Pasty butt is a relatively common issue in baby chicks. It is easy to spot and fix, but can be fatal if not treated.
When a hen becomes broody and hatches her own chicks, she will care for them in just about every way possible.
If you get chicks from a store or hatchery or if you hatch them in an incubator, you take on all the responsibility of a mother hen. One of the less glamorous jobs is keeping the chick butts clean.
Pasty butt occurs when a chick poops and the poop dries and hardens right under her tail feathers. This hard, dried poop will block the chick’s vent and prevent her from being able to poop anymore. If this happens she will die.
Pasty butt is not super common, but it’s common enough that you want to be on the lookout for it. If it’s going to happen, it will probably happen in the first two weeks of life or so.
Causes of Pasty Butt
During the first two weeks of life the chicks are going through lots of adjustments. They’ve just hatched out of their eggs, been shipped to a store, purchased by their new owner, and brought to another new location. They are adjusting to a new home, new food, drinking water, and many new sights and sounds.
This can be a stressful experience. If the chicks are in a high traffic area this may also cause some stress. Being handled too much can also cause stress. We handle our chicks, but try not to keep them out from under the heat lamp for too long. We also teach our kiddos how to properly handle them so it’s an enjoyable experience for both the kids and the chicks.
Baby chicks cannot keep themselves warm. They need the heat of a heat lamp. The older they get the less heat they will require.
Even without a thermometer you can tell if the chicks are too hot or too cold. If the chicks are too cold they will spend the majority of their time hunkered down directly under the heat lamp. They will also chirp constantly and loudly. If the chicks are too hot they will try to get as far away from the heat lamp as possible. Keep an eye on their behavior and you’ll know if they need more heat or less.
Sometimes It Just Happens
You can be as careful and cautious as possible, and sometimes these things just happen. Even the most expert and diligent of chicken keepers is going to run into some problems every now and then. So if this does happen, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Treating Pasty Butt
What you’ll need:
- rag wet with warm water
- soft, dry rag
What you’ll do
- Carefully hold the chick with her butt facing you.
- Carefully wet her butt area with a warm rag. You want to use warm water so the chick doesn’t get too cold during this process. The warm rag will help loosen the dried poop.
- Gently wipe her vent area until it is all clean.
- Once her vent area is clear and clean use the soft, dry rag to gently snuggle and dry the chick.
- Keep an eye on her (and the rest of the chicks) for the next few days to make sure she doesn’t develop pasty butt again.
- I have heard of some people applying a small amount of vaseline with a q-tip to the vent area if the problem reoccurs. I’ve never had a chick with recurring pasty butt, so I don’t have personal experience here.
What Not To Do
- Do not pull on the hard, dried poop. You might inadvertently pull out some down feathers and injure the chick
- Do not give your chick a bath. As mentioned earlier chicks can’t keep themselves warm, so getting them soaking wet is not the best idea.
- Do not wait until later to treat it. If you see it, go ahead and take care of it. It really doesn’t take long to clean, and both you and your chick will be happier that you fixed the problem.