Medical Help – Crop Surgery

Well, you can add one more thing to the list of things I never thought I would do in a million years.  I operated on a hen tonight and performed crop surgery. 

She has been impacted for at least three weeks, getting more and more frail.  I’ve had her inside and have been feeding her soft foods and olive oil and doing regular deep tissue massages in an effort to break up the hard mass in her crop.  When she could no longer eat and it was apparent she was having difficulty swallowing and was skin and bones I felt I had no choice but to try and save her.  When I laid her on her side to examine her, black foul-smelling liquid began pouring out.  So, I first held her upside down for about 20 minutes while massaging the crop and being very careful that her head stayed down so that she would not choke or inhale and drown on the awful black smelling liquid that just kept pouring out of her mouth.  There must have been at least a cup of it to come out. 

Then I was able to examine her and the crop was still the size of a softball or larger and hard.  I knew I had to open her up.  I got my trusty assistant Boaz to help.  His job was to hold her.  We laid her on her side and covered her head with a towel and she NEVER moved, never flinched.  In fact, at one point, he said “I don’t think she’s still with us” and wanted to move the towel or rouse her to see if she was still alive.  But I knew since she had not so much as flinched that she was still alive and I just kept working on her.  The following pictures say it all – they are graphic but informative.  Only time will tell if she will recover but as soon as I finished stitching her back up (first the crop, twice, and then the outer skin) she sat up and looked around and started walking around.

Here is when I first started pulling out all the mass of hay/straw/grass that was in her:

Here is some of it after I got it out – looks like she ate a nest.

Here you can see the incision (about an inch) after the crop was emptied and before I stitched it closed:

And here is the outer stitching that closed up the skin.


Just had to do another crop surgery so I took pics of all steps.  This one was a little different.  Husband came in with a hen in his arms and said “feel this”.  She (her crop) was huge, and hard.  It was all the way up her neck and all across her chest.  It was hard as a rock.  She was gasping for air.  To make matters worse it seems as if either the roosters had gotten to her while she was on the ground and/or our dog Scarlett, while rescuing her, had sent her into shock.   Scarlett is our GSD and is great with the chickens.  When she hears a hen scream she goes running.  She will pull the roosters off the hen and sit with her between her legs. Sometimes she carries them back to the coop, very gently, by their head and/or neck (they are not fond of this). But most often she just sits with the hen. Husband said he found Scarlett sitting by this one and picked it up thinking she was dead.  She wasn’t, but she was bleeding from her nose and eyes and could not lift her head.  I thought she was dying and was sure she would.  I also thought there might be a possiblity that the crop was so huge and backed up that it was cutting off circulation and air flow.  In any event, I opened her up immediately thinking she wouldn’t make it another minute if I didn’t.  I felt there was no time to isolate her all night and see if it was down in the morning.  Besides, I’ve never seen any crop as huge, hard and backed up as high as it was.

Here are the photos – after I dug all the packed in food out:

Here’s what came out of her:

A huge, heavy bowl of packed feed and fermented corn.  The smell of the fermented corn was awful.  Then I realized she was probably drunk since that’s how she acted.  She actually snored through the surgery.  I had to keep picking her up and washing her off because the food just kept coming out of her and I would even hold her head up during the surgery and she acted like she was asleep, she was like a rag doll.  No need to wrap her up and cover her head – she was really out of it.

Here’s the incision when I first made my cut through the outer layer and into the crop.  You can see the food start to bulge out on its own – you’ll also see there’s virtually no bleeding whatsoever:

Here’s the crop after I cleaned it out.  I had to make an incision big enough to get my finger in so that I could feel around and dig everything out.  It’s also important to feel all the way down and into the tube that goes out of the crop and into gizzard.  You’ll feel the tube and the muscles trying to force your finger down, once you have everything cleaned out.

Here’s how I sew up the crop:

First – make a stitch at one end leaving a long piece of string after you tie it off – but don’t cut the thread from the needle.  Use the long piece to gently pull the crop out of the incision area so that you can sew it up.

Then I make loop d’loops up one side:

And back down the other and tie it off to the piece of string I’ve been using to hold onto:

Now stitch up the other skin.  It’s easiest to make simple tie knot stitches – use as many as you need to close all gaps.

Immediately afterwards – The patient calmly sleeping in a kennel in the house afterwards.  I do swear she was drunk and is still sleeping it off.  I’m hoping she will be better by morning.

I don’t think there’s any way she ate this much today so I’m thinking at some point she gorged herself and it was impacted and she just kept eating and it kept getting bigger and bigger and then the corn started fermenting.

I hope the pictures and steps help others who have to do this – it’s really easy and will save their lives.

6 responses »

  1. Heya I have a little parrot that has pecked a hole in her crop and water ans food is just leaking out of her and I am already paying a 500 pound vet bill for her I was wondering if you could help…..can I use any cotton? How long do I leave it in before taking it out? Do I use any medication on her after it will obviously be different on a parrot though im so worried and I have no money…

    • The crop on a parrot would work the same way. I’m not sure a parrot will be as calm as the chickens are but you can cover its head and have someone help hold it. My chickens don’t even move, even with head uncovered, and actually look around as if nothing is happening. You might check with your vet and see if they would give or sell you a set of dissolvable sutures. It’s a curved needle with pre-threaded suture. A very small one is ideal. My vet gives them to me by the boxful when they reach their expiration date. But if not, a small sewing needle and regular thread will also work and will dissolve on its own. You will sew up the crop first. It’s a rubbery sack that you can even pull up and out of the body cavity a bit to be able to sew it up. You might need to make a larger incision in the outer skin to be able to work on the crop. (Not sure how large of a hole you’re talking about it pecked.) After you sew up the crop, there’s a tissue thin layer of outer covering that you can also sew up. It’s hard to see if it has already stretched away but it’s super thin and fragile. I sew it up separate from the crop. Finally, you’ll sew up the outer incision/skin area and be careful NOT to sew it to the crop. The crop should not be sewn to the outer skin. I would then put the bird on a wet mash feed for a few days. In your case, it’s different than an impacted crop. You’re dealing with self-inflicted injuries that I’ve heard parrots in captivity are prone to do – in which case, the parrot will probably want to peck out the sutures so you may need to devise something to cover it till it heals – maybe some vetwrap around the bird (going under the wings and around breast). I wish you well. Let me know how it turns out. I’ve done many, many of these surgeries and they heal amazing well and will eat immediately after. Since your bird has had an open wound for awhile, you might want to use some antibiotics also. I never do but then I’m opening the bird up and it has not had a wound that has been “leaking”. There are lots of over-the-counter antibiotics you can buy from feed stores and Tractor Supply. I’ve used them on peacocks and chickens and ducks when needed. Inject in muscle of breast. Or get the water soluble kind and mix it in the water for a week or so.

  2. wow. This is great. I have a few questions;
    1. did you pluck the feathers from her crop area first or just clip them short?
    2. what are you using to stitch the crop?special surgical thread? does it dissolve? same for the skin?
    3. do you need to put antibiotic ointment on the wound? dress it?
    4. how long did you keep them isolated?
    5. what did you feed them after the surgery? same food or something soft? Did you provide grit right away?

    Thanks a bunch for the info. Hope I don’t have to do this, but if I do, I’ll have a better understanding on how to do it. Thanks

    • I didn’t have to clip the feathers since the crop was so enlarged and the skin so stretched that it was easy to find a clear place to make an incision. I’ve used regular needle and thread and I’ve used dissolvable sutures to sew them up. I prefer the dissolvable sutures. My vet gives me free boxes of pre-threaded sutures and cutting needles – both dissolvable and non-dissolvable – once they’ve reached their expiration date. I always put Neosporin in every incision once I’ve finished sewing them up. For a crop surgery patient I keep them isolated for a few days on soft food like scrambled egg which is high in nutrients. I feed small amounts several times a day. The idea being to not let them gorge themselves and stretch out the crop before it has had some time to heal. So far all of my crop surgery patients did just fine and healed up almost immediately. One word of caution though if you ever have to do this surgery – it is important to get everything out of the crop. I make a small incision but I put my finger in after cleaning everything out and flushing it out and use my finger to reach down the crop “tube” and into the path to the gizzard. You should be able to feel muscles actually trying to “swallow” your finger. That way you know the path is clear. A number of people have written me and said that they had to open the bird back up because it still wasn’t passing poop and the crop was still filling and not going down. In those cases, they didn’t get the crop fully cleaned out in the first attempt. Most of the clog will be in the very bottom where the tube leads down so be sure and check that. On BYC as well as here, I’ve posted lots of info and pictures. It’s really a lot easier than it looks.

  3. Have hen that looks impacted just lik pic. She still getting around and wonder if I put towel over head she will remain quiet? What kind of suture and scapel did u use? Wonder if I should take to vet and have done or is it as simple as u say? Thanks for info.

    • Cathy – I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment nor know how to respond until tonight. I started this blog but didn’t keep it up and didn’t check back. I’ve found they do stay still with a towel over their head but I’ve also had them stay still without it. Once they are laid down and relaxed they sometimes just look around as if to say “hey, hurry up”. I’ve had them reach over and drink water off the counter or peck at something while I was working on them. I’ve used the disposable scalpels you can buy at Tractor Supply but I prefer the one sided razor blades. For sutures I’ve used regular needled and thread and I’ve used the pre-threaded cutting needles with disposable sutures that my vets gives me for free. I just responded to someone else’s questions about this surgery and explained that the most important thing is to be sure the entire crop, especially the very bottom and tube leading out of it, are cleaned out. It’s also important to not wait too long to do the surgery if they need it because they will starve to death or just be too weak if you wait too long. If you see a bird with a huge crop and you know it’s been that way for a few days and you put them in a pen for a night without food or water and if it has not gone down by the next morning or the bird isn’t pooping, then it’s time to either do the surgery yourself or find someone who will.

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