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Chickens, vinegar, and black boxes.

I was intrigued by Sue Pederson's item in the Jul/Aug '92 issue that adding cider vinegar to water stopped her hens from pecking each other and, if she stopped adding it, they would start again in a day or two. In the Nov/Dec '92 issue, Liane Stevens followed up on Sue's item saying she tried it and not only did it stop pecking, but also calmed down a hyper-rooster.

In the Jan/Feb '93 issue, Linda Folden noted that Nov/Dec '92 issue of The New Farm has an item on an organic chicken raiser who included vinegar in their drinking water to help deter non-beneficial bacteria. However, that still didn't seem to answer the question.

Hmm, what's going on here? Pecking and cannibalism are commonly attributed to a protein deficiency. If the chickens are being fed a commercial mash or allowed to free range, protein shouldn't be a problem. Vinegar to control digestive pH still didn't explain why the results were so sudden both ways.

Rodale Press's The Practical Encyclopedia of Natural Healing edited by Mark Bricklin reviews a number of books on natural cures. He notes in the 1950's and early 1960's two books by D. C. Jarvis (Folk Medicine and Arthritis and Folk Medicine) were best-selling health-related volumes. Jarvis' premise was that the body is normally slightly alkaline and making it slightly acidic by regular use of cider vinegar would prevent or cure almost any disease known to man or beast -- including calming a raging bull. The acidity would also relieve arthritis by dissolving deposits of calcium in the joints as well as dissolving organ stones. Most of Jarvis' theories haven't stood up to scientific tests. Still, vinegar has been used in natural cures for a long time and sooner or later science finds something to support most folk remedies. For example, a time-honored folk remedy for infections of the urinary tract is cranberries (hippuric acid) and making urine acidic is a common treatment today. (Vinegar is acetic acid.)

pH and digestion

Of the reference books I have on poultry production, only one, Poultry Production, 1938, by M. Jull, mentions pH and digestion. He noted, "The contents of the crop are acid; the contents of the gizzard are more acid than those of the proventriculus; the contents of the duodenum and upper portion of the small intestine are less acid than the contents of the crop; the contents of the lower portion of the small intestine, caeca and large intestine are approximately neutral". However, he goes on to say, "The fowl's digestive tract is well adapted to take care of all normal changes in the feed and water ingested. " Thus, they should not react quickly to a sudden change in diet or water acidity.

Theories:

An egg shell is about 10 percent of the weight of an egg and is almost all calcium carbonate. If hens were having to consume a lot of something like ground oyster shell, perhaps they had a calcium overdose and the vinegar helps to offset it. However, that doesn't explain the effect on the rooster (unless he was also eating the oyster shell) nor the pecking.

The vinegar helps to better digest the feed provided as the oyster shell was offsetting too much of the natural stomach acid. If the chickens were better fed by better utilization, then it might stop the urge to peck others. However, that still doesn't explain Sue's statement that her chickens would start pecking each other within a day or so if she stopped using vinegar.

The chickens are suffering from some type of mineral deficiency and the acid in the vinegar was helping to make it available. This also runs into the problem of Sue's observation, since the deficiency would have to build back up over time.

The vinegar is somehow turning any grain fed into brewer's malt and the chickens become addicted to it. This might explain the effect on Liane's rooster and Sue's results when the vinegar was stopped -- chicken DTs. However, this is unlikely.

The Air Force to the rescue

The Air Force uses an expression to explain electronics to non-engineers called |the black box' (most electronic equipment on aircraft is painted black). Signals go into one side of the box, are processed, and then come out the other side in a usable form and that is about all a non-engineer really needs to know about the process. When it comes to vinegar, chickens may be the equivalent of "black boxes."
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Title Annotation:vinegar fed to chickens stems unwanted behavior
Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:750
Previous Article:Raising silkies.
Next Article:To each his own ... breed of rabbit, and raising methods!
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