A chicken crop is located beneath a chicken's neck against the breast towards their right center. After swallowing food the crop is the first part of the digestive tract.
A chicken that has eaten well and had plenty to drink should have a bulging crop as it heads to the roost for the night. When a chicken eats food it’s temporarily stored in the crop where it is dissolved and passes into the small stomach and gizzard.
The crop should be empty in the mornings and should fill during the day. Food remaining in the crop too long might over produce yeast causing an infection and illness. Healthy chickens with constant access to good food and water during waking hours generally have no crop problems. There should be no strange smells coming from the chicken crop. Dry feed is soaked in the crop and begins to break down and liquefy. Greens and fruits and vegetables add fibers and digestive enzymes that further help the process of digestion.
There are two main problems that can happen with a chicken's crop. First is when the crop doesn't fully empty overnight. This might cause the crop to sour. The crop will feel squishy or watery and will have a foul odor and the chicken may develop diarrhea. The second problem is when the crop doesn't fully empty and feels hard and swollen. This is an impacted (over packed and blocked) chicken crop often caused by too much dry feed and not enough water.
Both of these problems cause crop contents to sour, meaning they are beginning to spoil, just like food we don’t refrigerate. Not only is this uncomfortable for the chicken but it might lead to death. They may become lethargic, lose weight, and move their head in strange ways to try to eliminate gasses and discomfort from the blockage.
A crop that is impacted and sour may not clear unassisted. The contents may be nearly solid meaning that the chicken’s entire digestive system is blocked.
The food in the impacted crop is giving no good nutrition and preventing the chicken from eating anything more. A wet sour crop may be flooding the digestive tract with unhealthy amounts of bacteria and yeasts that can poison a chicken.
New food added to the chicken crop that has soured will begin to spoil in contact with the old food. The best thing to do is isolate this chicken and withhold food until the crop is empty.
Giving clean water only or a solution of raw apple cider vinegar (1-2 tbsp per cup) and water will help cleanse the crop. Apple cider vinegar is a natural antibiotic. Mixing it with water may be all that is needed to rinse out the crop and restore balance.
Allowing enough time for the crop to empty should solve the problem. A lethargic chicken may not be up to drinking, so offering it small amounts of liquid frequently and massaging the crop may be necessary.
Sometimes giving oral antibiotics can cause digestive and chicken crop problems. Strong broad spectrum antibiotics may kill off good digestive bacteria that are important for processing foods and a chicken’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
A chicken could be eating well, but starving at the same time. If you notice feed coming out of a chicken in nearly the same form it went in, there’s a problem. Either the food is not digesting, like corn or the chicken has a digestive problem.
Most feed stores carry a product called a “probiotic”. These usually come in paste form in a tube and are used to re-balance digestion after injury, stress, illness and antibiotic use.
Giving live culture yogurt without sugar can re-balance digestion, too. Always avoid giving sugary foods to chickens as sugar can cause yeasts in the crop to multiply out of control. occasional treats are okay, but left over cakes and sweet desserts given regularly can cause problems. If you have a question you would like us to answer click here.
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