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Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens

The corner stone of a flock of healthy backyard chickens is what I call the holistic trinity - apple cider vinegar, garlic and Diatomaceous earth.

I firmly believe in an ounce of prevention. In fact, wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who said 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' ?

He was a smart man - and I bet he wasn't even talking about chickens !

But he was right, it's far easier (and cheaper) to keep your chickens' immune systems strong and healthy and give them the best chance at fighting off illness and infections themselves than to try and treat something after they have contracted it. 

Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens

And I believe that adding apple cider vinegar to their water is the single most important thing you can do for your chickens.

Being the ultimate prey animal and being part of a pecking order that preys on the weaker members of the flock, chickens work very hard to hide signs of any illness or injury, so often by the time you see any symptoms, it is too late to treat whatever is wrong.

The Holistic Trinity

Because of this, I supplement my flock's diet with what I call the "Holistic Trinity" of healthy chickens: Apple Cider Vinegar, Garlic and Diatomaceous Earth.

Of course there are naysayers. Of course some of this is hard to prove, it's near impossible to find any published studies, and of course I am not a vet or a scientist, but I CAN tell you this: In all my years of raising chickens, I have NEVER had any issues with mites or lice.

I have never wormed my chickens with anything commercial or chemical and they have never had worms. I have never had a single chicken with respiratory problems, coccidiosis or any other disease.

My chickens are never sick, my oldest lived to be nine years old....So you be the judge.

Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens

First in the Trinity is APPLE CIDER VINEGAR. Apple cider vinegar great for chicken immune systems, guards against bad bacteria and maintains digestive health in the intestines by lowering the pH levels and is an overall health booster. 

But it's got to be the "good stuff". Raw, organic vinegar with the mother.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens

Apple cider vinegar increases calcium (as well as other minerals) absorption so your chickens will get more 'bang for the buck' from the layer feed and eggshells or oyster shell you provide them. 

Apple cider vinegar also acts as an antiseptic by killing the germs that cause respiratory problems - which chickens are extremely susceptible to - in the throat and promotes healthy mucous flow

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens

Add apple cider vinegar to your chickens waterer a once or twice a week, or alternatively add it to your chickens water for one straight week every month. Be sure and use a plastic or stoneware waterer: the vinegar will rust the metal and galvanized waterers.

The ratio is 1 Tablespoon ACV per gallon of water. 

Apple cider vinegar is thought to taste good to chickens and encourages them to drink more. The vinegar will also help keep your chickens' water free of harmful bacteria and algae. The optimal range for your flock's drinking water is a ph of 4. That creates the most unfriendly environment for bad bacteria.

You can also easily (and inexpensively) make your own Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother using leftover apple peels.

Garlic for Chickens

Second in the Holistic Trinity is GARLIC. Garlic boosts immune systems, improves respiratory health and it is also thought that mites, lice, ticks and other parasites are not as attracted to the blood of animals who eat a lot of garlic. 

More Benefits of Garlic for Chicken

Garlic is also believed to be a natural wormer and reduces the smell of chicken manure in flocks fed garlic regularly. I don't find that the garlic taints the taste of our eggs in the least bit.

How to Feed Garlic to Chickens

Garlic can be added to your chickens' diet in a couple of different ways.

You can float whole cloves in your waterer (mashed up a bit), replacing them every few days. You can offer crushed fresh cloves in a small dish free-choice. Or you can add garlic powder to their feed.

I have tried all three and find it easiest to just add the powder to their feed (2% ratio), but every once in awhile I also give them a bowl of the fresh garlic.

Small chicks should also be offered crushed fresh garlic, free-choice, early on so they develop a taste for it. A splash of apple cider vinegar in their water is also a great health booster for chicks.

A Bit More about Garlic for Chickens

Although garlic is in the allum family which also contains the potentially toxic onion, the levels of the toxin thiosulphate in garlic is only 1/15th that found in onions, and powdered garlic contains even less after being processed, so I feel very comfortable adding garlic to our chickens' daily feed.

The first problem with the perception that garlic may be toxic is that garlic is in the onion family and we have all been warned that onions are toxic to animals, and by that logic garlic must be as toxic also.

The second problem with garlic is that when studies were conducted to see just how toxic it may be (these studies were done in the 30's), the amount of garlic given to the animals (dogs and cats in this case) was excessive, in some studies 6 times (or six whole cloves) the amount of garlic was fed - equal to a whole bulb of raw garlic; this amount of garlic fed every day would probably be toxic to humans as well.

Since these studies, people have linked garlic and onions as being the same level of toxic and until recently (in the early 2000's) no one made an effort to take another look at garlic or it's true levels of toxicity.

Recent Garlic Studies 

A small dose of onions can be toxic to animals due to their high concentrations of thiosulphate, and even though garlic is in the onion family it simply does not have the same levels of thiosulphate, in fact it has 1/15 the level, and this is in it's raw, whole form.

When garlic is further processed for consumption as a powder supplement, mixed with other supplements and minerals (as in the case of Brewer's Yeast and Garlic), and given at appropriate doses, then the thiosulphates are negligible at best.

The fact is that garlic is not toxic when taken at low levels and is often included as an ingredient in many commercially available natural pet foods.

As with anything in life the levels or doses you take of something is the deciding factor on how toxic it will be.

No one would doubt the fact that taking a once a day multi-vitamin is a good thing for your body, but what if you took that once a day vitamin 50 times a day, you would end up with toxic levels of vitamins in your body.

Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

The third in the Holistic Trinity is food-grade DIATOMACEOUS EARTH (DE). DE is an all natural silica-based crushed fossil that kills hard-shelled insects.

Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

It kills fleas, ticks, flies, aphids, earwigs, silverfish, crickets, millipedes, centipedes and digestive worms while being completely safe for chickens.

How to Use Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

Diatomaceous earth sprinkled in the nesting boxes and on the coop floor helps control parasites, and sprinkled around the feeders controls flies and ants in the summer. 

Only food-grade DE should be used around the chickens, because they will inevitably end up eating some. Which is fine. Diatomaceous earth actually has some good health benefits for them.

I also add Diatomaceous Earth to their daily feed in a 2% ratio to keep the feed bug-free. But more importantly, Diatomaceous Earth, according to an article in Poultry Science, increases shell weight and thickness, increases egg production and increases hen body weight.

Note: DE does also kill good bugs and can cause lung aggravation if the dust is inhaled - like any fine powder can, even plain baking flour, so take care where and how you sprinkle it.

You can wear a dust mask while sprinkling your coop floor, nesting boxes, around the feeders, in the dust bath area, etc. to prevent lung and throat irritation if you wish...and never sprinkle it when the chickens are in close proximity to avoid them getting any into their lungs inadvertently.

I find that one good way to disperse the Diatomaceous Earth is from a plastic shaker bottle, like the kind Parmesan cheese comes in. I keep a full bottle in the run and sprinkle it liberally, especially in the summer when the flies get bad.


Bonus health tips for Chickens! 

Yogurt and Molasses

Plain yogurt with live cultures and blackstrap molasses are also good to give your chickens on occasion as both have health benefits for your flock.

A once weekly serving of yogurt will help keep the good bacteria levels high in your chickens' digestive systems and molasses contains lots of minerals including iron and copper, manganese and potassium, as well as calcium.

Molasses helps flush toxins out of the chickens' systems.

Yogurt can cause diarrhea so it should only be given in small amounts and conversely, probiotic powder can be added to their feed in place of the yogurt to help boost the good bacteria in their intestines.

And there you have your Holistic Trinity plus something for intestinal health. The holistic secrets to raising healthy chickens.

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