Raising chickens seems like a pretty easy task at first. You feed them, give them water, collect the eggs, and let them roam around for a bit before putting them back in the coop. However, chickens can be a little more complicated than that.
One thing you need to keep in mind is what type of foods are good for chickens. Depending on what you choose, it can affect the egg quality and overall health of your pets.
So, let's take a look at tomatoes and see if they are something you should offer your chickens.
Can Chickens Eat Tomatoes?
Yes, chickens can eat tomatoes. Ripe tomatoes are a healthy treat containing nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium, and Folate to benefit chickens. Still, tomatoes are nightshade plants, and green tomatoes, tomato leaves, and stems contain solanine, which is toxic to chickens. Also, follow our vet-approved guidelines as overfeeding may lead to lower egg quality.
There is a lot of debate about the right kinds of food for your chickens. It is especially important to make sure you know which foods are healthy because chickens are a great way to recycle food that would otherwise go to waste. Although you may be tempted to feed your chickens all the food waste from your kitchen, not all human foods are suitable for poultry.
When it comes to feeding your chickens tomatoes, there is a lot of controversy. This is because tomatoes are a part of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family of plants containing toxins called lectins. The Solanaceae family also includes foods such as potatoes and eggplants. Plants from this family can be harmful to both humans and animals.
The good news is that the amount of toxins present is so low that it's virtually harmless to both our chickens and to us.
Healthy fresh vegetables and fruits like tomatoes can make a nice treat for your chickens.
- Dr. Leonie McKinlay, DVM
So yes, chickens can eat tomatoes. However, how much and how often, that is another thing. We'll get to that in a minute.
Health Benefits: Are Tomatoes Good for Chickens?
The short answer is yes! Just like for us humans, tomatoes carry vital nutrients to help keep your chickens healthy. Here are some of the nutrients you can give to your chickens through these juicy red fruits:
Lots of Antioxidants
You probably hear a lot about how antioxidants are a very healthy nutrient. Tomatoes carry the antioxidant Lycopene. This type of antioxidant is a key factor in staying healthy for both humans and chickens. Antioxidants help to play a role in fighting many different types of diseases, including heart disease and even cancer.
Did Someone Say Vitamins?
To help your chickens stay in good health, tomatoes also come packed with a variety of vitamins. These include Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium, Folate, and many others.
Vitamins make up an important part of human life, and it's the same for every animal. While you can buy vitamins from any feed store, it's also a great idea to help feed these in a more natural way for your chickens.
Tomatoes also contain Beta Carotene; it helps to give them their natural red color. Once your chickens consume it, it is converted into vitamin A which will help make sure your chicken's bones grow normally.
Health Risks: Are Tomatoes Bad for Chickens?
When feeding your chickens tomatoes, you need to be careful about serving them only ripe fruit. There is a reason we wait for tomatoes to turn bright red before eating them. Also, be careful only to feed the fruit, as the leaves can be harmful to your pet.
Even small amounts of solanine can cause gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Serve only ripe fruit, not the stems and leaves.
Only feed red tomatoes
We occasionally fry up green tomatoes, but outside of that, we usually only eat ripe tomatoes. The same should be said for chickens. Since unripe tomatoes can contain harmful toxins, it's very important to make sure you only feed tomatoes to your chickens when fully red.
If you were to eat an uncooked green tomato, you would probably start feeling sick. Chickens will have the same reaction; the tomato will not only taste bitter but also get a bad reaction from your pet.
Solanine is the harmful toxin found in unripe tomatoes. It can cause some serious digestive issues for your chickens. Even outside of tomatoes, feeding chickens any unripe food is generally not a good idea. You want to make sure they stay happy and healthy.
However, don't be alarmed if a little bit of green tomato gets mixed in with the food. It won't do much in small amounts, and your chicken will realize it's bitter and move on to another piece of food.
Stay away from the stems and leaves
The stems and leaves of tomatoes contain even more solanine than the unripe fruit. Usually, chickens instinctively avoid eating the tomato leaves, but it's not uncommon that an adventurous individual will decide to have a try. Most of the time, chickens take a bite of the plant and quickly decide to move on to more delicious foods because the taste is quite bitter.
However, if you have tomatoes growing in your garden and your chickens are not picky when it comes to trying different foods, it might be a good idea to fence off the garden.
Even small amounts of solanine can cause gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. By making sure your pets don't nibble away on the tomato plants, you can rest assured they are not consuming harmful toxins resulting in diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pains.
Moderation is key
You have probably heard this phrase before, and it can be said for tomatoes. Feeding your chickens too many tomatoes can cause a decrease in egg quantity as well as egg quality.
Chickens can be fed tomatoes safely, and it's a great way to make use of your overripe tomatoes, which would go to waste otherwise. Just remember that moderation is key.
If too much of a good thing is not a good thing, then how much and how many tomatoes are the right amount? Being educated about the right amount of tomato to feed can help keep your chicken's diet diverse and full of nutrients.
A good amount would be about 5% of your chicken's diet at the most.
Cut into Little Chunks
To help distribute the tomato better so that a single chicken doesn't get too much of it, cut it into little chunks. You can then spread them out evenly among your flock and help each chicken get a piece of their treat.
Don't Spoil the Chickens
As with anything in life, moderation is the key. You want to make sure that tomatoes only make up a tiny portion of their diet. Our research suggests that a good amount would be about 5% of your chicken's diet at the most.
Just like children, you shouldn't spoil your chickens. Since tomatoes are considered a treat, you want to make sure that you aren't feeding them any more frequently than what would be considered a fun and healthy treat.
The same can be said for giving them too much at one time. You want to make sure you regulate how much they actually eat to keep a healthy treat from becoming an unhealthy diet.
Winter Is Coming
In the wintertime, chickens tend to eat more food to produce more heat for their bodies. In this case, it's important to slightly increase the amount of tomato you are feeding them as well as increasing the amount of food in general. This will help keep them warm.
Tomatoes aren't just a good source of vitamins and antioxidants for your chickens. They also help to improve the quality of the eggs your chickens lay. Not only will the eggs be healthier, but the vitamins provided by the tomatoes will help them taste better as well.
Along with the vitamins they provide, tomatoes are also a great source of fiber for your chickens. Each tomato can provide your chicken with 1.5 grams of fiber. This will help to aid in the digestive health of your pets.
Another nutrient found in tomatoes is carbohydrates. People generally tend to stay away from carbs, but they can actually be good for you and your chickens in moderation. They help keep your chickens active and energetic to ensure a better quality of life.
Tomatoes are made up of 95% water. It may not seem like a big deal since you give your chickens water every day, but having food that already contains some form of natural water is healthy for them and helps them digest their food more efficiently.
Feeding your chickens tomatoes is actually good for them. Be sure that the tomatoes you feed them are ripe to avoid any health complications that may come from feeding them green tomatoes. Also, never feed your chicken tomato leaves or stems.
It's important to feed chickens tomatoes in moderation and always monitor the feeding just like you would anything else. Keeping your chickens healthy also means making sure they get the right amount of all the nutrients they need.
Can chickens have cherry tomatoes?
Yes, chickens can eat cherry tomatoes if they are ripe. They are totally safe when offered in moderation, along with a balanced and nutritious diet. What chickens should not eat are green tomatoes or the leaves and stems of the tomato plant itself. The tomato vine itself is toxic to chickens, although the fruit itself– cherry tomato included– is safe and healthy.
Good nutrition is critical to keeping a healthy chicken flock and to getting delicious, nutritious eggs. The bulk of your chicken's diet should be pelleted or crumble feed that they can freely eat all day long.
Be sure to store your chicken feed in a clean, dry, airtight container to prevent insects and rodents – which can cause health problems for your pets – from getting into it.
Healthy fresh vegetables and fruits like tomatoes can make a nice treat for your chickens. You can also give your chickens fresh greens by letting them mow your lawn for you, but make sure they are safe from predators and that the grass is free of pesticides and herbicides.
- Dr. Leonie McKinlay, DVM
Dr. Leonie McKinlay has always had a special fondness for animals and knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Calgary and then her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. Since graduation, Dr. McKinlay has been working at the same small animal practice, caring for dogs and cats.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your chicken's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.