Pendulous Crop

Chicken with Pendulous Crop

You can feel a chicken’s crop on the lower part of her neck when it’s full after eating. It will empty overnight, but if it becomes blocked, a condition called pendulous crop can occur. 

The crop is part of the oesophagus (food pipe) at the base of the neck and is the first stage of digestion for a chicken; it contains food, water and grit (used for digestion).  When full, the crop is tennis ball-sized. You can sometimes feel the contents of the crop when handling chickens, and it can certainly be seen immediately after a chicken has been eating.

A pendulous crop is when the crop gets blocked, and the food cannot move down to the next part of the digestive system.

The weight of the food stretches the chicken’s crop so that it hangs down lower than it should (and often swings ‘like a pendulum’ as the bird moves around, giving it the name of a pendulous crop).

Whilst a chicken may be able to live for some time like this and appear to be in no pain, there is damage being done to the muscles in the crop due to the weight of the food and the more food that goes into it, the more it is being stretched, so it is best to address the problem sooner than later.

Crop Impaction

Causes of a pendulous crop

This problem is very similar to an impacted crop, but in the case of a pendulous crop, the crop has been stretched by the weight of the food inside the crop and the muscles have been stretched, damaging the crop, so that it is unable to push food down to the proventriculus.


Mild cases:

A pendulous crop can be emptied in the same way as you would for an impacted crop. Still, vets usually advise only giving a bird drinking water for 24 to 36 hours in mild cases before gradually re-introducing their food to see if the crop will empty.

Serious Cases:

We can soften the contents of the crop before turning the bird upside down and massaging the crop for a few seconds at a time to empty the crop. There is a risk of the bird choking, so you must allow the bird a chance to catch its breath in between. This doesn’t always work (you can’t always empty the crop fully), so if you are in any way unsure, it is better to allow a vet to perform a procedure to cut the crop open and empty it under a local anaesthetic.

Tip: When is the crop not functioning correctly?

Chickens crops look big when full (up to tennis ball size). It is normal for the crop to expand and contract; it's part of the normal digestion process. It should empty on its own when functioning correctly. If you are concerned, check the crop has emptied in the morning before a bird has eaten.

Birds digest food differently from mammals, so it helps us to understand how the digestive system of a chicken works.

Emptying the crop

As already mentioned above, there is a risk of the bird choking when emptying the crop, so if you are unsure about this, it is best left to your veterinary surgeon.
Emptying a chicken’s crop is straightforward but an advanced technique that can be very stressful for a chicken.

Emptying a chicken’s crop is a two-person job; you will need to turn the bird upside down to empty the crop through the beak.

First, pour either Liquid Paraffin or warm water with a couple of teaspoons of Olive Oil down the throat and massage the crop for 5 minutes. Whilst holding the bird firmly, turn the bird upside down and massage the contents out through the beak for a short while 5 seconds is usually long enough – before turning the bird back up the right way to breathe.

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