Step 4
Loosen The Crop

When a chicken eats corn, or grass, or bugs, or whatever, the food does not go into a stomach like mammals have. It is swallowed down into a crop. A chicken’s crop is located at the base of the neck, against the breast, just to the bird’s right of center. If the crop has much feed in it, you can actually see it bulging, as is the case in this next picture:

To better understand the flow of food, and parts involved, I present to you this delightful picture:

Obviously, that’s the bird’s head at the top of the picture. The soft, fleshy tube leading down to the middle object is the esophagus. That middle object is the crop. 

The crop is a soft, fleshy sac that will expand considerably to accommodate all that the bird eats. The crop in the picture is quite full. 

From the crop, the food makes its way down inside the body cavity to the bird’s gizzard, which is the large, roundish organ shown in the bottom of the picture.

But before it goes into the gizzard, the food passes through an organ attached to the gizzard called the proventriculus, which is clearly visible in the picture. The proventriculus introduces digestive juices to the food before it enters the gizzard.

The gizzard is a red-meat muscle. It looks like beef when you cut into it. The gizzard has a tough inner lining. The grinding and digesting action inside the gizzard is facilitated by grit, which amounts to small stones that the chicken eats. Cut the gizzard open and you will find grit and food. 

Most people don’t feed their chickens for 24 hours prior to butchering. That ensures that the crop will be empty come processing day. But some people like the bird to have a little food in its crop so they can find it better. Whatever the case, I’m going to explain a couple of different options for dealing with the crop. If it’s really full, I suggest you remove it. If it is empty or almost empty, you need only to loosen it. 

In either event, you must first remove some skin from the bird’s neck in order to get to the crop. The way I do this is to lay the chicken on its back with its neck stretched out. Then I cut into the skin about half way up the neck, and slice a strip of skin off up to the end of the neck.

The above picture shows approximately where I slice into the neck skin. I do not just cut down as the photo suggests. What I do is use my fingertips to pinch the skin on the neck and lift it up a bit. Then I slice into the skin just below where I have lifted it. 

Still holding on to the pinched piece of neck skin with my fingers, I then fillet a section of skin up the neck as shown in this next picture. 

Notice my fingertips pinched onto the skin in the upper right of the picture. By lifting the skin as I cut, I am keeping tension where the cutting is taking place. If I did not do this, the skin will not cut very well, no matter how sharp the knife is. Chicken skin, especially on the neck, is loose and rubbery. Here’s another shot showing how I fillet just a narrow strip of skin up the underside of the neck. 

Directly underneath the neck skin in the above picture is the esophagus and trachea. This next picture shows both neck tubes much better.

In the above picture, I have pulled the esophagus and trachea free of the bird’s neck. The tube on the right, which is also the bird’s right side (it is on its back) is the esophagus which leads into the crop. The other tube is the trachea. You can easily tell the difference between the two tubes. The trachea is ribbed and far more rigid than the soft esophagus. The trachea leads down into the body cavity where it connects with the lungs.

You can also see in the picture that my other hand is grasping the neck skin. I will pull it down and away from the neck. 

Now we need to find and uncover the crop. If the crop has much food in it, you will find it just fine, as shown in this next picture.

The photo shows the esophagus extending from the crop to around my index finger. The tip of my ring finger is under the crop. To the side of my little finger is the neck. My hand above is grasping neck skin and pulling it away from the crop.

The crop will be tight to the bird’s neck skin and breast. It needs to be worked free. The crop is very durable, but use a careful touch so you don’t break it. If you do break the crop, you will have a bit of a mess. But it isn’t a major crisis. It’s just undigested feed. Rinse everything off real good.

If the crop is quite full, I remove it from the bird as shown here…..

What you are looking at in the picture is my upper hand grasping the full crop (the bird’s neck is out of sight behind my hand). And with my lower hand I am giving the carcass a couple twists. Then, crop in hand, I pull slow and steady, directly out of the body cavity. 

If all goes well, the tube from the crop to the gizzard will disengage very nicely where the gizzard and proventriculus connect, as seen in the photo below (that is the proventriculus in my lower hand). If it doesn’t pop off as neatly as shown here, no problem. Either way, the full crop has been removed. Toss it out.

When you are dealing with an empty crop, or one with very little food in it, there is no need to completely remove it. But you must still peel it away from the skin and upper breast of the animal. This needs to be done because, later, when you reach your hand in the back end of the bird to remove it’s innards, your fingers will grasp the big gizzard. As you extract the gizzard, the separated crop will pull down through the neck cavity, into the body cavity, and right on out. 

I think that finding and separating an empty crop is the most difficult part of butchering a bird. It holds tight to the skin and the color blends in too. The best way I know to get the crop free it to grasp the bird’s skin with one hand while pinching, pulling, and peeling the crop away. Here are a couple photos showing me pulling the fleshy crop away. In both pictures, the crop is being grasped by my hand on the left side of the photograph.Separating the crop is one of those things that you'll get the hang of with experience.