Treating a Sour Crop (Naturally)

Jessica Ruler of the Roost

Jessica, my star of the backyard, top dog in the chicken pile, never a sick day in her 4+ year old life, sweet Black Sex Link hen, threw me a curve ball last week. I thought I might lose her.

At first, I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her. She was sluggish, droopy, and definitely not her normal curious, chatty self. Having lost a hen only six days previous (from something mysterious), I panicked. What if some viral thing was running through my flock? What if I lose them all?

I immediately stuck Jessica in the ‘chicken hospital’ (a converted rabbit hutch) and set out to scour the coop, hoping to keep the others from catching whatever might be going around.

Jessica wasn’t interested in eating or drinking or even moving. She seemed sad, even, depressed somehow. She sat like a statue for 2 days, not moving. When I finally coaxed some minced cucumber down her, I noticed she was jerking her neck around when she ate, like something was stuck in her throat. A quick examination of her throat uncovered nothing. It all felt normal. But by the time I got down to her crop, I knew something was wrong. It felt like a water balloon about to burst under the surface of her skin.

Shoot! A sour crop happens most generally when a hen eats something she shouldn’t and it plugs up her crop so things can’t pass normally and then, on top of it all, with all that gross rotting stuff simmering inside, it develops a fungal infection. I leaned in and could smell the nasty stuff on her breath. The worst case of halitosis you might ever smell.

(If  you look close you can see her doing the neck shaking thing in video)

Often the offending ‘food’ that causes the blockage is long grass. Especially long in the spring. Especially long grass along the chicken fence in the back that I haven’t cut down yet because I can’t get it with the lawnmower and the weed whacker is broken. It’s horrible when something goes wrong with one of hens, but when it’s my fault, it’s even worse (yes I have since gone out and cut that long grass down with a knife).

I apologized to Jessica as I carefully lifted her out of the chicken hospital, wrapped her body in a towel and tipped her over (face forward toward the ground). I massaged her crop upward (toward the direction of her face) and induced vomiting. A volcano of sickly brown sludge poured out from her. Poor girl. She was miserable.

From there, I removed all the chicken feed from the pen she was staying in, and came in and mixed her up plain yogurt. I didn’t want anything to make the blockage worse, plus I figured the active cultures in the yogurt could help her infection.

I’d read that it’s often impossible to get rid of a sour crop once it happens. And that an anti-fungal prescription from a vet is really the best way to go. I, however, didn’t go to the vet, and I try hard NOT to give my hens (or myself for that matter) synthetic anything unless absolutely necessary.

In the meantime, though, Jessica’s crop had re-filled to overflowing. I knew I needed to do something. So, I decided to try an experiment.

I opened a bottle of nice (i.e. more than $5!) merlot that I’d been given for my birthday (and was saving for a special occasion. This was NOT what I had in mind!), sucked up a bit of it into a syringe and forced it down Jessica throat. I’d heard before that red wine can help sour crop. I had no idea how much to give her and I didn’t want to make it worse, so I was pretty conservative with my dosage (and I didn’t want to bring new meaning to the term Drunken Chicken). Jessica isn’t a fan of red wine. But she tolerated me.Non-Toxic Treatment for Sour Crop

About an hour or so later, all that nasty stuff in her crop came shooting out her backside. (I can’t even begin to describe the stench.) I felt hopeful.

The next line of defense was setting up a diffuser in the pen with her. I filled it up with water and dropped in 2 drops each of Oregano oil (a great anti-fungal) and On Guard oil (a blend of several different oils and good for both killing germy stuff and strengthening the immune system).

In between all this doctoring, every hour or two, I would gently massage her crop (downward this time—I wasn’t trying to induce vomiting any longer, I was trying to help unclog the blockage).

The next morning, I shot some more wine down her, re-filled the diffuser with water and essential oil, and gave her some keifer and baby food. (I always kept lots of fresh water in the cage too.)

That night she seemed better. Not well, but improving. I re-filled the diffuser and let it run for another night.

The following morning, she seemed to have made a complete recovery. She was perky, chatty, and anxious to get out. I gave her breakfast and she gobbled it down. Her crop was empty as well. To be on the safe side, I mixed some keifer with the red wine to get another dose of good stuff down her, and then I let her out with the rest of the girls. She was happy. A bit skinnier than she was earlier in the week (why can’t I lose weight that fast?), but doing well. One of the first things she did was head over for a lovely dust bath.Ahhh! Dust Bath!

An added bonus is that Jessica is the boss of the hen house. Nobody dared question her spot in the pecking order. Not a single ruffled feather, even though she was in the chicken hospital for nearly a week. Jessica is completely recovered and back to herself. Except, of course, for eating that long grass out by the chicken fence. That stuff is gone. And I learned my lesson.

(I suppose this is a good place to remind you that I am NOT a vet. I don’t diagnose and treat animals for a living. I was just going with my gut. Follow yours too. This may or may not work for you and your hens and would probably NOT be what a trained vet would advise.)




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21 Responses to Treating a Sour Crop (Naturally)

  1. I must admit, I am conflicted. I lost a hen three days ago to the exact same thing. I did the first step of what you did (hold her, beak angled down, and massage her crop to try to empty it). The foul-smelling liquid was extraordinary. Rather than roosting in the coop, she’d been standing in the garage by the hay bales. I settled her down there and decided to let her spend the night separate from the others. If she was still swollen and weird the next morning, I was going to see what the next steps should be. Sadly, next morning she was dead. I feel so badly now knowing that I could perhaps have saved her, but I also don’t have red wine or keifir on hand and wonder if I would have gone to all the trouble you did. I like to think I would have, but I will take solace in knowing that I’ve now been given some direction in the event that it happens again.

    I did have another hen go through this about two months ago, but she seemed to work it out on her own and, just as we thought we were going to lose her, the blockage must have managed to move through on its own and she’s been fine ever since.

    Chickens are so weird.

    • Kerrie says:

      Chickens ARE very weird! You just never know with them. I thought I was going to wake up to a dead bird and brought out the proper supplies to deal with her, only to find her still alive. I don’t even know how she survived so long before I realized what was wrong with her. I’m shocked, actually.

      Don’t beat yourself up, though. We’re all on a learning curve and doing the best we can. <3

  2. Nancy says:

    How do you know all this stuff???? Not just turning them downward and rubbing them to induce vomiting, and the red wine and diffuser (don’t even know what that is), but also the Minced cucumber, yogurt, baby food?? My baby chucks arrive in a week, and I get more and more nervous the more I read!!

    • Kerrie says:

      Don’t be nervous! It’s kind of like anything–you start out clueless and learn along the way. Read stuff, talk to people doing it, pay attention to your flock. It’s a TON of fun!! Really!! I wouldn’t trade it! Even on the bad days when I’m inducing vomiting! :)

      PS I a diffuser is a little unit filled with water and the unit vibrates the water to create steam. When you add essential oils, it disperses the oils out into the air. I use it A LOT when I have sick chickens…and I’ve used it successfully with chickens belonging to friends. But, I haven’t heard of others using it. I just tried it and it worked.

      • Great post! Probably not the conventional treatment as you mention, but I’ve found in chicken keeping that apple cider vinegar, garlic and probiotics (plain yogurt,etc) cure nearly everything! Good job improvising.
        Fresh Eggs Daily

      • Kerrie says:

        Yes, I agree. However, I’ve also saved several hens with just essential oils in a diffuser in the last year. So, that’s my latest addition to the list you gave. Added bonus, it makes the area around a sick chicken smell spa-like instead of sick-chicken-ish. Can’t complain about that! ha. :)

      • Nancy says:

        Thanks Kerrie :). A friend has asked me to take her duck as well, and just today another friend called to see if I’d take her turkey!!! So it looks like I’m collecting quite the little harem :). Going to do more research but think they’d all get along together…any thoughts on that?

      • Kerrie says:

        I haven’t done that as an adult, but when I was a kid, we had them all mixed together. Just make sure to have some sort of water source for the duck (kiddie pool or something) to swim in. Have FUN!!!!

  3. Kris says:

    Was it hard to shoot the syringe for her? Something I have read before, had me nervous about doing this. Thankfully, I haven’t had to do it yet, but would like to know as much as I can to be prepared!

    • Kerrie says:

      It’s not as hard as it sounds and you get better with practice! ha.

      Here’s basically what I do:
      1. Hold chicken under my arm (like a quarter back with a football)
      2. Have syringe ready to go
      3. Pry open her beak (using the hand I’m holding her with), stick my finger between beak to keep it open for a moment
      4. Quickly squirt a SMALL amount of liquid into her mouth
      5. Remove my finger
      6. Let her swallow liquid
      7. Give her a moment to breathe
      8. Repeat

      Three things that are helpful:
      1. Hold her firmly, as she’s not going to like the process–taking special care to keep her wings pinned down (wrapping her in a towel is helpful but not necessary).
      2. Give her liquids in little bits–not only to keep her from inhaling it (and possibly drowning), but also, if she gets too much at once, she is likely to shake her head and spray you with medicine.
      3. Be patient.

      Thanks for the question. I think I will shoot a video of the process and post it up here soon. It’s a lot easier to SEE than explain. Before too long, though, you will be a pro! :)

  4. So happy she’s OK!!

  5. SandyK says:

    Could you give us a picture or maybe a link to what the diffuser is. I’ve not heard of this before either.

    Also, tonight I found one of mine like this. Holding her over the sink she was able to get rid of a lot of it. I gave her a little bit of aloe drink after I got all the liquid out that I could. She immediately seemed better. I’m going down now to check on her before bed. Another website said to withhold any water or food for the first 12 hours until the crop cleared.

    I know that aloe in water for us will help a stomach ache in a few minutes, so I’m hoping it will help this too.

    Thanks for your post.


  6. Marisa says:

    This all sounds great and I like the idea of holistic treatment where possible. Can I just say a couple of things though and that is when using a syringe to put any liquid or medicine down her throat to make sure you hold open the beak and that the tongue is flat down and you put the syringe in past the little hole at the back on the tongue to ensure no liquid goes in there as that will cause drowning. Also it is deemed extremely dangerous to tip the bird forwards to induce vomiting as the bird can aspirate and swallow the vomit which will also cause drowning, If doing it make sure it’s just a little at a time and bring the hen back up so she can catch her breathe properly for a minute before trying again.

    • Kerrie says:

      Thanks for clarifying. I do use a syringe and I am aware of that hole. I also took the tipping slowly and I decided that tipping forward would be safer than backwards, although I know some say you shouldn’t tip at all. I chose to try it with caution as things were pretty desperate for my little hen. :) Thankfully, it worked and she’s still running around the chicken yard today. Yay!

      • Marisa says:

        Hi Kerrie, I often write a little bit somewhere for the sake of others that might be reading too if I worry about the little tongue hole not having been mentioned! I have a hen who has sour croup which is how I found you, whilst looking for information. Thankfully I think my wee girl is going to make it now but she was on deaths door too. Her body was featherweight and her comb had dried up and gone purple. This was after a number of days trying to vomit her and rehydrate after. I did resort to the vet and he gave me Nystatin which is given to humans to introduce friendly bacteria to invade the bad yeast bacteria. I have to say after 3 days she has turned around but it really was touch and go. On the vomit thing, I read a number of sites that says to ‘only tip her for 10-15 seconds’. This is far too long and it should be 2-3 seconds in my own experience and def a tip forwards as you say. The hen seemed to know what to do herself and sort of wiggled her tongue in and out a bit whilst doing so. I also found that having done it a couple of times, I then let her know I was going to do it and it prepared her, I would hold her under my left arm, gently massage her crop with my right hand, then place my hand at the top of her wings below her neck, then with the left hand I was holding her with I ever so gently pushed against her crop to her neck which seemed to make her lean forward and said to her ok? Ready? I know it sounds daft but she got it!! She actually started to boke a bit in preparation! Anyway here’s hoping she recovers fully but it’s all looking much better now!

      • SandyK says:

        Recently I had not one, but two of my girls come down with sour crop within a couple weeks. I tried the yogurt, red wine and then finally I read on one of the chicken sites where a lady used Monastat cream. She labeled it a miracle cure. Sure enough, after the second dose, my girls were back on their feet doing good. I know lots of people only want to go the natural way for healing, but my daughter lost a good chicken when nothing would work. So I was more than willing to try it too. For anyone out there that might come across this post, what I did was buy the Walmart brand of Monastat, $4.95 and use 1/3 of the syringe morning and night. I did three dosages to be sure it was under control. One of my girls would eat it right up and the other, I had to put it into her mouth to get it down. Hope this might help someone else out there.

  7. Janet Flanigan says:

    I am dealing with two sick hens at the moment. One (Domino – Silver Laced Wyandotte) has sour crop and I am following your advice here. I got the wine in her by squirting it a little at a time from behind rather than the front. That way I didn’t accidentally put too much in there. Sometimes syringes are just not reliable with the pressure on the plunger and will suddenly let loose! I fortunately had a diffuser and oregano and On Guard here as I bought the essential oils recently for myself. I hadn’t thought about using them for animals but why not. So it is chugging away and I hope it works.

    Her roommate, Derp, became critically ill at the same time. But her situation is different. Derp is my friendliest hen and also the funniest looking. She has severe crossbeak (scissorbeak) and an extra elongated neck. She aint pretty but she is absolutely darling and so so sweet. We recently had a huge arctic blast come through and I don’t know if this has anything to do with her condition but she went from healthy one day to completely still, with drooping wings and closed eyes the next afternoon. I am using an antibiotic on her as she does not appear to have a crop issue. I understand scissorbeaks have myriad problems but this was so sudden. So far, she is hanging in there. I have Derp and Domino inside the house, in my big dog crate. I gave Derp a tiny bit of olive oil and sugar water just to get some fluids in her. But the fact that she is still alive has me praying that maybe she will make it. My older favorite hen, Miss Yuna Belle, who also had many many health issues, fought back from death’s door at least four times before succumbing last summer at around age 8. So I never give up!

    • Kerrie says:

      Oh, I hope your hens make it! I, too, never give up. Last winter I had a hen in the garage for around a month. The vet wanted to put her down because she sounded like Darth Vader, but I keep diffusing the oils (in this case, Breathe and On Guard) and bringing her up to the hot steamy bathroom for breakfast to help clear her lungs, etc. etc. and she made a fabulous recovery. You just never know.

      Good luck with them!

      And yes, that is annoying to me, too, about syringes!! GACK! So far I’ve managed, but I sure wish they were move even tempered! :)

  8. Janet Flanigan says:

    I forgot to say: Derp is a Americauna

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