If you keep chickens, chances are you’ve heard that adding apple cider vinegar (ACV) with “the mother” to their drinking water is good for them. The benefits of apple cider vinegar in humans have been touted for centuries, some have been substantiated and others, scientifically disproven. Its use in chickens is a more recent concept and as such, is less studied. Using ACV in the drinking water of chicken improves gut health, reduces slime in the waterers and combats heat stress. If the only thing ACV did was keep my waterers cleaner in between scrubbings, that would be good enough for me, but it accomplishes so much more than that; perhaps not as much as some claim (it is not a natural wormer, for instance) but it does impart many benefits.
Not one to rely on hollow, qualifying phrases such as "it is said that ACV..."' or "it is believed that ACV..." I set out to learn more of the science behind the claimed benefits to chickens of ACV. I read a few studies that left me with more questions than answers, so I brought them to a poultry expert for demystification. I asked The Chicken Vet for his expert opinion about the use of ACV in poultry water based on his education, research and experience; the following was his response:
“The value of vinegar has long been exploited by professional poultry farmers. Acidifying water alters the gut’s bacteria, slowing the growth of nasty bacteria, and giving a boost to good bacteria. Acid also helps control coccidiosis and Clostridium bacteria, which can cause a fatal disease called necrotic enteritis. Vinegar (acetic acid) is a cheap, accessible source of acid that anyone can find. It is, however, not a great acidifier...other organic acids such a butyric or proprionic acids actually work better...(the reason revolves around the pKa of the acid....high-school chemistry, anyone?) I have never found any study that showed any value to apple cider vinegar specifically, and several studies (the Journal of Applied Poultry Science in 2011, and Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Science), showed that broiler (meat) chickens grew slower when fed 0.5% apple cider vinegar or formic acid vs. pure water.
Acidified water also affects laying hens by making the calcium in her feed a little less digestible (again, based on chemistry....calcium is a positive ion, and dissociates better in a more alkaline environment.....seriously, who ever knew that this stuff might matter?). Professional farmers regularly add baking soda to their feed when heat stress is expected....this maintains egg shell quality when hens feed consumption drops due to the heat.
Using vinegar in the water also helps keep bacteria from growing in your water system. It also smells good, and there is some evidence that birds will drink a little more, possibly because of taste.
At the end of the day, vinegar (apple cider or not) is an organic antibiotic that has a place in helping to control bacteria levels in your flock and altering bacterial populations in the gut. Just remember that it has some minor negative consequences for the hens, as it makes some nutrients less available to the birds.” The Chicken Vet
This is a mother, also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)
ABOUT RAW APPLE CIDER VINEGAR WITH THE MOTHER
Using raw, unpasteurized ACV with the mother maximizes the Benefits of vinegar to people and chickens. The mother of vinegar consists of live bacteria and yeast. SCOBY is an acronym for the mother, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.
The mother converts alcohol to acetic acid (aka: vinegar) and its beneficial bacteria remain in the vinegar as a microbe. Jim Levverentz, Leener's Pasteurizing vinegar kills these living components and as such, pasteurized vinegar does not impart all of the Benefits that raw ACV does.
THE BASIC ACV FORMULA
ACV in its most basic form is made by combining:
3 parts Vinegar Stock
(attained through yeast fermentation of apples into alcohol aka: hard cider)
1 part Vinegar Culture (attained through converting alcohol
into acetic acid by use of acidbactar bacteria/a mother/a SCOBY)
3 RECIPES FOR APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
RECIPE #1- Hard Cider + the mother
I purchased 24 ounces of hard cider locally for $3.34 and ordered 8 ounces of Mother of cider vinegar from Leener’s for $11.95
Combine hard cider and mother in a sterilized mason jar. Cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.
Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the mother to convert the alcohol to vinegar. The vinegar smell is unmistakable when it is ready. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months for the conversion to take place. Temperatures between 80-90° F will allow for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.
In four weeks, this mixture turned the hard cider to vinegar. The mother can be seen below as a porous-looking sponge at the bottom of the jar. The formation of this opaque, leathery-feeling mother is evidence that the alcohol has been converted to vinegar. If left to ferment further, the mother will continue to thicken. The mother requires access to oxygen to perform its conversion and since mine sank, I made a 'raft' for it of two toothpicks, bound together.
My mother raft:
When the liquid smells like vinegar and a visible film has formed in the jar, (the new mother) pour off 2/3 of the vinegar into a sterile bottle for use. After a batch of vinegar is made, there will be two mothers, the one that started the batch and the new one that forms. Reserve the mothers in a jar with some vinegar to cover.
To begin a new batch of vinegar, add 24 ounces of hard cider to some of the vinegar you just made. Share the extra mothers with a friend or start another, new jar of vinegar with it.
RECIPE #2- Apples + water + the mother
I am not a vinegar-making expert, but I did consult with one regarding questions I had about vinegar making, particularly as to the method utilizing fresh apples. Jim Leverentz of Leeners indicated that it is best to ferment fresh pressed or juiced apples with wine yeast, then add the mother to make vinegar. But, I had read about a simpler take on this method and wanted to give it a shot. By some stroke of luck and with consistently high heat for several weeks this summer, my garage provided the perfect environment for making ACV from fresh apples. While this is not the ideal way to begin a batch of vinegar, it is the simplest and most cost effective.
I was fortunate that someone locally share a mother of theirs with me to begin this batch of ACV.
The mother isn't pretty, but it's pretty amazing!
Place half a chopped apple (peel, core and all) with a few blueberries (optional, I improvised and it resulted in a beautiful vinegar color!) and water a to a sterilized mason jar. Add the mother, cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.
Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the apples to ferment and convert to alcohol and then for the alcohol to convert to vinegar. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months. Ideally, temperatures will be between 80-90° F for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.
Days after beginning this batch, the bubbles indicated the conversion of the sugar in the apples into alcohol had begun.
Within two weeks, the apples began fermenting due to naturally occurring yeast in the apples and the mother then began converting the alcohol to vinegar! The mother converts from something resembling a jellyfish to an opaque, leathery, living disk.
A second batch, sans blueberries. In two weeks, these apples underwent a fermentation into alcohol and a second fermentation into vinegar.
When I was finished with the apples from the first batch of vinegar, I nearly threw them away when it occurred to me that my chickens might appreciate them AND that it would be a healthful snack. They did and it was!
ACV RECIPE #3- Unpasteurized apple juice + ACV containing the mother (eg Bragg brand)
This method did not work well for me, likely because it was kept in the basement this winter where the temperatures were much too low to convert the apple juice into alcohol, but it should work under proper conditions.
To a sterilized mason jar, add 3 parts apple cider (or unpasteurized apple juice) and 1 part apple cider vinegar with the mother (eg: Bragg). Cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.
Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the cider to convert to alcohol and then for the alcohol to convert to vinegar. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months. Ideally, temperatures will be between 80-90° F for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.
When the liquid smells like vinegar and a visible film has formed in the jar, (the new mother) pour off 2/3 of the vinegar into a sterile bottle to use. Reserve both mothers in a small jar of vinegar and either share with a friend or make more vinegar. It is not necessary for a visible mother to be present to begin a new batch, repeating the process as before but using your own, homemade vinegar this time!