What Is Pasty Butt and How Do I Prevent It?

Colleen McGarry

If you’ve hatched or raised baby chicks, you’ve probably heard the term “pasty butt.” If you don’t have chickens yet, but you’re planning to get some, now is the time to learn! Pasty butt, as unglamorous as it sounds, is a common speed bump during the chicken-raising process. While it’s easy to treat and diagnose, pasty butt chickens can perish if left alone! In this post, we’ll go over concepts like what pasty butt is, what you need to look out for, and how to treat pasty butt in chickens.

What Is Pasty Butt?

Pasty butt is basically what it sounds like. Sometimes, baby chickens get poo and other grime stuck on their bottoms, and it can make a big mess! It isn’t always an emergency, but in some cases, the “paste” can block the vent (or cloaca) on a baby chick. The poo dries and creates a hard, cement-like mass that prevents the chick from passing its poo normally. Too much time spent blocked like this can hurt the baby chick, sometimes fatally.

Fortunately, pasty butt isn’t all that common in healthy baby chicks. You might see pasty butt chickens more often under certain conditions. The most frequent ones we’ve seen happen at Little Onion Farm are:

Sometimes, a seemingly-perfectly-healthy chick can develop pasty butt for no discernible reason. Healthy chicks usually only have one or two episodes of pasty butt, then it stops (more on this later).

How to Recognize Pasty Butt

How do you know when you have pasty butt chickens? The only real way is to check your chicks individually for the first few weeks after they hatch. One check per day is ideal.

Some chickens owners will tell you not to handle your baby chicks during their early days to prevent sickness. We disagree! While we do advise you to wash your hands before holding them (especially if you’ve been around other chickens), holding baby chicks while they’re young isn’t just the best way to check for pasty butt – it’s the best way to socialize them to you, too. To check your chicks for pasty butt, lift each one gently in your hands and inspect their backsides for any poo build-up.

We’ve found that the best way to do this is by sliding your middle finger between the chick’s legs, then using your pointer and ring fingers to hold their legs in place gently. Once the chick is in position, hold it in your palm and tilt it so you can inspect the vent. When you’ve finished, bring your hand all the way to the ground and release the chick carefully.

Keep a special eye out for any chicks that seem lethargic or uncoordinated, especially if you can’t check them daily. A chick that’s had pasty butt for a while will act unwell. Checking every day is still the best way to prevent pasty butt, though, as your chicks might not show symptoms until the problem has progressed. By that time, they may already be quite weak.

Note that very young baby chicks can retain remnants of their umbilical cord – usually a little below the cloaca – that may look like pasty butt. It’ll look black and it may stick out a bit. Don’t try to remove it! The Chicken Chick has a fantastic visual example of the difference in this post (it’s the third picture down).


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My Chick Has Pasty Butt! What Do I Do?

If you find a pasty butt chicken, don’t panic! Pasty butt treatment is as easy as setting up a bowl of warm water. Carefully dunk the chick’s back end into the water until the poo loosens (you may have to dunk them a few times or keep the poo submerged for a bit). As the paste softens, carefully pull it away with your fingers. You may want to wear gloves!

If one of your chicks has a large “chunk” of poo that doesn’t sit close to the skin, you may also try very carefully cutting the chunk away with some scissors. Please exercise caution with this method – don’t get the scissors too close to your chick’s body, or you may nick them! I only recommend using this approach if the chunk is large, difficult to remove, and detached from the chick’s skin already. Never attempt to pull off dry poo – doing so has the potential to cause serious injury to the chick!

Once you’ve safely removed as much poo as possible – at least enough to expose the cloaca – place your cleaned pasty butt chick promptly under their brooder or heat lamp to warm back up. You might also consider holding them gently in a towel for a few minutes if they get too wet during the soaking process. Keep an eye on the chick until they fully dry, and be sure to keep a close eye on any chick that’s had pasty butt before. The probability that a weak or sick chick will be a repeat offender is high, so you may have to perform this process multiple times. Once they gain a bit of strength, the problem will usually clear up on its own.

Pasty Butt FAQs

Have any lingering questions about pasty butt? If we didn’t answer them in this guide, feel free to send us a message – we’re happy to help!

Q: Can other poultry species get pasty butt?

A: Yup! Ducklings, turkey poults, goslings, guineas, and even baby quail can all get pasty butt. However, it might be more or less common in other species (in our experience, it seems to be most common in chickens).

Q: What causes pasty butt?

A: Sickness and weakness tend to be some of the most common causes. However, it can also happen due to temperature or nutritional imbalances. For example, if your shipped chicks get a little too cold during shipping, you might see a round of pasty butt after they arrive. Feed that’s not formulated for baby chicks can cause pasty butt, too.

Q: Can adult chickens get pasty butt?

A: Yes, but it’s a little different and a lot more rare. Fluffy adult chicken breeds, like Silkies and Cochins, can sometimes get unsightly poo build-up in their rear feathers just because they’re so floofy! However, this build-up rarely blocks the vent – it just looks a little gross. If you do find that one of your adult or adolescent chickens has a blocked vent, that usually means you have bigger problems to worry about, like parasites or disease.

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