How to prevent crop problems and treat them

impacted crop

Crop problems are very common in chickens.  So we have to determine one of three things:

  1. An engorged crop (hard and swollen, the hen is lethargic and stops eating) ;
  2. A yeast-infected crop: The crop will be full and a feeling of accumulated water with a foul and safe smell. Treat with an antifungal agent prescribed by your veterinarian;
  3. A crop infested with crop worms: Treat with an appropriate dewormer prescribed by your veterinarian;

What is it?

A clogged crop can quickly ferment and become infected. The crop is a pouch located at the bottom of the throat on the chest that accumulates food before it passes through the gizzard and stomach. The gizzard can also become engorged with long blades of grass and hay and in these cases both organs can become engorged. A normal crop will be lighter and smaller in the morning and larger in the evening before going to sleep. Since hens do not have teeth to grind food, this problem is common. The crop is therefore an important organ in digestion and should be monitored regularly.

This condition is common and afflicts our chickens considerably and worries chicken owners. Some hens, more gluttonous, tend to have this recurring problem. Do not ration the portions of your hens. They must have access to grain in quantity, all day long. Otherwise, they may gorge themselves on large quantities of grain in a short period of time and clog their crop and gizzard.

Often the hens will have a hard, sometimes very swollen, or hanging crop on the right side. Chickens can die from these conditions because they stop eating and drinking and become weak quickly. Other hens may peck and become aggressive towards the sick hen. The more time you spend with your chickens, the quicker you will be able to identify these problems.


When a hen ingests food, the transit to the digestive tract is rapid. Only 2 hours of digestion are necessary for the hen to evacuate its droppings. The animal first stores the food in its crop, a cavity in the esophagus that expands and softens the food and digests it with enzymes. The food is then pre-digested for a period that can last from a few minutes to an hour in the proventriculus, a stomach with a more acidic environment. The food is then better ground in the gizzard. Since hens have no teeth, it is important that they eat small pieces of flint gravel for example, which they can find directly on the ground or which can be added to their diet. The gizzard, an organ with powerful muscles, crushes and grinds food more efficiently, making digestion easier [1].

1] In fact, it is the fine gravel that the hens swallow that allows the food to break up into small pieces and, with the help of enzymes, to become a crushed and digestible ball. These small stones are insoluble, so they remain in the gizzard. Without them, the food might not be shredded enough, rot in the gizzard and make your chickens very sick. Chickens that eat a lot of grass will need this gravel to have a healthy crop and better digestion.

The gizzard also provides an acidic environment for calcium absorption. Then, the three parts of the small intestine, the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum, complete the digestion and ensure the assimilation of nutrients.

1] Cath Andrew, “Grit and oyster shell: Why they’re critical to the health of your chickens”, Raising happy chickens with Cath Andrew, <>.

The more time you spend with your chickens, the quicker you will be able to identify these problems.

Thanks to Ms. Leigh Schilling Edwards for the following picture:


Internal anatomy of the hen

The causes :

Several causes can obstruct and cause serious problems. Firstly, obstruction by a pile of food or an object that cannot pass through. A plastic cap or debris on your property can obstruct the crop. A pile of grass that is too long can create a plug that can then become infected with fungus. This condition is more common in the spring when the chickens spend a lot of time in the field. From crop worms, capillaria can also cause serious problems to the crop of your hens. In any case, it must be treated according to the problem. These worms, which look like fine hair, can be found in the esophagus and small intestine. Here the crop will be soft and filled with liquid. This is not a very serious disease, but your hen could die if the problem is not treated, because she will have diarrhea, loss of appetite and weakness.

Care :

If the pile of food is hard and seems to have difficulty getting through the evening, you can give a few drops of olive oil twice a day to the syringe and massage the area. To avoid a recurrence of the problem, offer food that is easy to digest. Mix the grains with water or apple puree and natural yogurt to make a pate and give it for a few days with small digestion stones (Grit) and shucked oyster shells.

Sometimes our chickens eat a lot during the day and have a more swollen crop in the evening. As long as it empties at night and is not hard and the hen eats and drinks normally, everything is fine.

Sometimes the hen may vomit her clump and this will help a lot to solve the problem. We can help the hen to vomit if we are sure that our hen has a crop problem. You have to know how to handle, massage and hold the hen so that she doesn’t choke. Stand outside or place a large plastic on the floor. The hen may shake its head and spread secretions on the floor. Sometimes it takes a while to massage the hen with the body downwards… but eventually the hen may vomit. You will often see long blades of grass and if she has the crop that has fermented, you will see white clumps of yeast with fungus and/or a very sure smell.

A hen that has an empty crop after an overcrowding should be watched and isolated for a few days. She should be suspended from feeding for 24 hours and water suspended for only 12 hours and then fed very gently to avoid a recurrence of the problem. She can be given egg yolks cooked with unsweetened mashed apples and yogurt. If the crop is infected, apple cider vinegar should not be given during treatment as it may make the crop more acidic and amplify the yeast.

An antifungal treatment will be welcome if yeast is present, but only after the crop is empty. The hen will be left without food and drink for 12 hours.

Then to treat the crop fungus, one can put ½ tsp of Epsom salt in ½ cup of lukewarm water and soak a absorbent cotton pad (or use a medicine syringe) and let the solution drip directly into the hen’s throat 2 to 3 times a day, being very careful not to send the solution into the airways. To treat a fungus infection you can also add 1/2 teaspoon of copper sulfate in 1 gallon of water. Oregano essential oil is also often used in water to treat fungal infections.

To treat severe cases a prescription of anti-fungal medication will be necessary such as Nystatin offered as an oral solution or capsule. Consult your nearest veterinarian!

Severe cases that do not go away the hens must be taken to the veterinarian who will be able to make an incision in the front after cutting and shaving the feathers and extract the mass that causes all these problems. The hen will then have to wear a breastplate until the feathers grow back to avoid abusive pecking. The operated hen will have to be isolated in a separate pen or henhouse to let the scar heal. The feathers will grow back in about 15 days.

The essential oil of oregano is also a natural antibiotic that can be useful. Oregano oil has been studied in poultry production industries in conjunction with the use of true cinnamon. These products have given good results. A teaspoon of cinnamon can be added to a little natural yogurt with a drop of oregano oil as an option to consider as a treatment. If symptoms persist, consult your veterinarian.

It is also an oil to be handled with care and the dosage must be scrupulously respected. For humans, there are few contraindications to the use of oregano oil, however, it should not be used on the skin or in the mouth and is not recommended during the first 3 months of pregnancy. The two basic principles contained in oregano oil that give it antimicrobial and antibacterial virtues are called carvacrol and thymol. The combined action of thymol and carvacrol has proven its antifungal effectiveness and oregano oil is already used to treat candida albicans or vaginal infections.

Moreover, the American Department of Agriculture has reported that oregano oil has an effective action against Salmonella and Escherichia Coli germs, which is very interesting for our small urban chicken flocks!

In summary, take these precautions :

Don’t let your hens roam all day long on a field where the grass is not cut and without access to their grains.

        Avoid hay litter and prefer wood, earth, sand or sphagnum moss.

Offer digestive stones and oyster shells!

Offer probiotics specially formulated for hens or plain yogurt and oregano oil and electrolytes if the climate is hot and humid.

Offer unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon per approximately 4 liters of water) except in the case of a safe crop and during humid heat. The vinegar can slightly increase the internal temperature of the hens, which is already high.

Offer easily digestible pies (grain mix, chopped table scraps, purees and water) and fresh water at all times.

Do not offer bread or sweet foods.

Offer garlic, oil of oregano

Palpate the crop regularly to check its suppleness

Examine your chickens and their breath

Some additional references:

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