Post-op care after crop surgery. Hen not gaining weight.


Jul 24, 2018
So here is the saga of Echo the two year old Easter egger hen.

Echo stopped laying late August/Early September and I believed she was starting a long, slow molt. She's the bottom of the pecking order and is very nervous of people, so she's always a little stressed and flighty. In the spring her "friends" had pecked her shoulders going to roost and the feathers finally grew back this fall after she stopped laying.

In mid November I went to the feed store and picked up a back of their regular food. I noticed that the consistency was a little different, but it smelled fine, more like they added a binder so the crumbles held together better.

November 21/22 I let the girls out to free range. I noticed the night of the 22 that Echo had watery diarrhea, her crop was full. In the morning I was disappointed to see that her crop hadn't emptied. I spent the week trying to get the impaction to pass. Liquid was still emptying. I wormed the flock with piperazine just in case (we had a round worm infestation during the summer). She was acting normal, but had lost some weight.

On November 29 I took her to the vet for crop surgery. Her crop was stuffed full of grass. I suspect that she hadn't been eating the new bag of food, so she gorged on grass and it knotted up in a ball that wouldn't pass out of the crop. Post surgery she weighed 3lbs 13oz

From the 29th, until Dec 3rd I had her separated from her friends in the garage. She wasn't very interested in regular food, but was drinking on her own, and acting normally. She was happy to eat live meal worms, but I didn't want to give her too many that soon after surgery. I suspected that she was stressed so I decided to put her back out with her friends. On Dec 3 she weighed 3 lbs 7 oz. I bought a different brand of food in the hopes that she would like it more than the previous.
My red sexlink was bullying her so during a 4 day stretch of warm weather I stuck the sexlink in a dog crate inside the run. The bullying is very minor now. There are multiple feed stations in the run and coop, and one heated waterer (flock of 6 hens). I've added stress aid and probiotics to the water. I've also periodically given her some poly vi sol (without iron) directly. I also gave her a B1 pill hoping that it would stimulate her appetite, assuming she's deficient given that she hasn't eaten much in the last month.

I weighed her again on Dec 13th and she still only weighed 3 lbs 7 oz.

The incision never looked infected. We opted to not use antibiotics as we didn't want to further upset the flora in the crop. There is a bit of a scab at the bottom of the incision, the sutures take 21 days to dissolve (we're 17 days post-op). The incision site doesn't seem to bother her, I can touch it and massage her crop and she doesn't mind.

My Concerns
-She isn't gaining weight
- some mornings there is still some food in the crop (it seems to go down with some massage), almost like the muscle isn't contracting and pushing all of the food out
- any sort of separation, even a crate within the coop or run causes her a great deal of stress
- we're in Canada and it's winter, keeping warm is going to burn a lot of calories

-she has never acted sick through this whole ordeal (she has energy, feels well, just skinny)
-she has survived thus far: we're 25 days since the impaction started, and 17 days post crop surgery
- no evidence of ascites, I'm hopeful that this isn't an underlying reproductive issue
- I haven't added any new birds to the flock in over a year, and they were day old chicks, so unlikely to be a virus/contagious. Everyone else is healthy, I haven't had a death since August 2019 (repro issue in a young layer).

Next steps
a) continue doing what I've been doing and hope that the crop regains more function and her appetite picks up
b) start tube feeding morning and night while leaving her out with her friends
c) bring her back into the garage and do some intensive care and monitoring, hoping that the stress doesn't kill her. Reintroducing her again would also be difficult and stressful.

Any thoughts? Advice?
Is she currently molting? It sounds like she's doing well except for appetite and weight. Those are two very common side effects of molt. Check her for emerging pin feathers to see if she's molting.

I would try giving her a little bit of animal protein each day. Canned mackerel or tuna, liver, chopped meats or buy some canned cat food or baby food. Eggs, Tofu. These should put weight on and bolster the nutrition levels.
Is she currently molting? It sounds like she's doing well except for appetite and weight. Those are two very common side effects of molt. Check her for emerging pin feathers to see if she's molting.

I would try giving her a little bit of animal protein each day. Canned mackerel or tuna, liver, chopped meats or buy some canned cat food or baby food. Eggs, Tofu. These should put weight on and bolster the nutrition levels.

She doesn't appear to be molting anymore. It's hard to tell since she was bullied a little bit, the red sexlink pulled a few feathers out when she was reintroduced to the flock post surgery.

She's fearful/stressed enough that she won't eat from my hand or if I'm too close, or if she's separated from the flock. So it's nearly impossible to get treats into her since the other girls run in and grab them from her. This isn't necessarily new for her since she's always been a flighty bird and is at the bottom of the pecking order. The best I've been able to do is throw a handful of meal worms to the other girls, and then drop a couple in front of Echo. 50% of the time she'll eat them, 50% of the time she looks around or picks it up and drops it and then someone else takes it from her.

I was just hoping that she would have put some weight on by now.
There is the possibility that she's behaving this way with seemingly poor appetite because she hasn't regained her self confidence in asserting herself at the feeder and competing for treats since being returned to the flock. This is especially something to suspect since she's likely still feeling not completely 100% back to normal energy level. The other chickens may be giving her subtle cues that they notice this as is the way with chickens.

She may actually be in a state of starvation due to this. The easiest and most effective way to approach both the starvation issue and the self confidence issue is to create a safe pen for her in the run or install her in a roomy crate in the run during the day. This will eliminate the need for her to have to compete for food. It will also allow her to rebuild her self confidence. She should put weight back on.

Of course, you can know for sure this is what her problem is. But this approach will do no harm whatsoever, and if it works, you can stop worrying about an underlying more serious health issue.
If you are finding food in her crop in the morning, especially food that moves after a massage, I recommend trying a crop brace/ crop bra. My hen required a crop bra for about a month after crop surgery. It helped the food move more quickly out of the crop and into her digestive system. Eventually her muscles healed and strengthened and she no longer had to wear the bra to get her crop to empty properly.
@CSAchook it's such a small amount of food that I don't know that a crop bra would help, maybe the size of a marble? It would have to be pretty tight, which may not be comfortable for her given how thin she is. I've used a crop bra before for a hen with sour crop, so I do have one.

@azygous I considered separating her again, but she finds it very stressful, even within the coop or run. I had her in an extra large dog crate inside the run while I was treating the impaction and she was constantly pacing, panicky, spilling her soupy food, etc. I had to tie the water to the crate so that she couldn't spill it.
She was more subdued when she was separate after surgery, but I attributed this to stress and soreness. And at that point she wasn't really interested in food.
It's kind of a mute point anyway. I would have to buy another heated waterer since we're consistently below freezing, and I would be concerned that she would get herself soaked somehow in a panicky fit.

The red sexlink really only goes after her when they're going to roost. During the day they seem fine.
Echo goes up to the feeders and picks around, she just isn't actually consuming as much as she should be. I watched this morning and no one bothered her. When treats come out and everyone gets wound up she runs to the treats with everyone else, she's just too slow to get any. But she's too nervous of people to be hand fed.

This is why I'm considering tube feeding. To give her some nutritional support while letting her stay with the flock. She's definitely happier having free run of the run/coop, vs a large crate in the run.

I weighed her when I got home from work. Down to 2lbs 16oz.
She had some food in her crop that I was able to massage to her gizzard. She ate a few mealworms and picked at her feed.

Ive decided that for now she can come into the garage at night. I can pluck her from the roost after everyone has gone to bed, and sneak her back in before light, hopefully her flock mates won’t notice.
The garage stays just above freezing so she won’t burn as many calories staying warm. And it will be easier for me to tube feed her 1-2 times at night, and first thing in the morning. As well as being able to monitor crop function and droppings.
Fingers crossed!
She had a big poop this morning so it appears that her digestive system isn’t the problem.
There was a tiny bit left in the crop, which again went away with massage.

She’s definitely tired, but isn’t acting “sick”. I put her back out with the flock and no one seemed bothered by her. When I left for work she was at the main feeder with two other hens. Hopefully eating, not just picking at it.


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