Monday, June 3, 2013

The Chicken Diaries 1: Sour Crop

I decided to start this series to share my experiences & insights as we raise our chickens. One of our 2.5 month old chicks, Chipmunk, has a sour crop. I decided to write down our experiences as we treat her for this.

Image credit: Fresh Eggs Daily
For those that don't know, the crop is part of the digestive system in a chicken. It is pretty easy to locate on your chicken, especially after they have eaten a large meal. When the crop does not fully empty over night, as it is supposed to, the contents inside of the crop can begin to ferment & turn sour. Often times there is a foul smell coming from the chicken's mouth. The crop will be enlarged and full of fluid. This can be caused by a variety of things. If the chicken eats something that blocks the crop from emptying (long strands of grass or hay or something such as a piece of twine), the chicken can drink a lot trying to pass the blockage. Some chickens may be structurally more prone to crop issues. An underlying infection or recent use of antibiotics may also be the cause. A chicken with a sour crop will often times act lethargic and not feel like eating. You will often times notice their "off" behavior and discover the crop issue soon after.

There seems to be quite a few opinions on how exactly to treat sour crop. Some advocate manually inducing vomiting in the chicken to expel the rotten crop contents, but this has a high chance of aspiration. As a result, the chicken can choke & die, or get fluid into the lungs which can then cause a serious respiratory issue that can be deadly in itself. Some with hold food & water for 24 hours, then start them on soft, easy to digest foods (no grains). Some use a variety of anti-fungal medicine (from monistat to foot fungal creams to traditional vet prescribed meds) to kill the accompanying infection in sour crop. Some use apple cider vinegar in the water, but others say this is harmful. Some advocate soaked bread in oil to help "grease things along", while some say that bread just feeds the fungal infection and oil is too hard to digest. Some use crop massage to help move things along. Some mix an epsom salt mixture to move things through the digestive system. A lot of people advocate dosing the chicken with yogurt containing live cultures, others say this is pointless if they are on an anti-fungal or anti-biotic. Some like to flush out the crop using apple cider vinegar. Others recommend using unflavored tums or baking soda in their water. I'm sure I'm leaving out some methods of treatment as well. So you can see how it can be quite confusing on what to do!

Chipmunk, the day before getting sour crop.

Day 1: Chipmunk was the last one out of the coop, slowly behind everyone else, which immediately caught my eye. I continued to watch her and noticed she was not eating or playing or acting normal at all. She was standing off by herself in a corner, head drawn in, and somewhat puffed up. I picked her up for inspection, and immediately noticed the liquid filled crop. I've heard it described as feeling like a water balloon, and it definitely does. I tried tempting her to eat her favorite treat and she was not interested at all. I brought her inside to monitor her and keep her comfortable. I tried offering hard boiled egg (I was able to coax her to eat some), yogurt (wasn't interested), and her normal crumbles (just pecked at). I was hoping that her crop would empty over night.

Day 2: Crop emptied a little, but still pretty full of liquid. Still sluggish. Not going to the bathroom at all over night up until the afternoon. Brought her to our vet, who agreed about the sour crop. She happened to poop in the office so she ran a fecal test which indicated an infection. Our vet said it wasn't too bad yet and she would probably recover if we could get things moving. She did not have a swollen abdomen or any mites or any other issues. In the office she was given an injection of Bayril (anti-biotic) and Reglan (to get things moving), and some sub-q fluids. Our vet advised us to try to get her to eat to help things move along. When we got home she was already acting perkier! She started eating some crumbles, but still drinking a lot. I did not have to give her any meds that night. I gave her a syringe-full of yogurt which she ate.

Day 3: Seems to be feeling a bit better! Going to the bathroom more, although it has odd green globs in it (which I assume is from the infection), but that shows that at least things are starting to move through her system. She has been eating her crumbles all morning & had a syringe full of yogurt. We gave her the first doses of her liquid Baytril (.6 ml) and Reglan (.4ml) which she will be getting twice a day by mouth. She has eaten more today than the last two days, although still not as much as I'd like. She happily had her nightly dose of medicine. I've been massaging her crop in a downward motion as well, to try to get things moving. She is having a nightly dose of yogurt as well.

Day 4: Her crop emptied overnight! She also had a little tantrum and knocked over the food container, which is a good sign! She had quite a few big poops as well, all filled with very long strands of grass. So I think we know what caused this now. Normally chickens will break the ends off of grass to eat in smaller sections, but sometimes in their excitement (especially with younger birds, like Chipmunk) they will grab whole strands and swallow them whole. Some develop a habit of this and will also eat long strands of hay. She seems to have passed most of the blockage now and seems to be feeling so much better. She has been eating all day, although not as much as I'd like. She has been very active! Still getting her nightly doses of medicine + yogurt.

Day 5: Doing great this morning, crop empty again! Lots of normal poops. She still needs to be on her medicine for five more days though to finish the course. I'm hoping to see her eat more today. She has gotten very antsy being stuck inside and since she was feeling so much better, we let her back out with the others in the afternoon. She ran right for the feeder! She was pretty lively all afternoon and was eating. We decided that if she went in and was roosting on her own, we'd let her stay out for the night. When we went to check on her, she was in one of the prime spots on the top roost, so she seems to be doing well.

Day 6: Doing great! Eating like crazy, so her appetite is back! Looks like she can remain outside with the others. She's not thrilled about her medicine anymore (maybe she's getting sick of the strawberry flavor!) but she's still taking it well. Only four more days of the medicine to finish the course. She ate a ton today! Crop full of food by bed time.

Day 7: Crop emptied properly overnight! Seems she has made a full recovery. I will continue to watch her the rest of the week and finish her course of medicine.

Follow Up: She has still been doing great! We finished her course of medicine and followed up with giving her yogurt to restore good gut flora. My overall opinion of treating sour crop is that treating it early, before it gets too out of hand, is key to a full recovery.

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