Thursday, May 05, 2011

Chicken First Aid

Distressing news - we have one hen, Sadie, who seems to have developed sour crop, aka impacted crop.  Does anyone know any advice? She has not been well the past four days, is not eating or drinking, is sensitive to touch, with a distended crop, and basically just conserving her energy by sleeping or crouching.  She doesn't look good at all, and now that we've quarantined here in a quiet corner of our greenhouse away from the other hens, she just hovers on her straw bed with head tucked under wing or turning her back to us when we try to feed or give her water.

We've been trying to learn more about what to do, and although there are plenty of people we know locally who do keep hens, no one knows exactly what a remedy would be.  From reading about this, we see that sour crop comes from a hen eating something that is unable to pass through the crop (e.g. long greens or long grass, without sufficient grit), therefore sitting in the crop fermenting and obstructing further food intake or digestion.  So, what some suggest is to try to get the hen to vomit out the mass by massaging her crop while holding her upside down.  This worked to some degree, and although we've tried this we have never dealt with this situation before so don't really know what we are doing - and distressing because some people write about the hen dying fairly immediately from sour crop, while others say their hen perked up again after a few days/weeks of resting.  It brings up all sorts of moral issues for us too, should we be keeping hens at all, how to best offer care, when to end suffering, how do you know?

The second part of the remedy includes giving baking soda water (to provide an antacid), also 1 drop of rescue remedy in water; then followed by molasses water or home-made electrolyte solution (fruit juice, etc), or organic vegetable broth water to provide some nutrition and energy.  Then there were suggestions like live culture yogurt (to bring healthy flora back into the digestive tract), and the following all purpose recipe for sick hens in recovery (I can't remember where I found it).  Of course, as preventative measures always providing fresh clean bedding, fresh clean drinking water, and enough grit with the food (crushed oyster shells), and the occasional garlic in their feed/water, is important for maintaining chicken health in general.

Hen Recovery Diet
1 cooked egg yolk, crumbled
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp yogurt
2-4 Tbsp rolled oats
a few grains multivitamin powder
2 Tbsp grated apple
a few drops echinacea, bee propolis or goldenseal

There is a lot to learn about caring for animals, and if possible it's good to have some resources ready and basic first aid knowledge ahead of time so you are prepared as best you can be.   We found this article helpful, written by a hen keeper from Salt Spring Island; and we are also grateful to the network of urban chicken keepers including members of the Waterloo Hen Association (and a few of our farm friends) who we are able to call on for advice.


  1. Poor Sadie, and poor you! Wish I had some great advice. Good luck.

  2. if you don't already know there is a yahoo group for chicken keepers who raise their birds organically. There is a wealth of information there. I joined a few months ago and there have been several discussions since then about sour crop and how to care for it. OrganicChickens is the name.

  3. AnonymousMay 10, 2011

    Wondering how Sadie is doing. My Ruby just came down with this today. Sad little hen, cuddled in a corner of a dog crate in my bathroom.