Before you know it, spring will be here and it will be time for your baby chicks to begin to arrive! If you are new to backyard chicken keeping and just starting out and expecting your first batch of chicks, you should be aware of a potentially life-threatening, but easily treatable, condition that is fairly common, affecting mainly shipped day-old chicks. It is known as ‘Pasty Butt.’
Pasty butt is the condition in which feces gets stuck in the baby chick’s vent and literally stops up the chick so it can’t excrete its poop. It can kill the chick fairly quickly if not treated immediately.
Pasty butt is usually caused by stress or extreme temperature changes, such as those often endured by baby chicks during the rigorous travel from the hatchery to your post office. Shipped chicks are far more susceptible to pasty butt than those you purchase from a local farm or hatch yourself, but it’s good practice to get into the habit of checking all your newly hatched or acquired chicks for it.
Treatment – Once you get your chicks home, check each chick one by one for ‘pasty butt’ and gently swab any poop stuck on their vents with a cotton swab moistened with warm water or warmed vegetable or olive oil and them smear a bit of oil around the vent area. Continue to check their little butts for the first few days for pasting up; several times a day if you have any chicks currently suffering from pasty butt, and continue to swab to keep the vent area nice and clean. Since chicks are not able to regulate their body temperature and can chill easily and die, you don’t want to wet any more of the chick than necessary; just remove any stuck on feces. That’s why I recommend using a cotton swab which greatly reduces the area actually moistened.
Prevention - Feeding the chicks a bit of cornmeal or ground raw oatmeal mixed into their regular chick feed can help prevent and/or clear up pasty butt (Be sure and provide chick-sized grit if you feed your chicks anything other than chick feed.) Chicks are extremely susceptible to diarrhea, which can exacerbate pasty butt symptoms, so be sure to keep the bedding dry and change out wet litter that might be harboring e.coli or other bacteria. Probiotic powder mixed into their feed can help balance the good-to-bad bacteria ratio in their intestinal tract and help prevent diarrhea.
Hopefully you won’t encounter pasty butt in your new baby chicks, but if you do, you’ll know exactly how to treat it.
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