What is a Chicken Gizzard and Chicken Crop?

What are Chicken Gizzards and What do They Do?

What is a Chicken Gizzard and Chicken Crop?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some of the most popular questions for new poultry keepers are: what is a chicken gizzard, what is a chicken crop, and where are they located? Chicken, poultry, and wild birds do not have teeth. How is food is broken down and absorbed into the chicken’s body?  

To keep poultry, one needs to understand how the digestive system works. As we know, the beak is used to pick up and tear apart feed, vegetation, bugs, and smaller rodents and snakes. A small amount of saliva and digestive enzymes mix with the feed as it leaves the mouth and enters the esophagus on the way to the crop. 

From the crop, the food moves to the glandular stomach, also known as the true stomach. It then exits the true stomach and reaches the gizzard.  

Now that you know the layout of the digestive system let’s talk about how each section functions. 

The Chicken Crop 

The esophagus is the tube that moves the food from the mouth to the first section of the digestive system, the crop. Those new to poultry keeping often get the esophagus confused with the trachea; however, these serve different purposes. 

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There is one purpose for the crop, and that purpose is to store food for roughly 12 hours. Think about it like this: chicken and other poultry consume food rather quickly, almost in a panic. Being one of the lowest creatures in the food chain makes them prey to larger carnivorous animals. The concept of “eat and run” takes on true meaning for chickens as it can potentially save their lives. 

Throughout the day the consumed food slowly leaves the crop making its way toward the gizzard, where food is then broken, down allowing for nutrients to absorb into the body.  

Where is the Crop Located? 

The chicken crop is located at the bottom of the esophagus and attached to the glandular stomach. The crop can easily be seen when it is full; look for a small bulge on the right side of the breast. 

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Sour and Impacted Crop 

Sour and impacted crop occur when the food does not leave the crop. The easiest way to monitor the health of the crop is to prevent birds from eating and drinking overnight. Generally, chickens and other poultry will roost with a full crop. Overnight, the food moves from the crop through the true stomach to the gizzard. However, complications do occur and can be detected in the morning. 

Sour Crop 

Sour crop in chickens is also referred to as thrush, crop mycosis, or a yeast infection. Basically, the bird has a fungal infection within the crop, making it squishy to the touch. The bird physically appears unwell. Another sign of chicken sour crop is a foul or yeasty odor released from beak. 

Impacted Crop 

Unlike sour crop, a bird with an impacted crop will have a hard and solid crop. The cause is food or fibrous materials, such as long fresh or dried grass, and even straw, that becomes stuck. Unlike sour crop, a chicken’s impacted crop is much harder to address. Often, flushing the crop with water will help to loosen the impacted items; however, this process can be tricky for novice poultry keepers. It is best to seek veterinarian care for treatment. 

What is a Chicken Gizzard? 

The gizzard is a muscle in the digestive tract of chicken, waterfowl, and all birds. Because poultry do not have teeth, the gizzard works as a grinder, using grit to break down food matter for digestibility.  

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A full chicken gizzard

Grit is available in many options: flint grit, insoluble grit, oyster shell, and even small rocks found during free-ranging are acceptable choices. Commercial feeds are water-soluble, meaning the food breaks down prior to reaching the gizzard. In this case, grit is not needed. However, once real foods such as whole grains, herbs and greens, bugs, kitchen scraps, or a mouse or snake are consumed, grit for chickens must be available as a free choice option.  

Where is the Chicken Gizzard Located? 

The gizzard is attached to the lower part of the true stomach and the beginning of the small intestine. Once the gizzard breaks down the food it then exits the gizzard and heads to the small intestine. From there the food breaks down even further and eventually waste is eliminated. 

Consuming the Gizzard 

Many often wonder, what are chicken gizzards, and can gizzards be consumed? 

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An empty chicken gizzard, revealing the tough membrane inside.

Once properly cleaned and the tough membrane lining found inside the gizzard has been removed, the gizzards are edible and quite delicious. Chicken gizzards are available in many markets across the world and readily available if you raise poultry for meat. Remember, the gizzard is a muscle; prepare it as you would any cut of meat. They are often served breaded and fried, added to soups and stews, or added to gravy. Gizzards are best consumed when the meat is tender, which means it will need to be cooked slowly over low heat. 

For those who are raising poultry for meat purposes cleaning the gizzard, and poultry feet for that matter is quite easy to do. Learn how to properly clean the gizzard in this easy tutorial.  

Originally published in the Backyard Poultry Special Subscriber 2020 issue  Comb to Tail Health  and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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