’s so important to provide your chickens with good quality grit. The proventriculus breaks down the smaller foods using digestive enzymes. Basically, the crop is the first place food goes to before being digested and providing the chicken with nourishment.
And sometimes the crop gets sick. When this happens, the chicken’s health suffers greatly and they can’t absorb nutrients anymore. Some telltale signs of crop problems are:
- Dramatic loss of weight
- Abnormal head movement
- Separating themselves from the rest of the flock
There are three common crop problems that chicken parents must be aware of: sour crop, crop impaction and pendulous crop.
There can be times when the crop may struggle to empty in a timely manner. Food that sits for too long will ferment and develop a fungal or yeast infection. Healthy crops should feel firm (but not rock hard) and be no bigger than the size of a plum. Sour crops have a spongy feel to them, will probably be larger than normal and will be tender to the touch. A gurgling noise may also be heard if the crop is manipulated and the chicken’s breath will actually smell sour.
What causes sour crop and how can it be treated?
The crop may not be emptying properly due to a partial impaction, an infection, or worms. Chickens that have recently been given antibiotics may develop sour crop as a result of a secondary infection.
The best course of treatment is to get the chicken to an avian vet as quickly as possible. The vet will most likely prescribe a week’s course of anti-fungal medicine, but the underlying cause will still need to be determined. Regular worming and probiotics can be particularly helpful in preventing sour crop.
Chickens usually go to bed with full crops, which will empty while they rest. By morning, their crops should be completely empty and ready for breakfast. If you notice your chicken’s crop has been enlarged (up to the size of a tennis ball) for more than a day, is rock hard or is painful to the touch, they may be suffering from a crop impaction.
What causes an impacted crop and how can it be treated?
Impaction is caused when there is a blockage in the crop that prevents food from being passed to the gizzard or proventriculus. Chickens that dine on long grass, foreign objects or overly tough or large food are at the greatest risk for impaction. Infections and pendulous crops can also be to blame. The first course of action is to isolate the chicken and remove any food to prevent the impaction from getting any larger then make an appointment with an avian vet. In the meantime, gently massage the hard mass to see if this alone will loosen the blockage enough to allow food to pass. The chicken should be fed nothing more solid than small pieces of bread soaked in olive oil and have access to clean water and plenty of grit. Stubborn impactions may require surgical removal. Preventing chickens from ingesting long grass, foreign objects and tough foods is the best method to avoid crop impaction.
As mentioned before, the crop is a muscular pouch. If these muscles get weakened the crop will droop toward the ground and sway and becomes what is known as a pendulous crop. If the crop stays pendulous, the muscles may become permanently damaged and the crop will become unable to push food down, causing weight loss and health problems for the chicken.
What causes pendulous crop and how can it be treated?
The most common cause of a pendulous crop is impaction or the chicken ingesting a particularly heavy meal. Treatment is very similar as with an impaction. Isolate the affected chicken and remove any food but be sure to provide lots of water. Massaging the crop can help loosen the blockage and relieve the weakened muscles. Again, surgery may be required to remove whatever is causing the problem and allow the muscles to relax back to normal. Again, an avian vet should always be contacted as soon as possible.
In short, healthy crops make for healthy chickens. Keep a close on the flock and take note of each bird’s behaviors and mannerisms so any sickness can be caught quickly. Maintaining a good diet of high-quality chicken feed, fresh water and exercise will keep you and your backyard eggers happy.