Treating pendulous crop in chickens

Today I want to talk about an issue that I have been dealing with in one of my hens. I noticed one day that this hens crop was much larger than usual and it seemed full even early in the morning. This is a condition called pendulous crop and it the sooner it is treated, the easier it is to treat.

chicken with pendulous crop

The crop is the portion of a chickens digestive tract that holds their food before it moves down to the proventriculus and gizzard. As they eat during the day, the crop fills up. By bedtime the crop is pretty full. In fact, it is visible on most chickens at this point. Overnight as the food digests, the crop slowly empties. 

By morning the crop should be completely flat and undetectable under the feathers.

Pendulous crop can be identified by the crop not fully emptying as the chicken sleeps at night. In the morning the crop looks just as full as it does at night. The full crop can also have a wobbly appearance when the chicken runs. 

Pendulous crop is not painful for the chicken, but is causing damage to the muscles so it needs cared for as soon as possible.

What causes pendulous crop?

Pendulous crop is often caused by a blockage in the crop. If a chicken eats long grasses, hay, straw or other difficult to digest foods they can sort of ball up and get stuck in the crop. If this is not causing a complete blockage the chicken will continue to eat each day. 

Since the chicken is eating more food, on top of the food already stuck in there, this causes the muscles of the crop to stretch more than they would normally. The weight of this causes the crop to hang down. 

Over time those muscles can lose their shape and with the crop hanging down like that, it will have even more problems emptying. This can cause sour crop. 

Related reading: Treating Sour Crop.

A blockage can also be caused by eating foreign objects, but you will need an avian vets help to remove those as that would require surgery. We're going to go with the premise that it's just a feed clog stuck in the crop for this treatment...

Hen with pendulous crop

Treating a chicken with pendulous crop

The first thing you'll want to do is to cage your affected chicken separately from the flock. I put the cage in the coop so she can still see her friends. No need for quarantine as this is not contagious. I usually start at bedtime and asses her condition in the morning.

Provide her with water but no food. You'll need to check the condition of her crop at night and again in the morning. Since the crop empties overnight you should see a difference in the size of her crop, as it should be smaller by morning.

If her crop has shrunk considerably overnight but still has some food in it, the chicken might just need an easy to digest diet for a few days to empty it completely and give it time to heal a bit. A completely stretched out crop will not heal, but a mild case caught early can heal!

Provide her with a small bowl of grit. You can offer her small amounts of food, a tablespoon at a time, 4-5 times during the day.
boiled egg yolk 
pumpkin puree 

veggies: carrots, broccoli, peas, squash, cauliflower etc that are cooked until they're very, very soft. Avoid anything with strings or skins and remove seeds at this point.

You don't want to withhold food in mild cases because obviously it's best if she's eating every day. Rather, you need to feed her easy to digest foods in such a way that gives the crop time to empty in between feedings. This will hopefully help the crop to empty completely and go back to it's normal size.

You may have to restrict her diet like this for a few days, although you can start adding her regular feed into it after 2 days. Just make sure to stick to the small amounts, and provide lots of water!

Once her crop is back to normal size she can return to the flock, but keep an eye on her that things stay normal.

If her crop does not return to normal size, she will probably always have problems with it not emptying completely each night. You can make her a chicken bra of sorts to hold her crop up in the proper position. It's sort of like a chicken apron for her front. This allows the crop to function more normally.

Treating impacted crop

If the crop is not emptying at all you'll need to take more drastic measures as it is probably impacted. You'll start by withholding food for 24 hours. About halfway through the day, take an eye dropper or syringe and give her 1 teaspoon of olive oil orally. This is to help loosen up the mass and lubricate everything to help it move through.

Make sure to provide plenty of clean, cool water for her to drink as that will help also. Feel her crop at the end of the 24 hour period. If it is still firm you will have to start massages.

Massaging the crop can help to break up the ball of food that's stuck in it. When I had a pullet with an impacted crop I did this 3 times day.

You'll start by giving the chicken a teaspoon of olive oil by mouth as mentioned above. Using 2-3 fingers, massage the crop very gently. Start at the bottom of the crop and move up. The object is to help break up the lump. This separates it and helps the olive oil to penetrate it.

Hopefully this is all it takes to start getting things moving along. If after several sessions of massage the crop is still the same size, you may need to consult with a vet to have the crop surgically emptied.

If the massages are making progress, you can add small amounts of food after a day or two. Same as above, only a tablespoon at a time and feed very wet soft foods like pumpkin puree, applesauce, yogurt. Feed about an hour after the massage.
Be careful as this is a very fine line between your chicken needing calories and giving her something that may worsen the problem.

Preventing impacted and pendulous crop

It could be a physical defect or the hens eating habits that can cause these problems to begin with, but once a chicken has an impacted or pendulous crop you'll want to keep an eye on her as it seems they are more prone to reoccurrences.

If you find the affected chicken tends to eat hay bedding or long grasses, then changing to a different bedding and keeping grass cut will help prevent future problems. 

Provide multiple sources of clean, cool water to your flock. Provide these in different places, especially if they free range. Not having enough water can contribute to impacted crop as the contents of the crop become too dry to move along properly.

If you notice the crop not emptying overnight or it seems abnormally large, start the treatment again. 

If caught early, pendulous crop can be treated and the hen can live a normal life afterwards!

Want to know more about raising chickens? Check out my most read chicken keeping articles!


Want to know more about raising chickens? Check out my most read chicken keeping articles!

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  1. I am treating a chicken that was impacted. We did surgery to empty it and fed beef/ veggi broth for the days following. Then I gave her some wet medicated chick feed...It didn't digest and became sour. Now I'm trying to burp her and will begin treatment with nystatin once I get her crop mostly empty. I will continue with the broth but can she eat worms too? They are pretty easy and cheap and she loves them and they are full of protein. she hates baby food and will sometimes turn her nose up at scrambled eggs... I just need to know what to feed her that she will be able to digest while treating with antifungal.


    1. It sounds like you are doing all the right things! She should be able to eat scrambled eggs, mealworms or other worms of you can get them, a little bit of yogurt and other easy to digest foods. I hope she feels better soon!


    2. It's terrible the proper way to treat impacted sour crop isn't easily found online. Everything I saw said to empty the crop by holding them upside down.

  2. Oh I wish I'd had this info and how to properly treat sour crop last Summer! My precious girl, Jessica, developed it, and sadly passed away 24hrs later.

    1. Awww, I am so sorry that you lost your hen! It's so hard when that happens.
      My condolences.