I’m sitting at my makeshift work station, watching the sun come up over the blue-green fields out behind the house and listening to my birds in their brooders. I hear the “found treat” sound, the frenetic, high pitched chirp; I hear the happiness trill, the almost musical contented sound they make when everything is perfect in their little homes; and I hear the scratching and pecking of active, healthy chicks. The season for mail order chicks is upon us, and introducing those new chickens into your flock requires that they are healthy. Respiratory and intestinal ailments are easily and quickly spread through a flock, so it is essential that any newbies to the block are properly quarantined before they are put in with the original residents. We have our chickens vaccinated for Marek’s disease, and many chicken keepers also have their chickens vaccinated for coccidiosis. Obviously prevention is the preferred method of health care, but sometimes a persistent bug gets past our most stringent defenses. When we brought home our 6 Rainbow Rangers, they were active, and eating and drinking well. They seemed healthy and happy. A couple of days later, we noticed one of the chicks had a pasty bottom. Pasting can be caused by several different things, including a brooder that is too hot, and gastrointestinal disease, and is extremely dangerous to the chicken. Essentially fecal matter is matted over the vent, making it impossible for the chick to pass stool, which can be deadly very quickly. I have read a few different methods for handling this condition in chickens, and we tried a couple of things until we found the right method for us.
We keep our brooders in the house at this time because we live in an area where our neighbors are fairly close and they have dogs. Additionally we prefer this method for acclimating our chicks to us. We handle them frequently and talk to them. And we are able to monitor them closely in their fragile beginnings to ensure they are healthy, active and eating. So we noticed right away that this little chick was pasting severely. We tried using warm, wet cloths to moisten the stuck fecal matter, and then slowly remove it from the chick’s feathers using tweezers. This was fairly effective, but it took a while to get everything, and we did accidentally pull out a feather or two. We try really hard not to cause any of our animals pain that is unnecessary, so we stopped using this method shortly after we started. I tried clipping a couple of the feathers to remove the pasting, and I ended up cutting a chicken butt. So that was out. Instead, I decided to use a method that a chicken keeper I trust and admire utilizes. I got out an old soup bowl that I bought as a pretty water bowl for the cats. I filled the bowl about 1/3 full with warm water, and grabbed a wash cloth and an old ratty towel, and spa day for the chicken began. I dipped the chicken's bum in the water, and after the initial shock wore off, he settled down and actually sat still while I washed the poo off. The skin was red and raw, and looked a little tender, so we put Neomycin ointment on it, which works as a water barrier and helps the skin heal. Vaseline would do the same thing; this was just what I had on hand.
Chicks get cold very easily, as they do not have their grown-up chicken feathers yet. So after soaking this poor peep in a soup bowl (the irony is not lost on me), I wrapped him gently in the old towel, grabbed a cup of coffee, and held him until he was warm and dry. After about a minute of this, the chick always falls asleep. Hubby and I did this for the chick a couple of times a day for about 4 days. We also started feeding medicated chick feed to this group in case he had diarrhea caused by a bug. The diarrhea cleared up, and the pasting stopped. His feathers started growing back in, and that little chicken derriere started looking healthy again. As an added bonus, when we take this group out of the brooder to clean, this sweet chicken ignores the treats and freedom, and instead climbs up in my lap and passes out. It really is hard to be a chicken here.