Sour Crop in Chickens: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Gray hen afflicted with sour crop

Sour crop in chickens might sound a bit scary, especially if you’re new to chicken keeping. It happens when a chicken’s crop gets infected and swells up, usually due to a yeast infection.

But don’t worry; understanding what it is and how to deal with it is easier than you might think. With the right information and approach, you can handle this issue effectively.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything about sour crop in chickens. From its causes and symptoms to treatment and prevention, we’ll cover all the essentials you need to know. With that, let’s start!

What Is Sour Crop in Chickens?

Hen showing signs of sour crop

Just like people can get yeast infections, chickens can get them as well, and in their case, it’s called candidiasis or “sour crop.”

This yeast infection is usually caused by an imbalance in the normal bacteria found in a chicken’s crop, a small pouch in the throat that stores food before it moves to the stomach.

The main cause is usually a fungus called Candida albicans, which is the same one that causes thrush in people.

Sour crop can be quite uncomfortable for chickens and can lead to more serious health issues if not treated.

When chickens have sour crop, their crop becomes swollen and filled with fluid, leading to issues with digestion. This can make it hard for them to eat or drink properly.

Signs and Symptoms of Sour Crop in Chickens

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sour crop early on can be a lifesaver for your chickens. Here are the key indicators to watch for:

  • Swollen and squishy crop: If the chicken’s crop looks swollen and feels like a water balloon, it might be a sour crop. This happens because the crop is full of fluid and gas from the food not digesting properly.
  • Foul-smelling breath: Chickens with sour crop often have a sour or unpleasant smell coming from their breath. This is due to the food fermenting in the crop.
  • White patches inside the mouth: White patches in chickens’ mouths can be a sign of sour crop. These spots are from the same yeast that’s causing the condition.
  • Regurgitation: Chickens with sour crop may regurgitate their food. This happens because the swollen crop has trouble processing and moving food, causing undigested food to come out of their mouths.
  • Lethargy: Chickens with sour crop might seem tired or less active. They might seem less energetic or interested in their surroundings compared to their usual behavior.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss: The discomfort and swelling in the crop can make it challenging for affected chickens to eat and drink properly. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
  • Unusual droppings: Keep an eye on their droppings too. If you see brown or yellow diarrhea or droppings that look unusual and watery, it could be a sign of sour crop.

Early detection and treatment of sour crop can stop it from getting worse and help keep your chickens healthy and happy.

So, always be on the lookout for anything unusual with your chickens — it can make a big difference!

Distinguishing Crop Impaction vs. Sour Crop

White chicken experiencing sour crop discomfort

Knowing how to tell apart crop impaction from sour crop in chickens is crucial for effective treatment.

To help you figure out what’s going on with your birds and how to help them, below are the key differences between the two.

Crop Impaction

Crop impaction occurs when the crop gets blocked and can’t empty properly. This blockage is often caused by chickens eating long grass or non-edible objects like string, feathers, or pieces of plastic.

If your chicken has an impacted crop, the crop will feel hard and swollen, kind of like a balloon filled with sand. This means that the food or object isn’t moving down from the crop to the stomach like it should.

Sour Crop

Sour crop, on the other hand, is usually caused by a yeast infection in the crop, which leads to fermentation of the food inside. If your chicken has sour crop, the crop will feel soft and squishy, not hard.

Affected chickens might also have bad breath because of food fermenting in their crops. Unlike impaction, where the crop is physically blocked, sour crop involves a chemical imbalance in the digestive process.

Further, it’s important to note that crop impaction can sometimes lead to sour crop. If the blockage isn’t resolved, the food stuck in the crop can start to ferment, turning the condition from impaction into sour crop.

If you’re interested in learning more about these differences, check out the following video:

Sour Crop and Impacted Crop - Two (Similar) Medical Conditions in Your Backyard Chickens

Causes of Sour Crop in Chickens

Figuring out what causes sour crop in backyard chickens can be tricky because there are quite a few things that can lead to problems with their crop. Here’s a rundown of the main causes:

  • Impacted Crop: Sometimes, sour crop occurs when the crop becomes impacted, meaning it’s blocked. This blockage can be due to chickens eating things they shouldn’t, like metal, plastic, or string, or it can happen if they consume too much fibrous material.
  • Slow Crop Emptying: If a chicken’s crop doesn’t empty out quickly enough, the food inside can ferment. This slow emptying is often linked to the chicken’s overall health and diet.
  • Moldy or Rotten Food: Feeding chickens moldy or rotten food can be problematic. Mold is a fungus that can make the food in the crop ferment and upset the pH balance, which can lead to sour crop.
  • Dietary Imbalances: Not eating the right foods, especially not getting enough vitamin A, can make chickens more likely to get sour crop. Feeding them too many treats or scraps can throw their diet off balance.
  • Severe Worm Infestation: A heavy worm infestation can disrupt normal digestive functioning, including the crop, which makes chickens more susceptible to sour crop.
  • Use of Antibiotics: Giving chickens antibiotics can change the pH levels in their crop. These drugs can kill the good bacteria, which leaves room for bad fungi like Candida albicans to take over.

Understanding these causes can help you take preventive measures, such as maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring good coop hygiene, and monitoring your chickens’ health to prevent sour crop.

How to Treat Sour Crop in Chickens (Home Remedies)

Chicken with sour crop in a coop

While severe cases of sour crop may require veterinary attention, there are some home remedies that you can try to help your chickens feel better. Below are some simple ways to treat sour crop in chickens at home.

1. Isolation and Dietary Management

Start by isolating the affected chicken from the rest of your flock. This is important for both the chicken’s recovery and the health of your other birds.

For the initial 24 hours, withhold both food and water. This fasting period allows the crop to empty and reduces the risk of further fermentation.

After this period, if the crop seems to have emptied, offer water. Wait another 12 hours before reintroducing food, and start with soft, easy-to-digest items.

Pro Tip: Once your chicken’s crop is empty, consider giving them garlic water instead of plain water. It’s easy to make – just crush one garlic clove for every 4 cups of warm water and let it cool.

This garlic-infused water not only keeps your chicken hydrated but also uses garlic’s natural antimicrobial properties to create a healthier digestive environment during their recovery.

2. Crop Massage

Gently massaging the crop can help ease blockages that are causing the crop contents to ferment.

To get started, place your fingers at the top of the crop and gently press downward. This motion assists in moving the contents toward the chicken’s stomach, which not only improves digestion but also helps ease sour crop.

It’s recommended to do this massage about three to four times a day. However, always proceed with caution. If you notice any liquid coming out of the beak when you do this, it’s best to stop right away.

3. Epsom Salts Flush

Using Epsom salts can be an effective way to clean out the affected chicken’s crop, but it’s important to be careful with this one. This method is risky and can cause asphyxiation if not done right.

To do this, mix a teaspoon of Epsom salts into a cup of water and give it to the chicken 2 to 3 times a day for a few days.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar Treatment

Apple cider vinegar serves as an effective treatment for sour crop due to its anti-fungal properties. It’s actually a method I regularly recommend to fellow chicken keepers dealing with similar issues.

What I do is mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a gallon of their drinking water or use a syringe to gently give a small amount of the diluted vinegar straight into the affected chicken’s beak.

This approach has not only proven to be effective in helping my chickens recover from sour crop but has also reinforced my trust in natural treatments.

5. Herbal Remedies

Herbs like cloves, thyme, and cinnamon have properties that can help alleviate sour crop symptoms. In fact, a recent study has shed light on the specific benefits of clove powder and thyme oil in this regard.

Specifically, these natural remedies helped in reducing issues like delayed digestion, crop swelling, loss of appetite, and regurgitation in chickens with sour crop.

So, what you can do is mix a little bit of them into your chickens’ food. It’s a simple way to offer some relief and support their digestion during a sour crop episode.

6. Probiotic Yogurt

After the initial treatment for sour crop, giving your chickens probiotic yogurt can be helpful.

Probiotic yogurt is packed with good bacteria that help balance their gut, which is especially important after sour crop upsets their digestive system.

Just make sure to use plain, unsweetened yogurt to avoid any extra sugar. A small amount mixed into their food can aid in their recovery and keep their digestion running smoothly.

How to Prevent Sour Crop in Your Flock

Keeping your chickens safe from sour crop isn’t too hard if you follow these simple tips:

  • Trim the grass: Keep the grass short where your chickens roam. Long grass can be hard for them to digest and might cause blockages, which can lead to sour crop.
  • Remove uneaten food: Pick up any uneaten food before it becomes moldy. Leftover food can attract pests and become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and fungi.
  • Keep their food and water clean: Make sure your chickens’ feed and water are clean and not contaminated by feces. Using feeders and drinkers that prevent contamination is a good practice.
  • Keep the coop clean: Maintain proper husbandry and biosecurity. A clean and dry coop helps stop bad bacteria and fungi from growing.
  • Add apple cider vinegar to water: A little apple cider vinegar in your chickens’ water can help keep their crop’s pH level balanced, making it less likely for yeast infections to happen.
  • Use probiotics after antibiotics: If your chickens have been on antibiotics, follow up with probiotics. Antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in their digestive system. Probiotics help restore this balance and support overall digestive health.
  • Worm them regularly: Give your chickens worm treatments twice a year. Worms can mess up their digestion, which can lead to sour crop.

By doing these things, you can significantly reduce the chances of your chickens getting sour crop and help them stay healthy.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

Vet checking a chicken for sour crop

If you’ve tried helping your chickens with sour crop at home, but they’re not getting better, it’s time to call the vet. This is especially true if the symptoms are severe, like extreme lethargy, or if the crop remains swollen for a long time.

Recurring cases of sour crop or additional health issues, such as respiratory problems, also warrant a vet visit. In some severe cases, the crop might need surgical intervention or prescription medications, which only a vet can provide.

When in doubt or if your chickens aren’t getting better, it’s always best to get a veterinarian to check them out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Chicken suffering from sour crop

What Fungus Is Associated With Sour Crop in Chickens?

Sour crop in chickens is typically caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. It’s the same fungus responsible for thrush in humans and can cause similar issues in chickens.

Can Sour Crop Kill a Chicken?

Yes, sour crop can be deadly for chickens mainly because it can lead to dehydration and starvation.

When their crop is swollen and not working properly, chickens can’t digest their food or get enough water, which can be fatal if not treated quickly.

Will Sour Crop Resolve Itself?

Sour crop in chickens doesn’t usually resolve itself without intervention. Sometimes, simple home treatments like changing their diet or gently massaging their crop can help with mild cases.

But if your chicken doesn’t start to get better in a few days, it’s important to seek veterinary treatment. Without proper treatment, the condition can worsen and lead to more serious health issues for your chickens.

Scientific References

Abdel Fatah, Ghada, et al. The efficacy of clove and thyme against experimentally induced Candidiasis in broilers. Mansoura Veterinary Medical Journal 21.2 (2020)

D McCluggage Candida In Birds and Holistic Therapies to Treat The Condition. (2011)

Gelis, Stacey, BSc, BVSc, MACVS Chapter 14: Evaluating and Treating the Gastrointestinal System. Clinical Avian Medicine. Vol. 1 (2014)

Gharibpour, Fateme, et al. The effects of nutraceuticals and herbal medicine on candida albicans in oral candidiasis: a comprehensive review Pharmacological Properties of Plant-Derived Natural Products and Implications for Human Health (2021)

R Axelson, DVM. Candida Infections in Birds Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center (2017)

R Axelson, DVM. Crop Infections in Birds Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center (2017)

Shahina, Zinnat, et al. Cinnamon Leaf and Clove Essential Oils Are Potent Inhibitors of Candida albicans Virulence Traits Microorganisms 10.10 (2022)

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