Monday, June 20, 2011

Chicken with swollen chest

Last weekend while I was pottering in the garden I saw Gerty doing the most disturbing dance. She was bending her neck side to side just like you do when you walk like an Egyptian. I have found chickens to have a large vocabulary of odd and wonderful behaviour. But this was like nothing I had ever seen before and it certainly wasn't wonderful. In fact I was scarred I wouldn't see her alive the following morning. At the time I had suspected she had gotten something stuck in her neck and I just hoped it wasn't something I had miss fed her.

Well the next day she was fine. It appeared she had worked the Egyptian out of her system and was walking and eating normally. All week she has appeared well, except this weekend I noticed she has developed a swollen chest. Now I am back to being concerned.

After some internet research I have come to learn that the swollen area is her stomach, or crop, as it is called in chickens. The area can apparently often appear swollen just after the chicken has fed, but should be gone by morning. This however is not the case for Gerty. Continued research revealed that, even though uncommon, chickens can get tough grasses, straw, sawdust, hard grains or meat bones lodged in their crop. The strange neck movements are an attempt to dislodge the blockage. Over time the blockage will either start to rot and cause a condition called sour crop or will harden, known as an impacted crop.

The treatments I have found have me rather nervous. For sour crop the recommendation is to make the chicken vomit. This however is highly dangerous. If any of the rotten fluid ends up in the chicken’s lungs it could lead to pneumonia. And the treatment will definitely be stressful to her, and me. For impact crop the recommendation is to drip some vegetable oil down her throat to help lubricate the blockage. Once again this comes with a very big warning as it is easy to get oil in the lungs.

In both cases, from what I have read, it is recommended to stop feeding solids and instead put her on a diet of broth. To enable this it is suggested that she be isolate from her brood. However I am nervous the stress of being isolated will do more harm than good. So starting tomorrow I am not going to feed any of the chickens solids and only provide them with broth. I am sure the other girls will cope. I will however not be able to stop her from feeding from what's in the ground. I might also add some olive oil to the broth.

I would love to hear other peoples experiences or advise.


  1. Hi Jason, I have a chook with the exact same problem. I was told to give her yoghurt for the sour crop but I was stupid and let her keep eating the pellets as well so she became impacted. I was then told to use liquid paraffin to remove the blockage which did seem to work. I just used a syringe and put it under her tongue, that way she can't aspirate it into her lungs. You can also massage the crop to keep the food moving.

    My chook still gets a bit pendulous in the afternoons but she is not sour or impacted anymore. I only feed her layer mash either dry or wet now. No pellets or scratch mix.

    Good luck with your girl.

    I have held her hanging forward a bit to let some of the liquid come out but you're right it is dangerous to hold them upside down.

  2. Best of luck with Gerty Jason. I hope the broth works.


  3. I would have a feel of the crop first thing in the morning to see if it is squashy and fluid filled like a water balloon, or hard with an impaction (which may need gentle massaging after giving oil to help break it up), that way you'll have a better idea what you're dealing with. Be careful not to squeeze the contents up into her mouth because aspiration is a real problem then, give probiotics in some form as soon as you can and definitely no solids until the crop has emptied. I hope she get better soon!

  4. Best of luck Jason. I'm with greenfumb above. Hope Gerty recovers.

  5. Greenfumb it's reassuring to hear a similar story particularly as yours had a happy ending. I think I will stick with olive oil over paraffin but I will take your advise and give her a massage.

    Kat the crop is squashy. So hopefully that means she doesn't have an impaction. I guess that is the importance of cutting out solids to help prevent impaction for occurring. And thanks for the tip about be careful not to squeeze to hard. It is simple little tips like that that are so important.

    Gavin & Mrs Bok thank you both for wishing us luck. Helps to make me feel supported.

  6. I don't really have any more to add Jason, good luck Gert, I'm with the advise above also - esp the light massaging - A book I swear by is : here:

    I first borrowed it from our local library, Woodcroft or Noarlunga.

    Good luck!

  7. Oh dear oh dear oh dear...I worry when chickens get sick, especially ones that live in our backyards! I hope she recovers soon, Jason, I'm sorry I don't have any advice to offer. I'll try and find our chicken book and see if there's anything in there...

  8. Yollie yes that is a great book. Would you believe I forgot I even own a copy. Thanks for the reminder, I will look through it tonight.

    Celia your concern and wishes are more than enough. She is still running around so that's a good sign.

  9. HOw is the chook? Any word on her progress?
    Have decided to take your advice and not do raised garden beds, and will do the cardboard, the newspaper, etc, straight onto the ground. Thanks

  10. Leanne there has been no real change. Which could be considered good or bad. Bad that the lump is still there. Good that the lump is still squishy and that she is still running around quite lively. Not wanting to separate her from the group, all the chickens are on a diet of broth. We have been giving her olive oil (not easy to do) and a massage.

    Lovely to hear my comment has help with your decision. Like I said raised beds are good in colder climates, or if you have back or knee trouble. Also good to keep small children out.

  11. Hi Jason
    Is your chook ok?

  12. Amy unfortunately it's not looking good. She still has the lump, despite daily oil, broth, yoghurt and massage, and appears to be getting weaker. I still have hope that she will hang in there until the blockage moves.

  13. Thats terrible news. Poor Gerty. Can you take her to the Vet, they could put a tube down and unblock the blockage...maybe??

  14. Amy from what I have read the medical approach is to perform surgery, removing the blockage directly out of the crop. This however comes with risk, death during and after surgery. Of course she is also at risk now. My thoughts are to let nature take its course, which ever direction it has install for her. She is a treasured individual who will be missed if she does depart this life. But I do not fear her death. Her life will be celebrated regardless of the outcome.

  15. Hi Jason, As you probably know, chooks (and all birds) have a pouch (their first of 4 stomachs) in the front of their neck. All the seeds, grain, insects, greens and other foods they eat ends up there first, to be pre-digested. They also eat (and essentially must have) grits in their diet, to help crush up and digest harder foods, like grains. They will eat quite a bit of small stones and gravel in their daily digging to help with this, if grit isn't available in their given diet. In some species of chooks, as well as in some individuals, as well as with different kinds of foods, it can all sit in that first pouch for a little longer than other times. If it becomes a worry, you can very gently massage this crop and move the food around a bit, helping with digestion. Sour crop can come from, most commonly, fermenting of food in that first pouch. In that case, I would avoid giving them hard feed, acid foods or anything that might aid in that fermentation. Chooks have been around a long time on the earth and are a lot hardier than we think. Usually, with a little self-imposed 'bed rest' (just like us) they work out most health issues.


If you don't know which option to select... Name/URL is a recommended option. And you only need to provide a name.