Raising baby chicks is an exciting time, filled with new life and changes each day. However, because of the many changes the chicks encounter, some chicks can experience sickness. One possible issue is called "pasting."
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.) Also known as "pasty butt," "pasted vent" or "pasting up", the condition is common in baby chicks, and not typically seen in adult birds, although adults can be affected. Fortunately, the condition is easily treatable and recovery is fairly quick, if the situation is tackled immediately.
Pasting can be cause by a number of factors, often stemming from stress.
Reasons for pasting may include:
- Shipping or transport
- Temperature extremes, hot or cold
- Coccidiosis or other parasite infections that cause loose stools
- Acclimation to solid food
It is unusual for chicks that are shipped through the mail or purchased at a farm store to have pasting. For this reason, check the chicks as soon as they arrive home. Although it is a serious condition, the good news is that pasting is fairly easy to treat.
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. Material from the belly button must be allowed to dry and detach on its own - never attempt to remove it or you could disembowel the chick, causing a painful death! The belly button must be allowed to heal, and the remaining tissue left to fall away on its own.
Clean the Vent
If you determine the chick is pasting, one technique 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 completely 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.
On the occasion that 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 off of the chick. Be sure to be gentle in this process; it is very easy to pull off feathers and skin if you are not patient and gentle.
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 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 her to the brooder.
To prevent pasting in your flock, practice these tips:
- Minimize stress: Keep the brooder calm and comfortable with fresh, clean water and a complete feed.
- Keep it clean: Simple housekeeping, like keeping litter clean and dry, will also help prevent undesirable bacteria from exacerbating the problem.
- Maintain a proper temperature: If several chicks in the brooder are pasting, check the temperature - it may be too warm or too cold.
- Don't rush to offer treats to chicks: If you do off treats do not exceed 10 percent of the diet and, be sure chick grit is available next to the feeder.
- Add probiotics to the feed or water source to help the issue subside.
The best prevention is to minimize stress. Have your brooder ready and at the correct temperature before you bring the chicks home, and do not allow the chicks to be handled for several days until they have acclimated to their new surroundings and diet.
Overall, one of the most important things to do when your chicks arrive home is to check them for pasting. Check daily and be sure to address the issue right away. If the vent is unable to clear waste products, the chick is at grave risk for a painful demise. Fortunately, the treatment is fairly simple. Use gentle techniques and provide good nutrition to help your chicks thrive.