Backyard Poultry

Pasty Butt: Sick Baby Chick Symptoms and Care

Flock Management : Flock Health

Mikelle Roeder, Ph.D.

Multi-Species Nutritionist

Pasty butt or chick pasting up is a common reason for a sick baby chick, most often caused by stress. This is a condition where droppings stick to a chick’s vent area, preventing excretion of waste. The condition is easily treated, and recovery can be quick if action is taken promptly.
 
A happy, productive backyard flock starts with strong, healthy baby chicks. With the right complete starter-grower feed, your strong chicks should grow quickly - doubling their hatch weight in the first week and growing up to seven times their hatch weight in the first month.
 
During their first few days, chicks often experience many more changes than just quick growth. From travel and new environments to new feed, chicks may become stressed and can become ill.
 
One possible issue is called pasty butt, also known as pasting, pasted vent or pasting up. Most common in young chicks, pasting is a condition where droppings stick to a chicken’s vent area, preventing the excretion of waste and creating a potentially fatal situation. (The vent is the outside opening of the cloaca, located just beneath the tail through which waste is excreted.)
 
The condition is common in baby chicks, and not typically seen in adult birds, although adults can be affected. Most birds that exhibit signs of pasty butt will grow out of the condition in 7 to 10 days.  Fortunately, the condition is easily treatable, and recovery is fairly quick, if the situation is tackled immediately. 

Pasty butt causes

Pasting can be caused by several factors, often stemming from stress. The biggest cause of this issue is due to poorly digestible ingredients. Ingredients that are poorly digested cause the digesta in the intestine to get thicker or more viscous, which makes it stickier. Thus, it sticks to the back end of the bird. It also corresponds with the fact that the bird’s own digestive enzymes aren’t being produced in enough quantity to break down feed. This is why the issue typically clears itself around 10 days of age. That is around the time that the birds are producing their own digestive enzymes at peak production along with the fact that the bird and the vent are getting larger.
 
Additional reasons for pasting may include:
  • Shipping or transport
  • Temperature extremes, hot or cold
  • Acclimation to solid food to solid food from the yolk while inside the egg
Coccidiosis or other parasite infections that cause loose stools may be an indirect issue if the birds are pasting.

Pasty butt: Sick baby chick symptoms and care

It is not unusual for chicks that are shipped through the mail or purchased at a farm store to have pasting. Check each chick for pasting as soon as they arrive home. Pasting is fairly easy to treat. If you notice chicks have pasty butt, follow these steps of how to take care of a sick baby chick:

1. Examine the vent 

First, be sure you are examining the vent and not the bellybutton. Baby chicks have a bellybutton that is located close to the vent; the vent is just below the tail, while the belly button (navel) is further down towards the belly and legs. 

2. Clean the vent

If you determine the chick is pasting, one technique is to use a warm, wet wash cloth to help remove the material. Another option is to gently hold the chick in your hand and run the rear end under warm (not hot!) water to loosen dried manure. When the manure is softened, softly use a cotton swab in a downward motion to help remove the material. Do not attempt to pull off dried manure from the vent, as you will risk tearing the skin and feathers. Young chicks are easily chilled, so it is important to minimize the area of the bird that gets wet.If manure is dry and cemented to the down, use a cotton swab and apply a small amount of vegetable oil to help soften the mass. Once the mass is softened, use warm water to gently work the mass from the chick. Be gentle; it is very easy to pull off feathers and skin if you are not patient and gentle. If a few feathers come out, that is normal; just do your best to leave as many feathers as you can.

3. Dry the chick

Once the chick is cleaned up, use a clean, soft towel to remove excess water. Then use a hair dryer on low heat, held at least 8 inches from the chick, to finish drying the feathers, being careful not to burn the sensitive skin. Keeping the chicks warm is important because young chicks are not quite able to regulate their body temperature and are at a high risk of chill when wet. A chill could bring on another round of pasting. 

In addition, damp feather down exposes the vent, potentially putting the chick at risk of pecking from other birds. A small dab of vegetable oil, petroleum jelly or alternative can help prevent recurrence if pasting is a chronic problem. Once the down is completely dry and clean, it is safe to return the chick to the brooder.

4. Practice biosecurity

Pasting is not a contagious condition; but the underlying cause could be, if the culprit is something like coccidiosis. Wash your hands thoroughly after encountering chicken manure, and practice good biosecurity.

Pasty butt prevention

To prevent pasting in your flock, practice these tips:

  1. Keep the brooder comfortable with fresh, clean water and a complete feed.

  2. Keep litter clean and dry to prevent undesirable bacteria from exacerbating the problem.

  3. Maintain a proper temperature. If several chicks in the brooder are pasting, check the temperature - it may be too warm or too cold. 

  4. Feed a complete starter-grower feed as the sole diet. Purina® complete starter-grower feeds include all the nutrients chicks need to start strong.

  5. Wait until week 18 to introduce treats. Once birds are mature, limit treats to 2 tablespoons or less per day.

  6. If you are feeding Purina® Start & Grow®, you do not need to add probiotics to the water. This feed already includes probiotics which can help the issue subside.

  7. Consult a veterinarian if you suspect an underlying illness such as coccidiosis.

The best prevention is to minimize stress. Have your brooder ready and at the correct temperature before you bring chicks home. When chicks arrive home, check them for pasting. Then continue checking daily. If you notice an issue, address immediately.

Want more tips on how to start your chicks strong? Visit our Flock Strong® resource hub for local poultry events, a guide to raising chickens and much more!