The other day I was at the grocery store. I hate grocery shopping, so I always make a list so I can get what I need and get out of there as fast as possible. Sometimes I feel like grocery shopping is like bumper boats with shopping carts, only you have to be polite and not ram the other people. And as I write this, I realize I am turning into my father, ha!
In this shopping venture, vinegar, had once again made it's way to the list. As I made my way down the "salad dressing" aisle, it occurred to me that we buy an absurd amount of vinegar. I mean we use it for everything; fabric softener, washing windows, spraying down the shower, cleaning the coffee pot, killing weeds, removing soap scum, pickling, cooking...and the list goes on.
Lately, the need for an abundance of vinegar stems mainly from canning season, but also from my current mission to eliminate chemical cleaning products from our home. I've been looking up a lot of recipes for homemade alternatives and nine times out of ten, any given ingredient list starts with vinegar. So how is it that one magic potion will do everything from kill unwanted weeds, to a nurture a healthy respiratory system?
According to The Vinegar Institute, vinegar, as described in the dictionary is "a sour liquid obtained by acetic fermentation of dilute alcoholic liquids." ...Oh yeah, that's what I thought too...heh.
After reading a bit more I found that in short, vinegar is the result of two fermentation processes. The first is fermentation to alcohol, then the second is from alcohol to acid. The type of vinegar, be it white distilled, red wine, malt, balsamic, apple cider, etc. is determined by what is fermented.
Apple cider vinegar in particular has been praised for its health benefits. I remember my grandmother drinking it diluted when she had a respiratory infection. She used to say "it cuts the cold" and she claimed that it cleared the sinuses. I remember there was always a bottle of Braggs in her pantry.
Because we buy so much vinegar I started to wonder if making vinegar was a difficult process. Turns out, it's not! For those of you who are interested, there are some great articles in Mother Earth News that break down some of the steps to making your own vinegar. I am making a note to divulge into these further. Here's a few to get you started.
Make RAW Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) WITH the Mother for Pennies a Gallon! by the Chicken Chick
How to Make Homemade Vinegar
Apple Vinegar from Peels and Cores by Winifred Bird
Whether you buy it at the store or make it yourself, there's no doubt that vinegar is the chicken keepers best friend. Here are 13 ways I use vinegar to make my life with chickens even better!
1. Adding Vinegar to The Chicken's Water
Like Grandma's cold remedy, vinegar is healthy for chicken's respiratory systems as well. It thins phlegm and has antibiotic properties. The highly acetic atmosphere that vinegar lends, makes an uncomfortable environment for bacteria. It also helps create a healthy digestive system, boosts immunity, and helps fight dehydration during hot spells. I add a couple tablespoons to our waterers every few days. A note of caution: Do not use vinegar in metal containers, it breaks down the metal and can leach chemicals into the drinking water.
Want your eggs to look purdy? Give them a 10 second dip in warm vinegar. It really brings out the color in an egg shell. It also helps remove stains and loosens dirt and grime. (For more on washing eggs with vinegar, read my Iron Oak Farm post How To Wash Eggs...Again.)
As I describe in my post Chicken Bath 101, giving chickens a nice bubble bath every so often is a healthy practice. Adding some vinegar to the rinse water cuts soap residue, conditions the skins and feathers and discourages bug infestations.
4. Removing Mineral Build Up on Waterers
We have well water with plenty of rust and calcium. These minerals cause rings on the chicken's water dishes. As the water evaporates the mineral scum coats the dishes and dries like stone. The rough porous surface of the crusty mineral is a great place for bacteria to settle. To remove it, I simply add a little white vinegar to the dishes, swish it around, and let it set for a few minutes. After, the dish will easily wipe clean with soap and water.
5. De-buggin the Nesting Boxes and Coop
After we clean our coop, I like to spray the nest boxes and coop walls, surfaces etc. with white vinegar. It discourages mites, lice and other creepy crawlies. It also helps deodorize and disinfect. It will dissolves dried egg yolk in the case that someone broke open an egg in the box, and it has mild bleaching properties.
6. Foot Soak
Vinegar helps soften dead skin around the feet. It will also discourage fungus under toenails and clean small cuts caused by scratching in rough terrain. A diluted mixture of vinegar and warm water can be applied as a compress for about 3 minutes or you can stand the chicken in a shallow tub. Then scrub your chicken's feet with a stiff bristle brush, rinse and apply a light coat of Vaseline to sooth and prevent bugs.
Vinegar also helps to clean difficult areas like intricate fencing or cages, perches, or cracks and crevasses that may be soiled. It also helps clean the rims of waterers. It's a good idea to spray down any cages that have held quarantined birds, or if you use a reusable brooder box, wipe it down with vinegar to disinfect after the chicks go outside.
8. Conditioning Spray
There are many poultry sprays and dusts out there meant to combat mites, lice and other nasties. These sprays can contain some pretty harsh chemicals. If you have a major infestation, you might be forced to consider those. But my philosophy is to use an ounce of prevention. A bi-weekly regimen of diluted vinegar sprayed near the vent, the legs, and under the wings, alternating with diomateous earth dustings has helped to control mites and bugs with our flock.
After the chicks have hatched many times the incubator is left a stinky, sticky mess. Vinegar cuts hatching odors, disinfectants and prevents mold and mildew. I also use rubbing alcohol near the motor on a cotton swab because it evaporates quickly. (For more on caring for incubators check out my 4 part Incubation Series)
I know Easter is far from anyone's mind right now but like egg dyes, I've started dying our wool from our Angora goats and vinegar is the source of acid that sets the dye in the fiber. As I was writing this, dye and vinegar are fresh in my mind (and nose for that matter), so I couldn't leave out this colorful spring time use. (For beautiful examples of naturally dyed Easter Eggs read Jennifer Burke's post A Very Colorful Celebration.)
One of my favorite and delicious ways to use vinegar is in Pickled Eggs! These tangy, sweet gems are delicious with beets! And if you can them, its a great way to preserve an abundance of eggs.
Do you use vinegar around your coop? Share it with the Community and let us know how you use this versatile ingredient by leaving a comment below, on the Community Chicken's Facebook page, or visit us at Iron Oak Farm.
Do you have a chicken coop? I'd love to feature it in a Community Chickens post! Fill out the 10-question form by clicking here and submit at least five photos of your coop to my email address at firstname.lastname@example.org. The photos can include the building process, a visual tour of the different elements, or anything else you'd like to share! If I choose your coop story, you will be featured on the Community Chickens website, and you will receive one of Iron Oak Farm's handmade Oak Leaf Key Chains, valued at $23! Feel free to elaborate on any of the questions. I will feature one coop per month. The more information you provide, the better your chances of winning! For more information, read my post A Coop Story Giveaway.