Crop Impaction in Chickens: Symptoms and Treatment

Crop impaction surgery in chickens

Crop impaction in chickens is a pretty common problem that chicken owners might run into. It happens when a chicken’s crop, which is like a little food storage bag in their throat, gets clogged up.

Knowing about crop impaction is very important if you’re raising chickens. It’s not just a matter of discomfort for them; it can lead to bigger health problems if you don’t catch it in time.

In this article, we’re going to cover all you need to know about crop impaction in chickens. From spotting the signs to treating and preventing it, we’ve got you covered. With that, let’s begin!

What Is Crop Impaction in Chickens?

Black chicken with visible stitches post crop impaction surgery
Image credit: ryanwds / Instagram

Crop impaction in chickens is a condition where the crop, a pouch-like part of their digestive system located at the base of their neck, becomes blocked.

This happens when chickens eat things that are hard to digest or too large to pass through their system.

When a chicken’s crop is impacted, it means that the food they eat can’t move down into their stomach for digestion. This leads to a buildup of food material in the crop, which can become quite hard and compacted.

This blockage is not just uncomfortable for the chicken; it can be quite serious. Without the ability to properly digest food, chickens can suffer from malnutrition and other health issues.

Causes of Crop Impaction in Chickens

Understanding the factors that can lead to crop impaction is essential for ensuring the health and wellness of your chickens.

To help you better understand how to keep your feathered friends free from this condition, here are the primary causes of crop impaction in chickens.

Eating Indigestible Materials

Chickens are naturally curious and often peck at things they shouldn’t. This can lead to them swallowing stuff like feathers, string, plastic, and sometimes even tiny bits of metal or glass.

These things can build up in the crop due to improper digestion, which can block the flow of nutrients and cause crop impaction.

A notable example of this behavior is highlighted in a 1999 case study, where it was found that when exposed to new surroundings, chickens exhibited abnormal behaviors such as feather pulling and pica.

This led to them eating feathers, among other things, which caused feather balls to form inside their crop.

This study serves as a crucial reminder of the need for careful management of poultry settings to prevent such abnormal feeding behaviors and the subsequent health issues they can cause.

Muscular Contraction Issues

For food to move from the crop to their stomachs, chickens rely heavily on muscular contractions. If these muscles are impaired, food gets stuck in the crop.

This impairment can be caused by various factors, including dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, or illnesses.

Notably, a common illness that affects chickens’ muscles is Marek’s disease, a viral infection that messes with chickens’ nervous systems and can contribute to crop impaction.

Overconsumption of Fibrous Plants

While it’s normal for chickens to eat some fibrous plants, too much can be a problem.

In a study focusing on gastrointestinal issues in backyard poultry, it was discovered that the most common cause of crop impaction in chickens is the overconsumption of fibrous plants like long grass.

This highlights the need for a balanced diet in chickens, which should include grains, proteins, and other essential nutrients to maintain a healthy digestive system.

An excess of fibrous or stringy plants, such as long grass and hay, without a balance of other food types can increase the risk of crop impaction.

Symptoms of Crop Impaction in Chickens

Close up of a chicken crop with impaction
Image credit: riversrunfarm / Instagram

Knowing how to spot crop impaction in chickens is important for early intervention and effective treatment. The following are common signs that your chicken may be experiencing crop impaction:

  • Enlarged crop: One of the most obvious signs of crop impaction in chickens is a visibly enlarged crop. This happens because the crop is filled with undigested food, which makes it appear swollen.
  • Hardness of the crop: In healthy chickens, the crop is usually soft to the touch. However, when impacted, the crop becomes hard, similar to the texture of a golf ball.
  • Full crop in the morning: Normally, a chicken’s crop is empty in the morning before they eat. But if it’s impacted, it’ll still be full from the day before because the food wasn’t digested.
  • Lethargy: Chickens with impacted crops may appear lethargic. They might keep to themselves more and not be as active or playful as they usually are.
  • Lack of appetite: Due to the impaction, chickens might lose their appetite or stop eating. Since their crop is full of stuck food, they might not eat much because they feel full already.
  • Increased thirst: Chickens with crop impaction usually drink more water. They might seem thirstier as their body tries to deal with the impaction.
  • Fewer droppings: If your chicken has crop impaction, you might notice fewer droppings than usual. This is because less food is moving through their system due to the blockage.

It’s very important to watch your chickens for these signs. Catching crop impaction early on can make a big difference in getting them back to health. Quick action is key to keeping your chickens well.

Distinguishing Impacted Crop vs. Sour Crop

Distinguishing between an impacted crop and a sour crop in chickens can be challenging because some symptoms may overlap.

However, key differences can help you differentiate between the two conditions. Below is a quick breakdown of each.

Impacted Crop

An impacted crop in chickens occurs when the crop gets filled with food that can’t move down to the stomach. This condition makes the crop feel hard and swollen.

Chickens with an impacted crop may show signs of discomfort. They might not eat much and seem sluggish due to the blockage preventing proper digestion.

The common causes of impacted crops include eating indigestible things like long grass, string, or plastic.

Sour Crop

Sour crop, on the other hand, happens when the crop doesn’t empty properly, which leads to the fermentation of the food inside. In this condition, the crop feels soft and squishy.

If a chicken has a sour crop, you’ll often notice a bad or sour smell on their breath. This issue often results from poor sanitation, eating fibrous food that’s hard to digest, consuming moldy food, or a weakened immune system.

In my time raising chickens, I’ve seen how an untreated, impacted crop can quickly become a sour crop, as was the case with one of my hens.

The stuck food in its crop began to ferment, turning what was initially just an impaction into a more serious sour crop condition. This taught me the importance of early intervention when it comes to these crop issues.

How to Treat Crop Impaction in Chickens

Vet treating a chicken with crop impaction
Image credit: catandbirdclinic / Instagram

Treating crop impaction in chickens involves several careful steps. Here’s a guide to help your chickens recover:

  • Isolate the affected chicken: First, move the chicken with crop impaction away from the rest of the flock. This reduces stress and prevents competition for food and water.
  • Withhold food temporarily: Stop feeding the chicken for about 24 hours. This pause gives the crop time to try and empty itself and reduces the risk of adding more bulk to the impaction.
  • Provide plenty of water: Make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water. Water can help soften whatever’s stuck in their crop.
  • Administer olive or vegetable oil: Carefully give the chicken a small amount of olive or vegetable oil, around 10 ml or two tablespoons, using an eyedropper or syringe. The oil helps lubricate the crop and can aid in breaking down the impaction.
  • Massage the crop: After the oil, wait about 10 minutes, then gently massage the chicken’s crop. This can help to break up the blockage. Remember to be gentle to avoid causing more harm.
  • Repeat the process: Repeat the oil and massage routine twice a day, waiting a couple of hours between each try. This can help get things moving in their crop.
  • Monitor droppings and behavior: Keep an eye on the chicken’s droppings and overall behavior. Improvements in droppings and a return to normal behavior are positive signs. However, if the chicken’s condition doesn’t improve, it’s time to get help from a veterinarian.

In case you’re more of a visual learner, check out this helpful video that walks you through the process step by step:

Impacted Chicken Crop and How to fix it WITHOUT a Vet

Pro Tip: While you might think making a chicken vomit can clear an impacted crop, it’s risky and should be done correctly. Done improperly, it can lead to choking or aspiration.

If you must try it, carefully hold the chicken, angle its head downward, and firmly massage the crop from the breast upwards for no more than 20 seconds.

How to Prevent Crop Impaction in Your Flock

To prevent crop impaction in your chicken flock, you can follow these simple yet effective steps:

  • Provide grit: Chickens need grit to help them break down their food. Make sure they always have access to it, especially if they eat a lot of grass.
  • Feed them right: Ensure your chickens get a balanced diet and pay attention to the amount and size of the food. Overfeeding or giving them food that’s too large can lead to crop impaction. Smaller, manageable pieces are best for their digestion.
  • Check their crops regularly: Make it a habit to check your chickens’ crops regularly, especially in the evening. A healthy chicken’s crop should be full at night and empty by morning. This simple morning check helps you spot any crop issues early.
  • Keep their home clean: Having a clean coop and feeding area is very important to preventing crop impaction in your chickens. This stops them from eating harmful or indigestible things, like plastic or bits of string.

By incorporating these simple practices into your routine, you can greatly reduce the risk of crop impaction in your chickens. A little attention and care can go a long way toward keeping your flock healthy.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

Black chicken held by vet post crop impaction surgery
Image credit: riversrunfarm / Instagram

While mild cases of crop impaction in chickens can often be managed at home, there are times when it’s essential to call a professional.

After trying home treatments, if you don’t see any improvement within a day or two, it’s time to call the vet.

Especially if the crop is still full in the morning or if you notice changes in their droppings, like not much coming out or it looking different than usual.

Additionally, if your chickens have difficulty breathing, show signs of severe dehydration, become increasingly weak and lethargic, or are unable to eat or drink due to the impaction, prompt veterinary intervention is essential.

In cases where the condition worsens or leads to additional health problems, seeking professional care is the best course of action to ensure the well-being of your birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Black chicken recovering from crop impaction surgery
Image credit: riversrunfarm / Instagram

How Long Can a Chicken Live With an Impacted Crop?

Chickens with an impacted crop can survive for varying periods, typically a few days to a week. In some cases, chickens may even last up to two weeks. It mainly depends on the severity of the condition.

However, the longer the condition goes untreated, the more serious the health risks become. So, it’s crucial to deal with an impacted crop quickly to prevent long-term harm or even death.

Can Chickens Die From Impacted Crop?

Yes, chickens can die from an impacted crop. If the impaction isn’t treated, it can lead to serious health issues like malnutrition or even suffocation if it presses against the chicken’s windpipe.

In severe cases, crop impaction can cause sudden death. It’s a condition that needs quick attention to prevent these serious outcomes.

Will Impacted Crop Resolve Itself?

An impacted crop in chickens might resolve on its own in mild cases, especially with a bit of help like the steps discussed above.

However, if the crop impaction is severe or doesn’t improve with these initial steps, it’s unlikely to clear up without further intervention. In such cases, veterinary care or even surgery might be necessary.

Scientific References

Boulianne, M., et al. Avian Disease Manual, 7th ed. American Association of Avian Pathologists, Inc. (2012)

Greenacre, C. B., & Morishita, T. Y. Backyard Poultry Medicine and Surgery Wiley, Hoboken (2014)

Huang, Anny S., et al. Gastrointestinal impactions in backyard poultry Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation (2019)

Konwar, Bedanga, et al. Impaction of Crop with Unusual Material in a Game Fowl. Indian Veterinary Journal, 89(1) (2012)

Morishita, T. Y., et al. Crop impaction resulting from feather ball formation in caged layers Avian Diseases (1999)

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