First things first, this post comes with a warning of graphic content of the necropsy (animal autopsy) I performed on one of my favourite chickens, Sweetie.   This post is for people who own chickens and want to understand as much as possible about them and the various diseases/health problems that afflict them.

Further down this post (I will warn you in advance) there will be photos and video of a miniature necropsy (only one incision) that I performed to confirm the cause of death in Sweetie as Sour Crop.

I understand there are those of you who prefer the romantic notion of owning chickens and not necessarily the accompanying horror that inevitably comes with these animals.  For those of you, I direct you to these more pleasant posts from my past chicken experiences.

  1. The Coop: A look at my contemporary chicken coop.
  2. Will They Eat it?:  Episode 2 in a video series.
  3. Pretty Pictures of my Chickens.
  4. The Best Fly Prevention Method – Parasitic Wasps.
  5. How to Ferment Chicken Feed

If you do not wish to see an actual chicken necropsy do not read further.


(honestly it isn’t that bad, but if you’re the sensitive type you might cry)

O.K. this is where the real post begins.  Last week I told you how one of my chickens, Sweetie, died unexpectedly.  That’s kind of the hallmark of chickens by the way, dying unexpectedly.

They’re miracle workers when it comes to hiding that they’re sick or injured. It’s a genetic trait to keep them alive. If they look weak they know they’ll be the first picked off by a predator.  Plus if they look weak they’ll get harassed by their fellow chickens.  So they hide their symptoms.

Which is exactly what Sweetie did.  Last week I told you about how Sweetie, my black Ameraucana died recently.  I suspected it was a sour crop because of impaction but I wasn’t positive.  And I wanted to know for sure what killed her so I could be sure it wasn’t something contagious.

If I had NO idea at all what killed her, I wouldn’t have cut her open looking for random things, but I was pretty sure I knew what was going on, I just needed to confirm it.  If you’re interested in some of the symptoms of Sour Crop and how it affects a chicken you can read this post.

This post isn’t about Sour Crop, it’s a general look at what it was like to necropsy one of my chickens and what I did exactly.

Since it seemed like the issue was sour crop I knew all I had to do was cut open her crop, which sits right next to the skin of her chest and take a look inside.  No big deal.  No breaking or cutting bones, no looking at organs, nothing like that.

First I had to remove a few feathers from her chest to access the skin over her crop.


Necropsy for Sour Crop

Then using a sharp blade I gingerly cut the skin, unsure how thick it would be or how difficult to cut through.

The skin on the breast was fairly thin and easy to cut through.  Directly beneath the skin was the crop.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

I then cut through the crop (which is like a stomach almost), and what came next was something so horrifying I cannot even explain it.

Sweetie’s crop was filled with putrid, stinking juice. I assume it was infection. It came streaming out like an abscess and smelled bad enough, even through a mask,  to make me gag.  But I kept going.  Like an idiot.

Once the crop had drained of rotting fluid, I could see what was in there.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

There was a bit of a nest inside Sweetie’s crop.  She’d been eating straw which is a hazard with chickens but usually it just passes into their gizzard.

I pulled the tangle of straw out of Sweetie’s crop and assessed it.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

This is the majority of what was found in her crop.  A fair amount, but after all that I wasn’t sure if this was enough to cause Sour Crop or impaction so I sent the photo off to Dr. Mark.

Sour Crop

According to Dr. Mark, this could have been enough to cause an impaction in Sweetie and Sour Crop.  Another chicken may have been fine with it and worked it through, and another chicken still might have been able to fight the infection, but that wasn’t the case with Sweetie.

In case you’re wondering where all the blood is (like several of my friends asked), there is no blood because the heart isn’t pumping.

If you’re feeling particularly brave I also videoed the entire procedure, although I’ve cut what was 16 minutes of footage down to 3 and a half minutes.

I’ve eliminated most of the really gross stuff like spewing puss and extraordinary language on my part.  This video is for the curious.


Really the worst part of this was the smell.  It was surprisingly easy to cut into Sweetie once she had died because it was just her body and I was somehow able to mentally separate her body from her.  It wasn’t an ideal Thursday morning but I’m glad I did it just to see what it was like and to better understand the inside of a chicken.

I can say with great honesty that that very night I went to the grocery store to pick up something quick for dinner and I had a make a U turn at the pre-cooked chicken section.  That wasn’t happening.

Thanks for sticking it out with this post to the bitter end.  You, are a brave and curious soul and I’m happy to have you around.

Have a good weekend!


  1. Leslie says:

    I just followed your instructions to investigate the crop of a hen that died yesterday. Her crop was soft but very full. All I found was wet fermented feed. No smell, no worms, no grass, nothing. I don’t know what to do now. Another hen died last week, and her crop was harder but I didn’t look inside. I’m at wit’s end.
    At least I know how to do it now…

  2. Stephbo says:

    Poor Sweetie. And poor Karen. When I was in the 12th grade my crazy biology teacher’s neighbor gave her a rooster to use in teaching her classes. My teacher promptly (and horrifyingly–told you she was crazy!) asphxiated it using a plastic bag and the tailpipe of her car and then brought it in for our class to dissect. 28 years later I can still remember the overwhelming disgusting barnyard smell as she cut that poor rooster open in front of us horrified kids. If that smell was anywhere close to what you experienced, you have my deepest sympathies. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to clear out your nasal passages with bleach.

  3. Maureen Locke says:

    Thanks for that Karen, it must have been hard for you.
    Poor Sweetie, I wonder if they suffer pain, like indigestion, when they have this.
    If their crops are full in the morning, how can you help them empty them…. or can you??
    I love chickens…. don’t have any, but a friend of mine does. Hopefully in retirement ( someday) I’ll be able to enjoy a small flock.
    You’re a good Momma Karen…. hugs

  4. Heather says:

    Sorry for your loss, Sweetie was special to you that is obvious. I learned a lot through your post…I had no idea what a crop was before. I am curious now how the stones know to stay in the gizzard now and not go on out. Why don’t the stones stay in the crop? When people eat gizzards do they have to remove the stones? Very interesting…now I want to learn more.

  5. Leslie says:

    Wow, cool and gross all at the same time. I too am a curious sort. I breed and show rabbits and had to do a similar thing with one of my rabbits who died while due to have babies. I did find out that she died giving birth. The baby was stuck in the birth canal as expected. Inquiring minds want and need to know. If it was something contagious we do need to know to protect the other animals.

  6. Kat says:

    One of my hens died, and then a few days a later, another died.
    I checked a book out of the local library that detailed how to do a chicken necropsy. Then I called a friend, a VERY good friend, my BEST friend, and we did the necropsy.
    It was an amazing experience to see just how everything was put together inside a bird. We found worms, but I wasn’t sure there were enough to have been the cause of death. I went ahead and treated the rest of the flock, and nobody else died. Maybe I headed the issue off, or maybe it wasn’t the issue. I’ll never know.
    What I do know, is that like you, I felt a responsibility to the health of my girls, and I’ll do whatever needs done to research and improve.
    The other thing I know is that I’ve got at least one really good friend.

  7. Mary W says:

    So sorry but I know you can rest easier knowing you found the cause. Question: could Sweetie have eaten all that straw because her crop was infected and she was trying to “self-medicate” like dogs do – they eat grass and throw up? Also, my granddaughter came in just as I was watching and asked to see it also. She is 8 and wants to be a vet so she was interested. She did watch and asked about the no-blood thing which I thought was a good sign that she was learning something from your video. When I told her the heart was not beating so – no blood, she said oh, of course, I should have known that. She also watches Vet Ranch on YT with me. Just realized you may want to see the vet’s father (another vet) on his Out on the Ranch YT where he shows you how to give your dog/cat a daily rubdown while checking for cancer. I didn’t realize the incredible percentage of dogs that have it and would be ok had they found it early enough.

  8. Shelagh says:

    I’m a retired nurse….and although I completely sympathize with the empathy you felt for another living being in your care….just imagine that same smell every time you have to change a dressing on a live person who is struggling to survive an abdominal infection.. Having to wash the wound with a bleach preparation ( I get nauseated every time I smell bleach ) and then pack it with material so that it healed from the inside out took months…..horrendous doesn’t even begin to cover it!

  9. Kelly says:

    As a person who was raised on a farm and had to help butcher chickens on occasion, this was nothing! I expected worse. On a farm things like this happen all the time. Animals die for whatever reason despite your best efforts. It’s just how it is when you decide to raise these types of animals. I would still love to get chickens, though. It’s such a great luxury to have all those fresh eggs. Don’t laugh! The greatest things in life are the simplest: fresh eggs, fresh vegetables, and line-dried sheets. THE best.

  10. Jan Hekhuis says:

    Well done!

  11. J says:

    Karen-Thank you for being curious, brave, smart, and sharing the good, the bad, and the rest. You are generous with people all over the world–Thanks to Betty, too.

  12. Alena says:

    Poor Sweetie. That was a lot stuff sitting in her crop.
    Thank you for the necropsy video; that was very interesting.

  13. Jody says:

    Job well done with care and dignity.

  14. Arlene says:

    we have 5 chickens. One of them died suddenly one morning last week.I have been sick about this, thinking maybe there was something I could have done to prevent this. Her name was Elsa. Why do they eat straw..there is plenty of food in the coop.
    thank you for what you do..I feel a lot better that I may know what happened to her. I love my chickens..who would have thought !!!??
    by the way. there was straw in her mouth when I found her. oh dear…I want to cry…..

  15. Cathy says:

    Sorry for your loss, Karen. But in the end it was sorta good news that it’s nothing that is going to infect your whole flock. A few pointers if you do this again; 1-goggles because the yuck can spray 2-a touch of wintergreen inside your mask or a wet tea bag if you don’t have wintergreen.
    Some say the tea bag helps filter the odor and one like Constant Comment might be useful.
    3-dont talk with your hands while holding the blade. 4- maybe don’t go the grocery after, opt for takeout. Take care.

  16. Amanda says:

    I’ve had this happen with one of my hens last spring. She indulged in too much fresh spring grass and this was the same result. I know because I butcher all my own chickens and the day she became “off” I shot her and butchered her and this was the same result. I composted her rather than eat her because, well, gross – right? Not something I would consider good to eat if the chicken was ill, obviously. Sorry you had to go through that.

  17. Judith says:

    First cuddles, now sweetie. You must start calling your chickens a stronger name! Like puppies, they grow into that name. My son’s dog was named taz, after the devil. He lived up to that name. As did my mom’s dog named after emperor maximillian.

  18. Farmkid Marti says:

    Very brave of you, Karen, as I know how much you love all your birds.
    I would point out that the legal term for the level of curiosity in onlookers is PRURIENT.
    And if I were you, I wouldn’t open my email for a few weeks. Or months.

    Well done. Not nearly as gross as I expected, but I scrolled past most of the photos and I refuse to watch the video. Chicken… for dinner again tonight. Because that’s what heartless farmkids do. Did your doctor tell you any further symptoms that might have helped you or could he have helped, if he’d known/you got her to him in time? I know with sheep bloat, if you know how to poke the knife… next year’s wool crop will keep coming, but I don’t know about chickens.

    Which is only one of the many reasons I read your blog. (Prurient interest is NOT among them.)

  19. karin sorensen says:

    may she rest in peace. i’m sorry for your loss Karen.

    i’m glad you did the necropsy.
    life and death are messy, always been that way, not gonna change.
    this is how we learn, that’s also always been this way,
    but seems to have a way of being forgotten.
    I’m glad you could rule out anything contagious.

    have a good weekend


  20. Linda in Illinois says:

    To real for me, not because of the gross stuff, but because I love all animals and I feel the pain, but I am glad you did the necropsy and have closure. Dr. Karen has a nice ring to it..
    God speed Sweetie !!

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