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 reduces slime in the waterers and is purported to improve gut health- but it doesn’t.
I have read a few studies that left me with more questions than answers about the use of ACV in chickens’ drinking water, so I brought them to Dr Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc, aka: the Chicken Vet, for his expert opinion.
“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). 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.”
Dr. Mike Petrik, DVM, MSc,
“Unfortunately, the broad claims for the health benefits of vinegar that you see are grossly exaggerated. There are very few scientific studies looking into the effects of dietary vinegar in humans or chickens, and most of the time, the results of one study may be refuted by another. What the research suggests is that more research needs to be done. There are many people who feel that vinegar helps with many things; there are also many people who believe that a placebo will stop pain. That is why good research studies are always designed to take the placebo effect into consideration. In most cases using some vinegar is unlikely to do harm, as long as you don’t get carried away with it. Just be realistic in your expectations and you’ll be in good shape.” Dr. Mikelle Roeder, research scientist at Purina Animal Nutrition
This is a mother, also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)
ABOUT RAW APPLE CIDER VINEGAR WITH THE MOTHER
Raw, unpasteurized vinegar contains live bacteria and yeast known as the mother or SCOBY, an abbreviation 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. Pasteurizing vinegar kills these living components.
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 fluctuations 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.
I made a raft for the mother out of toothpicks.
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 shared 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, which they did!
ACV RECIPE #3- Unpasteurized apple juice + ACV containing the mother (eg Braggs)
This method did not work well for me, likely because it was kept in the basement, 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 flucuations 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!