Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) In Chicken Water

Claims About Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a folk remedy that is said to improve overall wellness and cure a variety of human diseases from arthritis to mental exhaustion.  ACV is also said to improve overall poultry health and there are now many sources on the Internet that promote adding ACV to your chicken's water. 

Below are two typical examples that explain the supposed benefits of ACV:

"Apple Cider Vinegar has been given to chickens for many years since it has numerous health benefits and supports the immune system. It is particularly good at times of stress when the immune system is low. ACV is full of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It helps lower the pH level in the stomach, helping digestion and making it less friendly for harmful pathogens. ACV detoxifies the blood and helps remove mucous from with the body. This is particularly useful since chickens are particularly prone to respiratory problems and ACV can be of benefit in helping birds clear their airways..."
"Apple Cider vinegar is rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements found in apples, especially potassium. It will normalize pH levels in the stomach, improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. A few more benefits of oral apple cider vinegar are: 
  • Reduces intestinal and fecal odor.
  • Aids in digestion.
  • Helps break down minerals and fats.
  • Assists the animal to assimilate protein.
  • Assists the animal to convert food better.
  • It lowers the pH of the digestive tract which will make the environment less welcoming to pathogens and, therefore, reduce common infections and increase resistance to disease." 

The Human Evidence 

Because ACV has been so widely touted, we decided to dig in a little on this topic to see if we could learn more about ACV. In particular, we were interested in finding any research that might support these claims and data that would allow us to make dosing recommendations to readers of this blog and to users of the BriteTap poultry waterer.

Unfortunately, the claims made about ACV are not well documented. This is true both of consumption by both humans and poultry. Let's take a cursory look at some of the human evidence first....

A 2007 study on 11 humans who took 2 tablespoons per day of ACV showed that their blood sugar levels dropped by 4-6%. This indicates that ACV might be helpful in treating diabetes. However, the study should be looked at as one that suggests that further research should be conducted, not one that firmly establishes the benefits of ACV.

A study of people who ate salads dressed with oil and vinegar showed six days a week had lower rates of heart disease than those that didn't. However, it wasn't clear that the vinegar was the reason.

Other human studies suggest potentially conflicting results of using ACV. One study associated consumption of ACV with lower rates of throat cancer. However, a second study associated ACV consumption with higher rates of bladder cancer. 

For more information about the above mentioned studies, check out the article on Apple Cider Vinegar at WebMD.

The Impact of Acidified Water on Poultry

As far as we can tell, there have been no specific studies documenting the impact of adding ACV to poultry water.

What research does exist, documents the impact of adding an acid such as acetic acid (found in ACV), lactic acid, or formic acid to water.  Below is a summary of some of these studies:

  • A study by J.A. Byrd and others on adding various acids to poultry water published in the the March 2001 issue of Poultry Science1 showed that adding acetic acid (the acid found in vinegar) to poultry waterer 8 hours prior to slaughter, lowered levels of salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria in the animals crop. For commercial meat producers, lowering the bacteria level in a bird's intestinal tract is of benefit because this would lower the potential for food contamination during processing. However, such a benefit is normally not sought by backyard poultry enthusiasts. The study did not attempt to measure any other impact of acetic acid on poultry and so no other conclusion can be drawn.
  • A Study by P. Chaveerach published in the May 2002 issue of Poultry Science2 showed that when added to water, acetic acid (such as that found in vinegar) could kill Campylobacter. However, the study was conducted by placing bacteria, water and acetic acid in a test bottles and then measuring the growth or decline of the Campylobacter over time.  The study did not measure whether transmission rates of Campylobacter could be reduced using acidified water in real world conditions where the bacteria might also be spread via fecal contamination of feed or bedding.  Nor did the study measure the impact of using a cleaner watering system such as the BriteTap on reducing overall transmission rates.  As a result, the study has little practical application for backyard chicken keepers.
  • A study done by L.F. Kubena published in the February 2005 issue of Poultry Science3 showed contradictory evidence to that published by J.A Byrd (see above). The Kubena study indicated no impact of water/acid treatment on Salmonella in the intestinal tract of chickens. However, the study noted that the test conditions differed between the two studies. Specifically, the chickens in the Kubena study were fed minimal amounts of feed (food deprivation) for nine days as part of a forced molt. This difference may have accounted for the different results shown in the two studies. In our opinion, not much can be extrapolated to the experience of backyard poultry keepers from the Kubena study.
I could use a drink right now. How about you girls?

Our Recommendations

At present, we don't understand the benefits or the risks of adding ACV to poultry water. It's possible that ACV might improve poultry health in one regard and diminish it in another. (Such was the case with the human study that showed ACV potentially lowering rates of throat cancer while raising rates of bladder cancer.) 

One thing that is certain..... 

The broad claims made about ACV on the Internet are grossly exaggerated and are not supported by sufficient evidence. Specific claims about ACV's ability to lower pathogens in the gut are misleading in our opinion because the claim implies that you can improve your flocks's health by adding ACV to the water.  In fact, the only research on this matter relates to lowering bacteria levels prior to slaughter to reduce contamination during processing. We don't believe this is a benefit most backyard chicken owners are seeking.

Here are our recommendations:

  1. Leave the ACV in your kitchen cabinet and supply your birds with plenty of clean water.
  2. Change water daily to make sure its fresh.
  3. Use a waterer like the BriteTap chicken waterer since it completely shields your chicken's water from known contaminants such as dirt and droppings.
  4. In the summer, add some ice cubes to the water supply to keep the water cool. This encourages birds to drink more and thus keeps them hydrated.
Chickens drink from special valves located on the bottom of the BriteTap Waterer.

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out.

(1) Poultry Science. March 2001. Effect of Lactic Acid Administration in the Drinking Water During Preslaughter Feed Withdrawal on Salmonella and Campylobacter Contamination of Broilers. 

(2) Poultry Science. May 2002. In Vitro Study on the Effect of Organic Acids on Campylobacter jejuni/coli Populations in Mixtures of Water and Feed.

(3) Poultry Science. February 2005. Effects of Drinking Water Treatment on Susceptibility of Laying Hensto Salmonella enteritidis During Forced Molt.


  1. I have numerous chickens. They always have clean water but during the summer they like to drink out of the big troughs. I put 1 cup of vinegar in my horses and goats water troughs to keep the sides from turning green. Seems like my chickens prefer vinegar in their water. So I put some in their water so they don't have the risk of falling into my big water troughs and drown. As far as I can see there isn't anything saying it is bad for them and they love it. I have some chickens going on 4 yrs old. So I say what ever makes them happy. ;)

    1. My chickens seem to like ACV in their water as well, but I read that during periods of extreme heat that you shouldn't add the ACV.

  2. Hi Terri - You're right, there is nothing to indicate that there's anything "bad" about putting some ACV in your chicken's water. However, there is also no strong evidence that it prevents parasites or improves the overall health of the bird. These are claims made frequently on the Internet boards. The truth is that there haven't been studies done to test any of these claims so we really don't know. Adding some ACV to the water probably does keep down the algae in the water because it is acidic. That makes sense to me.

  3. Hi Alexturpen. The only reason I can think of for such advice is that one might be concerned that the chickens would reduce their water intake because they don't like the tasted of the ACV in the water.

  4. Hi. I have been using ORGANIC ACV for my hens for the past few years. One thing I did notice when I began adding Org ACV is the egg production increased and their egg production continues strong throughout the winter months. The girls also seem to tolerate the heat/cold environments better, I believe they are stronger, healthier and happier with ACV in their diet. Has anyone else noticed an increase of egg production with ACV use?

    1. Hi Can you tell me how much ACV you put in your water? I would like to try it with my chickens.

  5. Hi I would like to start adding ACV to my chickens & goats water. But no one seems to mention how much you add to the water ratio? Can someone please tell me how much they use?

    Thanks, Melinda

  6. Melinda - Most people add 2 tablespoons of ACV per gallon. This lowers the pH of the water to something like 2.0. That is fairly acidic. For perspective Coca Cola has a pH of 2.5. At that level of acidity you are going to corrode any iron or stainless steel that comes into contact with the water. We're doing some research on the exact impact of such high acid levels on the BriteTap valves, but it will be a while before we publish the results of our study. Until we have completed these tests, we would recommend dialing back the ACV to 1/2 Tablespoon per gallon of water. The pH of this dilution would be something like 5.0, still acid but not strongly so. At a pH of 5.0 there would be no impact iron or steel parts. That notwithstanding, we are not big fans of adding ACV as you can tell from the article above.

    1. My chickens tried ACV using one ounce per gallon. I premixed and saved the container to keep it cool. This was last summer. There was a definite reduction in water consumption. After two weeks I started putting a one gallon tub of fresh water each day which they really liked. They were starting to lay eggs about then. I'll never forget seeing one bird with her backside in the water while sitting over the edge. Others would stand in the water like children cooling off their feet. I guess laying eggs is hard work from a different prospective! I only give them filtered water from the frig not the chemical stuff from the tap.

  7. I have 19 week old hens tried the acv and they drank the whole gallon of water in an hour usually it lasts them 2 days. Point being is for some reason they drank it whether was taste are they knew it was good for them. Hoping it will jump start them into laying still on the egg watch.6 New Hampshire hens they are very healthy looking I told them I'm ready for eggs.

  8. It seems to me to that all you have discovered is that there is little evidence to support the claims of ACV because there has been virtually no research. The little research you did mention looked to me to be positive and in favour of ACV. Why on earth would you then entitle your article "don't use ACV in chicken water"? - why not "more research needed on ACV in chicken water" ?My Dr advised me to take raw ACV because although it is acidic it has an alkalising effect on the body - unlike any other vinegars.

    1. You are right, there isn't much research on ACV and I would be the first to admit that it might have a beneficial effect. However, as things stand today, there is no hard evidence that ACV has a positive effect but if you do a quick google search you'll find plenty of folks telling you to add it to the chicken water and promising all sorts of benefits. NONE of which can be substantiated. This posting "Don't Use ACV" is a meant to grab your attention and ask you to look a little more carefully. Consider the following...If you are concerned about your chickens and want to improve their heath, you could put vitamins in their water because that has a known positive effect on chickens and all other animals. You could put green tea into their water. Tea is an anti-oxidant and there is plenty of research that shows there is a positive impact on human health. See my point... if you are going to add something to your chickens drinking water you might as well add something where you know it will benefit them, not some something that might or might not work.

  9. I am wondering if the reason the chickens actually seem to really like the ACV and will drink the water quicker and hang around the waterer is because ACV or any vinegar causes an imbalance in the chickens homeostasis! I believe that it causes them to become dehydrated and so they drink more of it in an attempt to balance their electrolytes and fluid. I had a sick bird and started to give it ACV which seemed to perk it right up! Then it started guzzling the water and then died!
    I will research further, but its just a hypothesis!

    1. Hi Sally - I suppose it really depends on the quantity of ACV used. I don't know enough about electrolytes and homeostasis to answer this myself. If you learn anything, please share it with us and also the source. Thanks!

  10. @chickenwaterer - well argued. I was looking for something scientific to debunk the ACV, and strangley enough you made a few rather valid points, i'm no further forward, but how can i be... until someone does some proper double blind studies we cannot know eh... no good if the chicken knows what is in the water lol! I had never considered filtered water, but we have a spring so that rules out the chemicals... actually maybe i did learn something - i could improve my writing skills a bit - well done.

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words. I think the chance of us backyard chicken keepers getting a valid study done on ACV isn't that good. The truth is that most research is done by industry with a specific research need. The commercial chicken keepers are not going to be interested in this particular subject matter. The closest I could find was a study on acidifying water, but again, the purpose of the study was to determine if this lowered salmonella in the gut of a chicken prior to slaughter. Industry is interested because they want to lower the risk of selling contaminated product. The topic of the study was NOT whether adding ACV (or any acid) to water did anything to improve the chickens health.

  11. I have 80,000 chickens and have started using apple vinegar in the past 1 month. My chickens just went to market and probably haven't seen any benefits yet but will try on my up coming flock for the full 60 days just to see if it helps. I have been using Gatorade since it has electrolytes and also some clorox and really cant say that it helped or hurt. All I can say is us as humans like tea and sometimes pepsi /coke as something with a different taste, so why not try anything for poultry to give them something different as a taste. After all we want something different to drink and not the same taste every day. My thoughts are anything that is used as a healthy alternative should be good to use for poultry ( IN MODERATION ).

  12. I have used plain vinegar in my chickens water for years to keep the 'mites' away. Supposedly the mites don't like the flavor of the chicken when they ingest vinegar. I've never had a mite problem so I have always thought it must be functional. I also use DE in the nest boxes and when I clean the chicken house. If people can ingest 'it' then the chickens probably won't be hurt by whatever 'it' is. Chickens will eat whatever dosen't eat them first!

  13. One thing I think people are missing is if you add the vinegar to the birds water it should only be added for ONE WEEK A MONTH. NOT DAILY! The acid in the vinegar changes the birds ph balance and if given too often the gut can become ACIDIC. Yes that keeps bad bacteria at bay however it also KILLS the Benni final bacteria in the gut as well. If you want to do something good for your hens give them a good PROBOTIC that actually adds beneficial bacteria into the system and that bacteria will compete with bad bacteria and keep their system healthy. It does FAR more good than creating a overly acidic environment that is not natural for the birds. You can get a good PROBOTIC for hens online or some farm stores. I would really think about this next time your tempted to add the ACV to their water supply. You can do far more good with a probotic.

  14. Hi, I've been on-line reading and researching the possible benefits of ACV for poultry and find your anti-ACV stance interesting. I also happen to have a Ph.D. That diploma doesn't make me smarter, but it does mean that I am very well versed in quality of research. Based on that, I have to say that your critique of the research studies cited above are straightforward, but also only focus on what many consider to be "scientific" studies. However, the studies done about the benefits of ACV in humans should probably not be generalized to poultry. The study with just eleven humans should be thrown out as the sample size is too small to draw any real conclusions from.
    There is one huge source of information and data that you have not addressed and which I do believe people can use to form opinions: the internet. Although you say this information is misguided, academicians and researchers are actually coming to realize the huge trough of information that the internet collects, albeit unintentionally. There is a new and growing body of researchers who are using information collected from forums, blogs, and other posts and websites upon which to found their studies. The information found in these posts, including the responses to your blog article, create a huge trove of qualitative data. This is data that is still real and informative, but not necessarily that found in a clinical, quantitative study with controls. However, research based on qualitative data can be incredibly powerful.
    For those interested in how this might apply to a typical backyard chicken owner, the trick for us is to read blogs and posts 'with a filter' in our own minds. For example, I pass quickly over posts and comments where the poster says 'I've heard that" or "I've read that." The posts to pay real attention to are those that are similar some of the ones above, where the poster says, "I've tried this with my ten hens." or "I gave ACV for a month and found that egg shells were thicker..." That information is indeed real and important information and data. Hopefully someday, some intrepid doctoral student will write a dissertation based on this type of data and we can draw some more conclusions! Just as an aside, based on reading several blogs and posts from other chicken-owners who have used it with their own real flocks and chickens, it sounds to me as though ACV does have some real merits and I am willing to give it a try.

    1. Hi Marisa - Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You are correct in pointing to the fact that individuals may have opinions or information that can be useful tools in understanding the world. The principle is called "The Wisdom of Crowds" and dates back to 1906 when a statistician in England, Francis Galton, discovered that independent opinions could be calculated as a probability distribution where the true answer would be close to the mean on the probability curve. In Galton's case, he was attending a county fair and there was a prize being offered to anyone who could guess the actual weight of an ox on display at the fair. No one guessed the exact weight correctly, and many were wildly off in their guesses. However, when the guesses were placed on a probability curve, the average of all the guesses was only 1% off from the correct answer. However, there is one very, very important thing that must occur for the Wisdom of Crowd's principle to work -- the opinions need to be what statistician’s refer to as "Independent." In other words, not influenced by other opinion. In the case I mentioned above about the weight of the ox, the observations were independent. People placed there guesses on a piece of paper and submitted them without seeing everyone else's guess. In the case of ACV for chickens, what we see is NOT Independent observations. People see posts on the internet about the benefits of ACV, try it with their chickens, and then repeat the same claim elsewhere on the Internet. These folks may truly believe that they are seeing positive results from the use of ACV but what's actually happened is that their opinions are already pre-disposed to believe the ACV will work. The recent real estate meltdown in the US is a great example of how the wisdom of crowds breaks down when the observations aren't independent -- reports of people getting rich on real estate combined with greed led to a situation where no one considered the real possibility that real estate prices might decline. Banker's made stupid loans. People bought property they couldn't afford etc. The crowd proved very wrong and we are living with the after effects of that disaster. As for ACV..... In my opinion, there isn't enough real evidence to make me want to bother adding it and I'm not convinced by what I see posted on the Internet. If I decided, I wanted to add something to the water to help my chickens, I would probably add vitamin drops. At least with vitamins, we know they work. If someone were to do a really good scientific study and show that ACV works, I would be happy to post the results. I'm not morally opposed to ACV, just skeptical. Hope this helps.

    2. Ill be using kombucha for my chickens. Very much like ACV in many ways, usually not quite as acidic but you can brew it longer. I'm using my own noticed health benefits as a reference. Its another case of no real studies and you hit on it saying they really have no benefits for doing the studies so its not likely to happen. I'm not just saying there were benefits but there were to my satisfaction. Thanks.

    3. I would recommend caution in using kombucha with your chickens. Not from the kombucha itself, but from contamination of the kombucha by other molds that can be harmful. Check out the article on Kombucha on the Wikipedia for more information on contamination of kombucha.

    4. my chickens ADORE kombucha, ACV, kefir and yogurt. i have 9 yr old chickens that lay eggs and they're never sick or ill tempered.
      sorry, i think this entire article is CRAP and a complete waste of time to read.
      anyone who believes in bogus, faked for funding studies done by people who only see chickens in a lab or as experimental creatures has NOTHING to offer compared to decades of hands on, day to day experience with their small or large flocks.
      simply because some geek in a suit or a lab coat hasn't found the figures to justify their research funding project and can't figure out why ACV increases the health and vitality of poultry, does NOT indicate that ACV shouldn't be used. it indicates one should seek counsel from those who KNOW instead of from those who wish they knew.
      your waterers may be nice, but you are CLUELESS about reality if this article is any gauge of your mentation capacity.

    5. I appreciate your opinion, but stand by what I've reported in this article. I don't share your opinion that anyone who wears a lab coat intentionally fakes results. I feel this is both cynical and unkind on your part. I'm open to changing my mind about the benefits of ACV, but if I see nothing in your comments that would cause me to do so.