For many new chicken owners pasty butt will be the first opportunity to get closely acquainted with chicken poop. Up to this point, other than a little odor, you may have been able to pretend that poop isn’t going to be part of the experience.

Well… the honeymoon is over.

I believe that dried poop is one of nature’s most wonderful charms.
-No Person Ever

Chicken poop has its uses to be sure, but that’s way down the road from where we are with our chicks.

Like with human baby poop, initially chick poop is merely an unpleasant idea that you can just wipe away and throw in the trash.

Mega blowout from He Shat, She Shat

But then your cute little baby has its first huge stealth poo (that you don’t notice for an hour or so). Which is inevitably followed by a massive blowout that somehow makes it out of the “no-leak” diaper, past the elastic waistband, up the back of that used-to-be-white, so cute outfit your mom bought, into those formerly kissable baby neck rolls, and all the way up into their hair which is now dried and stiff.

Am I right, parents?

So you start cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning.

But, despite your best efforts you begin to suspect that dried fecal matter is the best natural adhesive EVER. No matter how much you wipe, that stuff just will NOT come off. So, it’s into the bath for a good soak.

 

What to Expect When They’re Excrementing

Before we really get into this I should tell you that I’m not a vet, nor do I play one on the internet. This is all based on what I’ve leaned and observed.

Chick poop has many of the same undesirable qualities as baby poop.
The worst ones:

  • come out runny and dry fast,
  • manage to splatter onto every surface in a 5 ft radius,
  • adhere to anything and everything,
  • cannot be simply wiped off,
  • cannot be completely cleaned up (you’ll always find a spot later), and
  • if not remedied promptly, will cause you more significant problems later.

The Causes

The short answer is that pasty butt is caused by a combination of stress and an unprepared digestive system. We’ll get to the details in just a second. But first, a brief story read in the voice of your favorite wildlife narrator.

In the wild the mother hen goes to extreme measures to make sure that her nest is kept absolutely clean. She instinctively knows how dangerous bacteria and microbes can be to her chicks and she doesn’t want to risk exposing them. Once the eggs pip she immediately puts on protective booties to make sure that she doesn’t track harmful germs into the nest where her babies might accidentally ingest them.

Clearly, that’s not what happens. While it is true that a good broody hen will take some very basic precautions when they’re sitting on eggs (like, don’t poop on the eggs) it is far from a sterile environment.

And that’s a good thing.

Once those chicks hatch they’re very soon out and about wandering around with mama pecking at anything that grabs their interest. One of the things that they will certainly peck at is mama’s poop. And by doing that they ingest a little bit of the same bacteria that mama has in her gut, thereby preparing their own system for eating what mama eats.

Chicks in their shipping box

But that’s not what happens in a hatchery, which is probably where your chicks came from. Hatching enough eggs to run a business requires a few modifications to the more natural process to make it possible. Hundreds if not thousands of chicks are hatched at once in an incubator, sexed on an assembly line, dropped in a box and shipped off to your local post office.  Please understand, I’m not knocking hatcheries. They provide a wonderful service to thousands of chicken owners and I greatly appreciate them.

Anyway, simply put, that’s a lot of stress on a just hatched chick. And they don’t have the benefit of mama’s poop to kick-start their system. And then they’re in your brooder eating for the first time and their digestive systems need time to adjust. And they don’t have mama there to pick the poop off their fluffy little butts.

That’s where you come in!

The Remedy

To keep things as natural as possible I recommend using your incisor teeth since they’re about as sharp as a hen’s beak.

JOKING! DO NOT TRY THAT!

Never ever ever put your mouth anywhere near your chicks or chickens. Your weak human digestive system just shouldn’t be subjected to that. And always wash your hands after handling chickens or their accessories!

Okay, really, what do we do for these little critters with their poopy butts?

All it takes is some warm water, a washcloth, and some patience.

  • Wet the washcloth with warm (not hot) water
  • Gently hold the chick and soak the clod of poop for at least 30 seconds
  • Wipe away or gently pull off the poop (it’s okay to use your hands)
  • If it doesn’t come off relatively easily, soak it some more
  • Repeat until clean
  • Dry the chick off as best you can and put it back in its warm place

Chick warming up under the heat plate

If your chick loses a few downy feathers in the process it’s not the end of the world, they’re already working on replacing them. Also, make sure you don’t mistake the umbilical stump for poop.

Preventative Measures

To my knowledge there’s no way to guarantee that one or more of your chicks won’t get pasty butt. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce the likelihood. Recall how we said that the cause is a combination of stress and an unprepared system? Those two things now become our focus to give our chicks the best chance to not have to go through this.

Reduce Stress

To help lower stress levels do what you can to get them home from the post office and into their brooder as soon as possible. Check for any obvious issues, get them settled in, and then leave them be until tomorrow (except to look in on them once or twice, cause they are really cute). They’ll be fine. And if they’re not, there’s probably little to nothing you could have done about it anyway. Sorry, it’s true.

Healthy Bacteria

We talked earlier about how “wild” hatched chicks get their gut bacteria from mama hen and their environment. Since she’s not in the picture and they’re not living outside we’d like to find another way to help them along.

The most natural (and cost effective) recommendation I’ve seen is to add a little bit of raw apple cider vinegar in with their water. About a tablespoon-ish per gallon. Make sure it’s a kind that says something about the “mother” on it. I’m pretty sure they’re not referring to the mother hen, but the effect is close enough. I have begun using this method and it seems to help, but I haven’t yet done experiments to prove it.

I was planning on including a video of how we do the apple cider vinegar thing, but I didn’t plan well and it’s not done. So, subscribe to our fledgling YouTube channel and you’ll get a notification when it’s posted.

Join in the Discussion

Alright, I’ve got one simple request. Okay, two. But they’re both really easy.

  1. I’m dying to know what voice you heard in your head when you read our “wild chicken” story. Let us know in the comments here or on our Facebook page.
  2. If you enjoyed reading this subscribe to our newsletter (if you haven’t already) so that I can continue to deliver to you practical backyard chicken tips and hints to make your chicken experience just a little bit easier. I’d be very grateful.

TL;DR

Poop is part of life for every parent and every chicken owner. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. But it’s really not as bad as it sounds.

Improve the odds your chicks will avoid pasty butt by getting them into a low stress environment as soon as you can and adding a little something to their diet to encourage healthy guy bacteria.

If they get pasty butt anyway use warm water, a washcloth, and a gentle, patient hand to clean them up, dry them off, and put them back.

 

Happy chickening everybody. See you next week!

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