Last Saturday when Lina let the chickens out for the morning, she noticed one acting strange. She immediately went under a tree, instead of eating with her sisters. Her mouth would move open slightly and make a wheezing noise over and over. She wasn’t making any of the usual clucking or other normal chicken noises. Her tail was down, her feathers were all puffed up and she was not moving around like the other chickens. After a couple of minutes observing her, she called me outside.
I was getting ready for my second to last day of the permaculture design course I’d been taking, and already stressed out. Lina pointed out the chicken and I picked her up. It was one of our Rhode Island reds which tend to not mind, or even enjoy being handled. But when I picked this one up, she was even more docile than usual. Lina got on the interwebs and started searching.
One of the first hits she got for sick chickens was worms. There are many worms than can infest chickens, among the worse are gapeworm. A chicken infested with gapeworm may show symptoms very similar to what we were observing. There was also brief discussion of mites and viruses. We decided we should quarantine her, and made a makeshift infirmary in the garage.
Admittedly, we sort of thought she might be a goner. We talked about taking her to a vet, and even called the local emergency vet, that had helped us with some other poultry problems we had last summer. We contacted our regular vet via text too. She is really great about soothing our more than occasional paranoia fueled pet crises. Some internet searches suggested surgery was going to be her only hope. Tensions were high.
As I was handling her, I felt that her crop was hard.
Lina didn’t think she had eaten, so I thought that might be another symptom. So back to Dr. Internet, DVM. The first hit was for impacted crop. Since this blocks the GI tract, this is a potentially life threatening condition, and has lead to many a backyard chickens’ early demise. The symptoms matched and the home treatment was to pour either olive oil, warm water or both down her throat and massage the hard lump until it was able to pass. Still in my bathrobe, I ran downstairs with a coffee mug of warm water and olive oil, and a kids medicine syringe. Lina was trying to keep things under control upstairs; making the kids happy, breakfast, trying to figure out how we could help our poor chicken and checking the other birds for symptoms.
I got probably 25 ml of the oil/water mix down her throat. She didn’t resist at all, and maybe even liked the attention. I started massaging the hard lump, and after a few minutes it had gone from feeling like a golf ball to a water balloon. One word of caution that I didn’t read until later; it is very important not to let the chicken aspirate the oil. This can cause a life threatening condition!
By now I was concerned with getting to class on time, so I plopped her back in her hospital bed (a plastic tote with a bath towel on the bottom) and ran out the door. In class I mentioned our morning ordeal with a fellow chicken herder. She mentioned the oil/water home remedy, with a modification. When she had done this to one of her chickens, she tipped it upside down after administering olive oil only. This allowed her bird to expel the mass in her crop. She also said that her bird’s breath was quite rank, and was probably suffering from a related condition called “sour crop.” This is an impaction that has been stuck long enough for the contents to begin rotting right inside the crop, creating a foul odor and risk of bacterial infection, in addition to the problems associated with impacted crop.
Lina kept an eye on her all day, and got another 15 ml of anti-impaction concoction in her. The other chickens did not present with symptoms. By the time I got home at 7:00pm, she looked slightly better, but was still gasping and making wheezing noises. We said goodnight, and hoped for the best.
By the next morning she was looking a lot better. She was still gasping, but not as frequently. We offered her some yogurt, and she hungrily ate it up. She had also pooped quite a bit during the night, which was encouraging. We were still concerned, however. Most of the forums we had read said that we should expect more immediate results from the home remedy. So we were thinking that maybe we did have bigger problems. We began to research antibiotics and antihelminthics.
Lina went down to check on her again before I left for class again. The chicken was looking a lot better. She was walking around and making some normal chicken sounds. Lina also noticed that her tail had moved back to its upright-prepared-for-landing position. We decided to give her another day before getting her on drugs. I let her out in the front yard for a couple minutes. She looked almost normal, poking around the grass and strutting around. Her gasping was much less frequent, down from many times per minute to maybe just one or two. Throughout the day she had two soft meals and some scratch, to make sure her crop was functioning normally. She passed her finals!
We are happy to say that this morning she got released in to general population. After a moment of disapproval about being taken from her dry garage and put into the soggy back yard, she disappeared into the flock.
Now that you know more than you ever wanted about impacted crops, we hope that you will never have to deal with one.
On a happier note, with our increasing daylight hours, our chickens are laying more. We even have an over achiever, as you may notice in the photos below.
Thanks for reading!