This last week we had our first (and hopefully last for a long time) sick chicken. Poor Scully was acting very lethargic, separating herself from the flock, hiding and not eating. She seemed off one day, but we thought we would see if she was improved the next day but she wasn’t – instead she was moving slowly, and almost seemed dizzy, putting her wing out from time to time to keep herself from tipping over.
I picked her up to see if I could see what was wrong with her and must have accidentally squeezed her crop too tight because she sprayed water out of her beak all over my hair and sweater. At first I was super confused, where did that water just come from?! Looking into it online we discovered that Scully likely had an issue with her crop.
So what is a crop and where is it? It is a chickens food storage area, the first in a series of stops on the digestive tract of a chicken. By holding the chicken from behind you can feel the crop on the front of their chest, slightly to the right of the breast bone. Scully’s was very enlarged and soft like a water balloon. We did a lot of research and learned a few things about crop issues. Exciting information after the jump – including a video of Scully barfing (I know you all want to see what chicken barf looks like)
We separated Scully from the flock and brought her inside where we could monitor her closely. The first thing I did was set her up with all kinds of food, egg shells and hay (pictured above), but after reading up online I took everything away except for her water. Several sources on the internet said that emptying the crop is the first step to make the chicken more comfortable and to eliminate the food and water which could be turning toxic. Allowing her to put more solids into a crop that is stagnant is just adding to the problem. There are several things that can happen to a crop;
1) Impaction, where the crop is filled with food that forms a hard ball and cannot be passed normally. Impaction often requires surgery to remove the blockage and is usually caused by ingesting long grasses that tangle and get stuck (this can include hay so we may rethink what we use for bedding in the coop)
2) Sour crop, which is when the chicken’s crop remains full for so long it develops a yeast infection. This is diagnosed by feeling the crop and finding it soft and full of water as we did with Scully. You will also notice a sour smell coming from her beak and see white chunks in the vomit. We didn’t notice either of the last two symptoms in Scully so we are leaning away from the sour crop diagnosis in favour of option three.
3) Slow crop. This can be caused by a few different things, and we haven’t narrowed it down yet. Slow crop is when the chicken’s crop is slow to empty into the digestive tract (the gizzard is the next stop) and can become backed up. We certainly aren’t experts on this yet, but Scully was still pooping so things hadn’t come to a stand still, she was just processing things very slowly it seemed.
First thing we did was empty the crop. Several sources say this is actually a dangerous thing to do because the chances of asphyxiating the chicken are great, but we did it anyways because we didn’t have much other choice (if you have to do it use great caution and ensure you give the chicken time to breathe after each vomit). Scully wanted that stuff out of there and she was consuming a lot of water to try to flush it out herself. The water was then becoming trapped and her crop was the size of a tennis ball. Holding the chicken like a football, gently massage the crop with one hand and tip the chicken forward so her beak is facing the ground. Keep doing this until the crop empties. For us, the stuff came out right away, and she barfed another 3 or 4 times after the initial flood of water. This stuff really stinks, by the way.
After we got it mostly empty, Scully sat around gasping for air with her eyes half closed for a few minutes which of course freaked the hell out of us – I was convinced we had just killed her. But we sat with her and she slowly came around. She was pretty tired afterwards and it was after dark, so she sat down on a small towel and fell asleep. We checked on her frequently and she seemed to be feeling better having the stuff out of her crop, so we left her until the morning.
The next morning she was considerably perkier and we gave her some grit to help break down anything that may still be caught in her crop. She happily pecked it up, which was a good sign. We fed her some sugar-free yogurt to get some probiotics into the crop and because she was still refusing to eat anything else (we also tried soft bread soaked in olive oil but she wasn’t very excited about it. She was probably pretty sore still.)
We waited a few more days for Scully to really feel better. She still does not have fully normal poops and the crop still feels like it is emptying slowly, but has stayed at a size smaller than a golf ball so we are just going to watch it closely. She was definitely getting stir crazy in the greenhouse though because she started jumping up on the table and scratching through my plants. She also became far more vocal and fussy about being picked up which is more her baseline behaviour. At one point I checked on her, went to the kitchen for some greens and came back to find her out of the greenhouse and sitting on J’s pillow on the bed. Ha!
I offered her some cilantro late in the day yesterday and she was very eager to eat it, which was a vast improvement. Because she seems to be on the mend we moved her back to the coop to be with her friends. Mulder especially must have missed her because every night that she was gone when I went down to secure the coop for the night she was still waiting in the enclosure by the gate when all the other birds were already in the coop on the roosting bars. Poor Mulder missed Scully!
The resemblance is uncanny.
Here’s a video of Scully eating the cilantro. She looks so much better! Fingers crossed she continues to improve, though she may just have crop issues that need frequent monitoring. Anyone else have experience with chicken crop problems? There seem to be a thousand different “remedies” online, everything from feeding the chicken red wine and droppers of mineral oil to vaginal yeast cream and docusate (a human laxative). Some sites even suggest that performing surgery on your chicken at home is a possibility and instruct readers how to cut open a chicken crop, remove the blockage and then glue them back together. We were hesitant to try anything that involved medications for something we weren’t 100% sure was the problem… is vaginal cream even safe for bird consumption??? It’s meant for external use! lol
Some things we learned from this episode:
1. Always provide clean drinking water. We have our poultry nipples ready to install a new waterer that will remain gunk free as every source of water we currently have gets filthy within a few minutes and could very well have been the source of some kind of bacteria causing Scully’s sickness.
2. Provide grit for the chickens. Even when Scully’s crop was fully distended with water I could still feel the small rocks and grit she has stored in her crop to help break down the food she eats. We bought granite grit along with oyster shells from the pet store and will set them up in the coop for all the birdies to snack on.
3. Crop issues can be caused by worms, so the whole flock will be wormed ASAP.
4. Crop issues can also be caused by a hen being egg-bound. We checked Scully’s belly and vent (fancy term for a chicken’s bum hole) and there didn’t seem to be any eggs stuck anywhere. That being said she hasn’t laid an egg this whole week. Another thing to keep an eye on.
5. Only feed chickens appropriate and non-mouldy feed. Food scraps are good, but maybe not the compost we have been putting in there for the chickens to scratch through as it has already been sitting for a day or two in the house. Spoiled food = sick chickens.
6. Chickens can (and should) be fed probiotics from time to time to help stave off yeast infections/sour crop. We need to look more into possible sources, but sugar-free plain yogurt is one source, and so are powdered probiotics that can be added to the water. Apple Cider Vinegar can also be added to water (in a plastic waterer, not metal) to help with acid levels in the gut.
7. Watch for chickens who aren’t acting like their usual selves! We caught this early enough because the second Scully started to look different I caught it immediately. Some people online mentioned they noticed their chicken was sick only when it was curled up in a corner with half closed eyes and obviously in a lot of pain. Who knows how long these birds suffered for before anyone noticed. We are lucky that our flock is small and we check on them everyday. Making regular examinations of chicken crops, particularly in the morning when they should be empty, is a good idea and something we will certainly be doing from this day forth.