Sour crop is something you want to avoid, and with the proper care and good hygiene, you can.
When you have chickens, you must monitor them for symptoms of potential problems. A lot can happen to chickens, and as a responsible owner, it’s essential to know not only what the symptoms of ailments are and how to avoid and deal with diseases or health issues.
After all, chickens provide us with yummy eggs and cheerful companionship, so let’s make sure they are in optimal health. We are going to talk about sour crop and how to avoid it. Let’s jump in.
What a Chicken’s Crop Is Used For
To understand sour crop, you need to understand what the crop is and how it’s used by the chicken.
When the chicken eats, the food travels down the throat into the crop, where it is stored before moving down the proventriculus and into the gizzard. The proventriculus is a glandular area between the crop and the gizzard. Enzymes are added to the food here.
The gizzard is where the bird stores grit to grind the food into a paste. This paste provides nutrients and minerals that are absorbed. The rest is pooped out.
So, as you can see, the crop is right at the beginning of the eating and digestion process.
What is Sour Crop?
At its most basic, sour crop is a yeast infection of Candida albicans in the crop of a chicken. The same yeast lives in all humans, and when it overgrows, it can cause health problems like thrush, vaginal leaf infections, and invasive candidiasis.
As with humans, this yeast naturally occurs in chickens but only causes issues when it overgrows. This means the count of yeast in the chicken’s system is way too high to be beneficial, and it becomes an ailment and causes physical problems.
Sour crop interferes with the natural function of the crop and makes its walls thicken and dilate. This means it gets wider or more open, affecting how the crop works, and causing digestion problems.
A blockage forms, and the chicken may not be able to empty her stomach of the contents because the crop is full of solid or liquid matter. She will lose weight and get sick, eventually leading to death if untreated.
Causes of Sour Crop
As robust as people think chickens are, they are quite delicate and require a healthy balance of nutrients, hygiene, and clean conditions.
Here are some of the things that can cause sour crop:
If your chicken has a bad case of worms, she can end up with sour crop. This is why it’s a good idea to regularly treat your chickens for worms if recommended by your vet. You might have a “hold” period before you can eat the eggs, but it’s worth it.
Tough grasses can be difficult for a chicken to move through their system. The grass may back up, causing issues with the crop.
This is different from sour crop but is similar and can be confused. One can lead to the other, so we will explore impacted crop a bit later because it’s important.
If you have treated a chicken with antibiotics for another malady, keep an eye out for sour crop because antibiotics can kill beneficial bacteria causing an imbalance in the chicken’s system.
An infection either in the crop or elsewhere in the chicken can lead to sour crop.
Slow Emptying Crop
Sometimes a slow-emptying crop is natural if the chicken has a slow system. But it is often because the chicken is overeating and can’t process the food as quickly as it gobbles it up.
This is important if you feed kitchen scraps to your chickens. Make sure it’s fresh scraps, and don’t include very spicy, starchy, or hot food.
Signs Your Chicken Has Sour Crop
The most obvious sign is fluid leaking from the chicken’s mouth. This may be obvious if you pick her up and tip her forward. You may be surprised at the volume that comes out, though this depends on how long this has been an issue and the level of infection.
When your chicken comes out in the morning, the crop should be flat because it’s empty. If it’s still full, it’s usually evident. If you pick the chicken up, the crop will feel spongy. Be gentle, as this is a painful condition for her.
The blockage in a sour crop usually ferments, and you may hear gurgling from her chest or when she breathes.
If you do pick her up, sour crop produces a smelly, sour odor to the exhalation. This is where the name comes from.
There will be white spots in her mouth, but this is difficult to see if you are not used to doing it.
Another symptom can easily be confused with other health problems but is still worthwhile looking out for. The chicken may have diarrhea and seem listless or depressed. She will likely keep herself away from the others so they don’t sense she is sick.
How to Treat Sour Crop
Sour crop is easier to deal with if treated earlier on in the process. This is why watching your chickens and seeing how they usually behave, move, feed, and interact is a good idea.
If in doubt, you should always consult a vet. If you are confident in what you’re dealing with, there are some steps you can take.
First, isolate the chicken in its own space where you can keep it warm and dry. Keep it from ingesting any food or water for 12 hours.
If, after 12 hours, her crop is flat and soft, her body has likely done the job for you. Give her clean, fresh water, with a little natural yogurt that contains probiotics with her feed. If the crop still feels full and spongy, allow a little water if she wants it, but no food.
If her crop is still full, the next step is for you. Put on coveralls or something you don’t mind getting smelly chicken fluid on.
Hold the chicken leaning slightly forward to take advantage of gravity. At this point, she should be at a slight angle.
Hold her gently and massage her crop from top to bottom. It will feel full and spongy, so do this softly.
Do this every couple of hours for a day or two, as long as she’s not deteriorating or leaking fluid from her mouth. Keep providing water as she needs.
If after a few days you can still feel a full crop, you should consider a vet visit.
What to do With Advanced Cases of Sour Crop
If fluid is leaking from the chicken’s mouth, you need to help her expel this because she may breathe it into her lungs. Consider a vet, though we have been successful with the below procedure on our homestead.
Wrap the bird in a towel to help keep her still and under control. Using gravity, point her beak toward the ground at a sharp angle.
Massage her crop, this time from the bottom to the top toward her beak.
Repeat this procedure until she expels the fluid. Repeat up to four times for no longer than 20 seconds before returning her back to the normal flat position.
If the fluid is expelled by the bird, it will be stinky, so do this outside or above a surface it doesn’t matter getting it on it.
Vets can provide medication, so if you are not sure, or don’t want to try it yourself, consider a vet call.
Once the fluid is out and the crop flat, provide her with water, a little yogurt, and maybe a few pellets of chicken food. Introduce food slowly, though because we all know chickens are greedy.
How to Prevent Sour Crop
- Fresh, clean water is essential. Provide this daily and ensure it doesn’t get tainted with chicken or wild bird poop. Add apple cider vinegar or garlic cloves to it for acidity regulation in the gut and worm control.
- Provide access to grit like oyster shells or similar.
- Use quality feed. Many contain things like oregano and fennel. Add this to their diets if the feed doesn’t have it.
- Starchy food isn’t great for digestion in chickens. This includes leftovers of cooked potato, bread, or pizza base and toppings.
- Keep the chickens away from thick or fibrous grasses.
Difference Between Sour Crop and Impacted Crop
Impacted crop is when the crop gets blocked by eating something the chicken shouldn’t have. This could be anything from fibrous grass to twine that’s come loose or is sitting on the ground. Anything the chicken shouldn’t have eaten could cause an impacted crop.
Spring is often a time when this happens due to the flush of grass and the fact the chickens gobble it up.
Instead of being spongy, the crop will feel hard or blocked.
This condition is best treated by isolation, no food or water, and dripping olive oil in the beak three times a day with a dropper.
Massage the crop from top to bottom to encourage the food to move through the digestive tract. Don’t give her food or water until the crop empties.
Once cleared, feed her slowly, limiting food but allow plenty of water.
If it doesn’t clear in a few days, consider take her to the vet.