Pasty butt (also: pasty vent or pasted vent) is a condition that most commonly affects baby chicks. It can be uncomfortable, debilitating, and even fatal if left untreated. If you're raising chickens, this condition is one you need to know about, as it can happen quickly.
The term "pasty butt" describes the appearance of the vent, or cloaca, covered in excrement. In other words, your chick has dried poop of feces on its behind.
As the afflicted chick continues to eat, drink, and subsequently poop — the excrement continues to build up and cannot get past the blockage. This is where the danger lies.
At first glance, you might think it's just an accidental occurrence or a bit of everyday dirt or poop that happens to every chicken.
But you will quickly notice that the excrement has built up and become hard and plaster-like as it covers the entire opening — this is pasty butt, and it needs to be dealt with immediately.
Pasty butt is usually as straightforward to treat as giving the chick's bum a quick wash under warm running water, increasing her hydration, and maybe adding some probiotics to her water.
Untreated pasty butt can also lead to a condition called vent gleet which is an inflammation of the cloaca that is much harder to treat.
Causes of Pasty Butt
- Chicks from commercial hatcheries are more likely to get it. Chicks hatched and raised by a broody hen seem to not get this as often.
- Stress from transportation, especially if being shipped through the mail.
- Overheating from improper use of heat lamps or a too small brooder with no escape from the heat.
- Improper diet — skip the treats for baby chicks.
- Less common but possible: viral and bacterial infections.
In some cases, there may be an underlying medical condition causing the problem; these conditions could be genetic, just as some humans have gastrointestinal issues passed through generations.
Pasty Butt In Adult Chickens
Adult hens will not get pasty butt, but they can get something called vent gleet, which is an inflammation of the vent/cloaca. It presents similarly as a thrush infection and is caused by Candida albicans. The herpes virus can also cause vent gleet, but if no rooster is present, that is unlikely.
You will notice a yellowish discharge stuck to your chicken's feathers around the area.
Vent gleet requires a different treatment protocol and may require veterinarian care and medication.
If your adult chicken looks to have a bunch of poop stuck on her behind and in her feathers, that's usually just a result of wet weather and messy chickens.
A pasty butt is a total blockage of the vent and a different matter.
Fluffy breeds like Orpingtons will be more prone to messy behinds, and you can always trim the feathers back if you want.
Baby Chick Anatomy: Vents Are Not Navels
One crucial bit of information you need to know is that baby chicks have two openings at hatch — navels and vents, and you cannot confuse them.
It is normal for a chick to have some stuck-on and bloodied parts attached to their navels post-hatching — do not pull or rub on this, or you might disembowel and kill the chick.
The vent is immediately below the tail feathers.
Pasty Butt Treatment
The easiest way to treat pasty butt is to hold the baby chick firmly in one hand and let lukewarm water gently run over the affected area. It may take a minute or so, but eventually, the hardened poop will begin to soften and wash away.
Gently rub the area as the excrement softens, but do not pull or force anything. The action of the running water and warmth should be enough.
Do not run the water full force or use hot or too-warm water.
Use the temperature you would use for bathing a newborn human, around 100° Fahrenheit (F) or 37.8° Celsius (C). Err on the side of caution.
To prevent chilling the baby chick and causing further stress, dry her off immediately and gently with a paper towel, and then consider finishing the job with a blow dryer on the lowest setting.
Keep the blow dryer far away from the baby chick and keep it moving constantly to avoid burning.
Remember that baby chicks are extremely delicate and sensitive to temperature extremes and fluctuations.
Once the chick is dry, do not add any cream, lotion, essential oil, or Vaseline to the vent — this might encourage the other chicks to start pecking at her vent and you don't want that.
Put the baby chick back and keep an eye on her condition. You may want to add chicken probiotics to their water for a few days but this is not necessary either.
Pasty Butt Prevention
- Check baby chicks over as they arrive or hatch, dry off, and start exploring. Keep an eye on them for those delicate first few days when conditions like pasty butt or worse might appear.
- Consider feeding your flock fermented chicken feed, a source of probiotics with numerous benefits. That article goes over how to give it to both baby chicks and adult chickens properly.
- Do not feed treats to baby chicks! Things like grapes, bananas, and oatmeal are fine to give your older chickens, but baby chicks should just have their chicken feed. We do opt to give everyone scrambled eggs once each week but nothing more.
- Make sure everyone has access to fresh, clean water at all times.
- Make sure your brooder is not too hot and that the chicks have a place to escape from the heat if needed. See my article on raising baby chicks for more information on brooders and temperature.
- Consider using a heat plate instead of a lamp. They're safer as they pose zero fire risk and better for your chicks.
- Reduce stress from other animals and loud people.
Seeking Veterinarian Help
Finding a livestock veterinarian or even one who will see chickens can be difficult or impossible. Fortunately, pasty butt is not generally something that requires medical care.
If the problem persists or worsens, you may need to see a veterinarian for further treatment as something else might be wrong.
Note that if you treat pasty butt quickly and correctly, most cases resolve within days.