The crop is a part of the oesophagus in which the initial stages of digestion occur. You can feel the hen's crop at the base of her neck and it is normally just larger than a golf ball and not too solid - depending on the time of day and how much they have recently eaten/drunk. Towards the end of the day, the crop will be larger and full of food and it will be much smaller after the hen has digested her food during the night.
The two most common issues affecting the crop are sour crop and impacted crop. Here are the ways to help prevent, diagnose and treat them:
This is a yeast infection in the crop, happening when there has been a disruption of the normal bacteria.
The severity of the sour crop can be different from bird to bird but usually the yeast infection causes a thickening of the crop wall so that the crop becomes large.
A hen with sour crop can be under the weather, have a large, fluid filled, squishy crop, have often stopped eating and have terrible bad breath. The birds often lose condition quickly and possibly die.
It is hard to determine where the sour crop comes from, as generally it will only affect one hen in the flock, but ensuring that your hens always have fresh feed is a good starting point.
It is very difficult to treat sour crop as there are no specific methods of treatment. Most people report success by feeding the hen with live natural yoghurt (using a syrine or mixed with raisins or something else which they like) but this has to be done 2-3 times a day.
A more effective treatment is to remove the liquid from the crop. It is possible to manually empty the crop by turning the hen upside down and massaging the liquid out although this must be done extremely carefully as there is a risk of choking. We would not recommend that you do this. It is distressing for the hen and does not remove all of the fungal infection.
A safer procedure would be undertaken by a vet, using local anaesthetic where they drain and wash the crop out with saline solution.
A vet may also prescribe antibiotics or an antifungal medicine.
Be aware, however, that this condition often reoccurs.
We have only had one hen with sour crop. We gave up treating her with yoghurt as she was living quite happily; she went broody and reared two chicks in our garden. It was a few months before her crop became so large that it caused her problems but she was able to live happily for some time.
This is where the food cannot move from the crop to the stomach. It is either caused by some foreign body which is blocking the passage or it is because the muscles fail. Muscle failure can occur with Mareks disease - if you've bought hens from us, you don't need to worry as they have been vaccinnated against this. For a list of vaccinations our girls have, please look on the links page.
More often than not, the hen will get impacted crop from eating very long grass. To prevent impacted crop, please ensure that you do not put your hens on long grass, that they have plenty of grit available to aid their digestion and to ensure that they cannot accidentally eat string or the like.
The affected hen will be obviously unhappy, will have low appetite, often have watery faeces and have a very hard impacted crop - it will feel almost as hard as a golf ball. It will generally remain that size and texture throughout the day.
Treatment can be to give the hen fluids and to try to massage the crop to help break up what has got stuck in there. If this does not work, then the only option is a trip to the vet where they can surgically remove the blockage and wash the crop with saline solution.
As the crop size varies throughout the day, please check the crop size over a few hours to prevent unnecessary treatment.
Be aware that, if the obstruction is caused by muscular issues, that it may reoccur after surgery.