Chicken’s have a unique digestive system from humans because they have a crop, a stretchy storage pouch where they can store large amounts of food before it is passed to the stomach. At some point you may need to check a chicken’s crop to determine if it has become impacted, distended, or infected in case it needs to be treated.
A chicken’s crop is located below her neck, centered or slightly right of her breastbone. To feel the crop, hold the chicken with one arm and feel with the other hand, or keep the chicken on the ground and feel around her breastbone. The crop should be somewhat soft and about the size of a golf ball.
Keep reading to learn the proper way to check your chicken’s crop and the best ways to avoid crop issues.
Checking for a Normal Crop
In the morning, the crop should be empty and somewhat difficult to find. I would suggest you learn what your chickens’ crop feels like when it’s full and empty so that you can know if it ever feels abnormal. If you start to gently handle your chickens when they are young, they will become accustomed to you touching them as they grow older.
At the end of the day or after eating a big meal, the crop should feel somewhat soft and about the size of a golf ball. You might be able to see a bulge when you look at your chicken. It’s a good idea for all new chicken keepers to feel their chicken’s crops before you suspect there could be an issue so that you know what a normally full crop feels like.
If your chickens enjoy being held, just do this inspection during your normal cuddle time. The crop will be below the neck and centered or slightly right of the breastbone. It should be soft, but not squishy. Gently touching the crop should not cause any pain to your chicken.
HOW TO HOLD A CHICKEN The easiest way to describe how to properly hold a chicken is to pretend they are a football! You will gently hold them with one arm under their breastbone and your other arm can be used to pet or inspect the chicken. This method provides chickens with enough support, without squeezing them too tightly. A chicken that is squeezed tightly on her breastbone can be suffocated due to the layout of her respiratory system.
If you have a more nervous chicken, you can try feeling her crop while she’s still on the ground without picking her up. Alternatively, you can remove your chicken from the roost at night to check her crop. Generally, chickens are easier to catch and hold when they are removed from their roost and it’s dark outside.
After a chicken swallows food, it travels down the esophagus and into the crop. The crop is an enlargement of the esophagus and works as a storage place for food.
Chickens are able to eat a lot of food at one time and then store it in their crops. Since chickens are prey animals, and it seems like most other animal want to eat chickens, this digestive process helps keep them safe since they can swallow a bunch of food at once and then finish digesting it later when they are in a safe place, like roosting at night.
Checking for an Impacted Crop
An impacted crop is when the crop is full of feed that is not emptying properly into the stomach. This condition is also referred to as crop binding.
To check a chicken that you suspect might have an impacted crop, do not feed her in the evening and check her crop the next morning when you let the chickens out of the coop. Her crop should feel empty or close to empty.
If the chicken’s crop feels full, swollen, or solid to the touch, if might be impacted. Another sign of impacted crop, in addition to the solid crop, is a chicken that has lost weight or is not pooping.
You can help get the feed moved through the crop by using an oral syringe containing warm water, olive oil, melted butter, or yogurt to ease the clump of food through the chicken’s crop. You can also gently massage the crop to see if that helps with the impaction.
If after trying these home remedies the crop still feels full, call your veterinarian. A vet might need to surgically clean out the crop. Impacted crop can be fatal if the blockage is not cleared because it can slowly starve the chicken to death or cause suffocation.
You can help prevent impacted crop by doing the following:
- Feed your chickens regularly. Chickens that are not fed at regular intervals are more likely to binge when they do have access to food. I leave feed out for my chickens all day so that they can eat when they’re hungry. None of my chickens are overweight, but I know this can be a concern for some chickens.
- Provide sufficient food for free-range chickens. If you let your chickens free range in the yard, make sure there is plenty for them to eat from the yard. Otherwise, you should provide them with feed that they can access during the day. If chickens do not have sufficient food during they day, they can end of eating things that are not easily digested, like tough vegetation or dry leaves.
- Make sure chickens are not eating bedding. This goes along with the 2 items listed above, but when chickens don’t have access to appropriate feed, they might start eating their bedding which can cause an impaction in their crop.
If your chickens get hungry enough, they will eat inappropriate matter, which can lead to crop impaction. Make sure your chickens have access to rations throughout the day and you should be able to prevent them from getting an impacted crop.
Checking for a Pendulous Crop
A pendulous crop is when the muscles of the crop become saggy and stretched, causing the crop to hang low and swing back and forth.
As a chicken eats and drinks more, the more the crop will bulge. Generally, withholding feed in the evening and rechecking the crop in the morning will not show an improvement. A pendulous crop will feel squishy to you, but will most likely not cause visible pain in your chicken.
There is no cure for pendulous crop. Some veterinarians will perform a surgery on the crop but the success rates of these surgeries are low and it can cause damage to the chicken’s nerves. There are some people who suggest a bra for your chicken to wear that supports their crop, but this is not a cure and only provides a bit of relief.
The best way to deal with pendulous crop is to avoid activities that can lead to the issue:
- Sporadic access to feed and water. When a chicken has feed or water withheld, they are more likely to overindulge when they regain access. This feast and famine cycle can lead to several health issues, including pendulous crop.
- Eating long grass blades or other hard to digest foods/items. When a chicken eats foods (or items found in the yard) that are difficult to digest, including long grass blades or string, this can cause the crop to become impacted and eventually sag over time. Make sure there are no pieces of trash for your chickens to eat in the yard and that the lawn is kept to a few inches high (about 3 inches) for chicken flocks that free range.
Here’s the good news about pendulous crop: it’s unlikely in backyard chickens who are fed a healthy diet, have access to fresh water daily, and are given enough room to stretch their wings and get a bit of exercise. Pendulous crop can be caused by a genetic predisposition and is more often found in turkeys.
Checking for an Infected Crop
A chicken’s crop can have an overgrowth of yeast in her crop which results in an infected crop. This condition is also referred to as sour crop, thrush, or candidiasis.
Crop infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a naturally occurring yeast that lives in a chicken’s digestive tract. Similar to humans, when the stomach bacteria of chickens get out of their normal levels, an infection can occur.
This type of fungal disease can be caused by overuse of antibiotics or coccidiostats. It can also occur in chickens that have experienced a stressful event that cause their immunity to be weakened. While sour crop is more likely in chicks or older chickens, it can affect chickens of any age.
The reason why an infected crop is called sour crop is due to the sour odor that comes from a chicken’s mouth when they have this disease. Their bad breath will smell like bread yeast.
When a chicken has an infected crop, food will be digested through the crop at a much slower rate, causing a build-up of food in the crop which could eventually lead to pendulous crop.
If you suspect your chicken has an infected crop, there is treatment to remove the contents of the crop (see above for how to help a chicken with an impacted crop). If that does not work, you should contact a veterinarian. After the crop is emptied, you will need to investigate what caused the infection or the chicken is at risk of a relapse.