Sour and Impacted Crop in Backyard Chickens - Symptoms, Causes and Natural Treatment

As many of you know, Yvette lost her beloved hen Lily to sour crop this past January.  Even with the help of her vet, she was not able to save Lily. This prompted her to research sour crop in an effort to try and prevent it from happening again - or to be able to successfully treat it the next time if it does happen.  We hope that you will find this post informative.  If it saves even one chicken, Lily's death will not have been in vain.  It is so hard to lose a pet, and a chicken is no different.  

Sour Crop ~ What it is & how to identify it.

The chickens' crop is located beneath the neck and just to the right of the center of the breast area.  When chickens eat, the food goes directly into the crop, which will become engorged until the food continues through the digestive system.  The entire digestive system is roughly twelve inches long with the mouth at 1 inch, the crop at 3 inches, the stomach at 5 inches, the intestine between 6-11 inches and the rectum at 12 inches. If there is an infection or blockage anywhere along the digestive tract, the chicken can end up with a stopped-up crop.

The process of fully emptying the crop can take several hours, and generally happens overnight, depending on the amount of food ingested.  Each morning, the crop should be empty, and the extended crop should not be present.


Sour crop is caused when the crop does not fully empty.  This may cause the contents to become fermented, resulting in a bacterial / yeast infection within the crop.  Long grasses, excessive amounts of bread and pasta, moldy feed and inadequate amounts of grit can all contribute to sour crop, as can the chicken inadvertently swallowing pieces of plastic, rubber bands or other indigestible substances.


Like most things, prevention is easier than a cure. Prevention of sour crop includes limiting access to long or tough plant fibers, adequate fresh water with apple cider vinegar added several times a week (in a ratio of 1 Tablespoon/gallon of water) to keep the body alkaline versus acidic, and plain yogurt or probiotics on a weekly basis, as well as providing plenty of grit to aid in digestion.

Sour crop can also be a side effect of any illness that causes dehydration. Unfortunately crops swollen with food will draw even more water from the bloodstream, leading to further dehydration and more food backup. Therefore liquids are extremely important in treating sour crop and clean, fresh water is a necessity in the run at all times. Adding a smashed fresh garlic clove to the water can be beneficial as well to fight bacteria and strengthen the immune system.


Sour crop is best identified in the morning.  If the crop is extended and feels squishy, not hard, then the crop has not emptied as it normally should.   You also will notice a ‘sour’ smell coming from the beak of the chicken and in some cases a foul-smelling liquid may also leak out of the chickens mouth.   Your chicken may show signs of being lethargic. She may isolate herself – not eating or ‘scratching around’ as normal chicken behavior.  She may vomit and her skin may appear red instead of pink.

(Note: a hard crop can signal impacted crop which is a slightly different issue, also caused by large items in the crop that can't pass through the digestive system.  Impacted crop can be treated by lubricating the crop/digestive tract with vegetable oil in an eyedropper through the mouth and massaging the crop to try and break up the blockage, or in extreme cases actually slitting the crop open with a scalpel and removing the blockage. An impacted crop can actually press against the windpipe of the chicken and suffocate the hen.) 


If you suspect sour crop, isolating your chicken in a warm,quiet area, holding her upside down, gently massaging the crop in the direction of the head and carefully trying to induce vomiting, encouraging yogurt, olive oil and water with apple cider vinegar is a great way to start. Apple cider vinegar is an anti-fungal, and often avian vets will recommend it for cases of sour crop, since sour crop is basically a yeast infection.

Oregano oil is a natural antibiotic that can be helpful as well. It has been studied in commercial poultry houses in conjunction with cinnamon to work in place of antibiotics. Sprinkling a bit of cinnamon over some plain yogurt and adding a drop of oregano oil might be an option you would want to consider. (This is a good option for the oregano oil since it's already diluted in olive oil.) 

-Oil of Oregano oil diluted in olive oil can help prevent sour crop and get things moving again-
If after several days of home remedies the crop still seems abnormal, it is probably time for a visit to your vet.  There are several options that can be considered for treatment, including fluid injections and/or antibiotics, however it’s best to seek direct advice from an Avian Veterinarian.

The pharmacy at the
 Virginia Beach Veterinary Hospital
Many thanks to Yvette for doing all the research and writing up this information to share with you.  

The Poultry Pages/  
Chicken Vet UK

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  1. Thanks for sharing this information with us. I had been going to ask about impacted crop, so thanks for explaining that a bit, too.

    I do want to add that I am sorry for Yvette's loss, but grateful she shared her research with us. ♥

  2. You are welcome...good information to keep bookmarked, just in case. Hopefully no one will go through what Yvette did, but I agree, some good can come out of this.

  3. Very informative post, and my condolences on your loss.

  4. Sorry, one of our fowls was struck by lightning. I know how you feel.

  5. I have a young hen who lays daily, and acts very healthy, but seems to develop a huge, enlarged crop for a few days at a time. I have tried to massage her crop at night, and it does help, and the it has usually gone away within a few days, only to return again. I hate to ask such details, but what were the signs that your hen was really in trouble? I don't have a way to isolate her right now, and she has an enlarged crop again, but I don't also want to wait to long and cause her to be sick. I have a hen in isolation (we adopted a stray) for a couple more weeks and then the cage will be free. Did she die suddenly?

  6. I too lost a beloved Wydotte to Sour Crop. I have discovered many things are beyond our control no matter how hard we try to "save" them.

    1. That can be true for sure but we at least have to try. Losses are even harder tho I think when we do try so hard and lose anyway.

  7. I have a biddy that has a large lump. It was hard last night
    but with a lot of water and massage it's become mushy. Hoping it will pass either out her mouth or digest soon.. thank you so much for all your info..sorry for your loss..

  8. hey a question I need to ask is Cracked Corn a substiture for Grit in the diet. I have never added grit but I do mix my bag of layena feed with a bag of cracked corn and I was doing so assuming it worked as a grit and it also stretched my feed and added another source of food to their feed. I don't buy the scratch as I think Cracked Corn is cheaper and I have yet put planned on adding a bag of seeds to the mixture. I Know they say it has no nutritional value but it seems to be preferred by my roos. I have recently started adding Poultry Conditioner to their feed for the past 5 days as my girls were either molting or getting their feathers broken from aggressive Roos.

  9. I am going to also start using my crushed shells to their feed for additional grit and any
    other properties it would give them. I have just started adding garlic and acv to their water and some garlic to treat feeds that I give them when I have foods appropiate to give them. It has or something has helped remove the dark spots my roos had on their cones. I also put DE thickly on their cones so I am not sure what is the thing that helped get rid of most of their dark spots. The chickens are dusted and their bedding is dusted reglarly with DE as well. But never did I put heavily on their cones. So I am not sure what did the trick. I probably should have not done all at once to see what worked and what didn't. Anyway l would appreciate if you answered my question on the Cracked Corn and any info would be a great help as I am not even a year into this and am learning as I go.