Some of the most regular calls we receive at Hen Central relate to issues with a hen’s crop.
However, it is one issue which can be hard to get to the bottom of, especially if you’re unsure what the symptoms mean or what condition your hen could be suffering from.
Here we look at what the chicken crop is, the issues to watch out for and what you can do to help your hen if you can’t get a vet’s help straight away.
Your hen’s crop
For the novice hen keeper’s benefit, the crop is what we call the hen’s shopping basket. It sits on the front of the hen’s chest and becomes more prominent as it fills with food.
Throughout the day your hen will eat lots of tasty morsels and her crop can grow to the size of a small orange. The crop is more noticeable on a newly rehomed hen who may not have many feathers.
Overnight, the crop will empty as the food passes down into the stomach. You should know what feels normal to ensure that you spot any issues quickly. You should check your hens on a regular basis and compare one to another – by doing this you will quickly learn to spot any problems which may ‘crop up’.
If your hen has been eating long stringy grass or foreign objects like string or plastic, the crop can become impacted. The material will cause a physical obstruction and will prevent food from passing into the stomach.
If the blockage is not too large your hen may benefit from a dose of olive oil (5ml / 1 teaspoon). Gently massage and allow access to tepid water, but no food should be offered as this will only add to the impaction.
If the blockage does not pass through overnight, it is essential that you seek veterinary help as a small surgical procedure may be needed to remove the material through the crop wall. To learn more about this procedure, take a look at our health problems page here.
Occasionally hens can develop a condition called sour crop. This is due to an imbalance in the normal crop flora (bacteria) and a fungal overgrowth. Often this starts when your hen eats damp or mouldy feed, but it can also follow after a treatment of antibiotics.
The crop will appear full but will have a squishy fluid-filled feel to it. Often a foul smell will be detected if you open the beak and sniff. In severe cases just lifting the hen up and putting pressure on the crop may cause fluid to come out of her beak. She may flick her head and will be dull and off her food.
In mild cases, hens can be treated by withdrawing food and water and dosing with apple cider vinegar (diluted to the manufacturer’s recommendation, and never in a metal drinker) which we have found kills off the fungus.
A probiotic 48 hours after treatment ends will help replace the natural crop bacteria. Small amounts of food (one teaspoon) and warm water (one teaspoon) may be re-introduced after 24 hours. In severe cases, veterinary intervention may be required, as draining, flushing and treatment with antifungals might be necessary. Crop emptying should only be attempted by experienced hen keepers or professionals.
You can find out more information about sour crop on our problems page here.
The final issue your hens can face is pendulous crop. This is more common in older hens and is a result of weakness in the crop wall and poor muscle tone. The crop will hang lower and grow bigger than normal and food will take longer to pass through. Although it looks odd your hen will cope with this condition and live a normal life.
Ensure grit is added to the diet and feed smaller meals if possible. For the more fashion-conscious hens, a crop bra can be used (yes really!) which will offer some support.
For more information, please watch our hen health video on crop issues below or call our Hen Helpline on 01884 860084.