Many of you have probably heard that it’s good to give your flock apple cider vinegar, but do you know why?
It helps if you understand the digestive systems of chickens. I’ve posted a more detailed article on the complete workings of how chickens process their food, but for now I’ll provide a short overview. Birds have very efficient digestive systems, which have allowed them to be lightweight, and in most species, to fly. Okay, chickens may not be able to fly much, but they still have efficient digestion.
Once food enters the mouth it travels down the esophagus to the crop, an expandable pouch at the base of their neck. If you feel your bird’s crop at night it should be full and firm, and in the morning, empty and flat. The first time you see a full crop you might mistake it for a lopsided growth on one side of their upper chest. If food sits in the crop and ferments they can develop yeast infections and sour crop. If it gets stuck and can’t pass to the stomach it becomes an impacted crop. Both conditions can be serious, and even, life threatening. More on crop health here.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an acidic vinegar produced by fermenting apples. Bacteria and yeast are added to start the alcoholic fermentation process where the sugars are turned into alcohol. It contains several vitamins (especially potassium), minerals, trace elements, and acetic acid.
A strong detoxifying and purifying agent, ACV can neutralize toxic substances that enter the body, including harmful bacteria. It helps to improve the health and functions of vital organs by prevention of excessive alkaline urine and can help prevent kidney stones and gout.
ACV can reduce the pH level in the crop, which helps to combat any ingested microbes and bad bacteria. It acts as an antiseptic by killing germs that cause respiratory problems, which chickens are susceptible to, in the throat and promotes healthy mucous flow.
Food gets broken down and gradually passes to the main stomach. ACV maintains digestive health in the intestines by lowering the pH level, which can help reduce internal worms, by creating an inhospitable environment for them to live in. It won’t fully eradicate them, so watch out for signs of worms in their poop (tape and roundworms are easy to spot) or have a routine fecal float test done by your veterinarian.
It can also increase the absorption of minerals, like calcium, which is important for the building of bones and critically, egg shells.
Make sure to use the kind with ‘the mother’, the colony of beneficial bacteria in unpasteurized and unfiltered ACV. You can get large bottles, at places like Costco, for $8. I put 1 tablespoon of ACV in a one gallon water container several times a month. I only use plastic waterers because vinegar will corrode the galvanized metal ones.
- Avoid the overuse of ACV, which can damage the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract lining and contribute to bone loss due to high levels of citric acid.
- The ideal amount is 1 tbsp/1 gallon water, given for one week each month.
- Chicks do not require ACV and do not offer it until they are several months old.
- High amounts of acetic acid can decrease potassium levels, which can lead to heart problems and paralysis.
- Eliminate giving ACV when the temperature is above 30c/86f. When the temperatures rise you can see your birds spread their wings and pant, attempting to cool themselves. When chickens get overheated their respiration and heart rate increase and create a build up of carbon dioxide. This process upsets their pH balance and can increase their chances of contracting acidosis. ACV also increases acidity levels in their system. One of the symptoms of acidosis is decreased food and water intake which can lead to dehydration, exactly what we’re trying to avoid in hot weather.