Every once in a while we will have a Marans, especially under 6 months old, that will develop an impacted crop. If it is caught early enough, it is correctable, but if your chicken doesn’t show any symptoms, or you just don’t happen to notice, then if untreated it will kill them. For the last week I have been working on one of my young blue cockerels, and thought it would make for a good topic here.
WHat is impacted crop?
When a chicken eats, the food doesn’t go straight to its stomach, it first goes into their crop where it is ground down before passing on to their stomach. This is why chickens need grit, an abrasive material to help grind down whatever they eat. The crop is a small sack high on their breast, just beneath the neck. Think of it as a balloon with the neck of the balloon pointed downwards. If you block the air escaping from the balloon, it will remain full. This is what happens in an impacted crop. A piece of food can become lodged in that passageway, preventing any other food from passing on to the stomach. If the blockage is so severe that no food can get by, the bird will slowly starve to death.
In the early stages you may notice your bird shaking its head from side to side in a jerky motion. It is trying to shake the food loose. If you see this, pick your bird up and feel for a hard ball, about the size of a pinball, in the bird’s crop. The best time to check for this is early morning. Chickens gorge themselves in the evenings before going to roost, and their crops will always be full, but they should be empty in the mornings.
If your chicken doesn’t exhibit the head shaking, and they don’t always do that, then the next phase is a steady loss of energy. They will become very lethargic, letting their tails droop as they walk, and in the later stages will become very unsteady on their feet. They are slowly starving, and this is how bad my little cockerel was before I caught it. Marans are fluffy birds, so a packed crop or weight loss isn’t easily noticed just by looking at them. If it isn’t treated right away, they will die.
If you Google “impacted crop treatment”, there are many different methods for freeing up the blockage. I have tried a few different ways, but here I will give the example of the one that works best for me, is easiest on the bird, and seems to have the longest lasting effect. Some of the methods that rapidly unclog the crop will allow the crop to become impacted again within a day or two. All you need is some cultured yogurt, a stimulant free stool softener in gel tab form, and a 10cc medicine dropper.
Take a spoonful of yogurt, then puncture the stool softener gel tab. Squeeze the softener into the yogurt, then mix thoroughly. Get at least 5cc of the mixture into the dropper. Some chickens will eat the mixture on their own, but if not you will have to hold their beak open and make them eat it. Place a little on their tongue, and they will have to swallow it, chickens can’t spit. Keep doing this until they have eaten the 5cc of mixture, then give them a little water. The next step is the most important, hold the chicken firmly and begin massaging the hard mass with your fingers. You can feel it moving around in the crop, but as the softener begins to mix in with the food you can feel it start to break up. Massage slowly for 10-15 minutes, breaking up as much of the mass as you can. You will feel it turn from a hard ball into a soft, gooey like, mixture in their crop. This is best done in the evening, when the chicken will be going to roost and not eating any more for a while. It’s even more effective if you can isolate the bird and only let them have water for 24 hours. The stool softener will continue dissolving the food in the crop, and as it softens it will start to pass to the stomach. If you have the chicken isolated, watch for fresh droppings, that is a sign that the food is making it through.
Keep an eye on your bird every day for at least two weeks afterward. The muscles of the crop could have been stretched, and it’s not uncommon for impacted crop to reoccur. Just treat and massage with the same method described before.
It took two treatments to get my little guy back on his feet, but he’s slowly regaining his energy and getting a little more spring in his step. I think he’s going to make it, but I’ll keep a close eye on him for the next few weeks.
Hopefully you will never had to deal with this issue, but if you do, try my method to free the blockage. I’ve had to use it a few times over the years, and it works