Can chickens eat tomatoes? Yes! Chickens love tomatoes! This tomato and chicken diet question brings me back to my early youth. Watching chickens roaming and foraging around the yard was always one of my favorite childhood pastimes in the countryside.
I loved testing the things our chickens would eat.
I would offer them anything we had for lunch (well, except for meat – it seemed too off, obviously). From these interactions, it became clear to me very early on that chickens would eat almost anything.
That included tomatoes – both raw and cooked! Chickens gobble them up tremendously fast – and with vigor!
My grandpa – an avid Oxheart tomato grower – would give the chooks fresh tomatoes that got damaged – usually the ones that would fall to the ground and burst open. I would mostly offer them cooked tomatoes remaining from my lunch. And they always seemed to enjoy both options.
A few decades later, I wondered if feeding tomatoes to chickens – something done so routinely when you grow tomatoes and raise free-range chickens – was good for them.
I turned to science to find out – and I’m about to share my findings with you!
Then let us proceed!
- Can Chickens Eat Whole Tomatoes?
- Why Are Tomatoes Good for Chickens?
- Tomato Pomace as Chicken Feed
- Pros and Cons of Tomato Waste as Chicken Feed (Evidence-Based!)
- How Many Tomatoes Can Chickens Eat?
- Are Tomatoes Toxic for Chicken Diets?
- Can I Give Moldy Or Spoiled Tomatoes to My Chickens?
Can Chickens Eat Whole Tomatoes?
Instead of reading the answer to can chickens eat raw tomatoes, consider the video below.
Chickens will not simply eat the tomato; they’ll feast on it! (And this is their first time!)
However, another question is if eating tomatoes is good for the chickens. We propose that yes! Tomatoes are good for chickens. Here’s why.
Why Are Tomatoes Good for Chickens?
Tomatoes are good for chickens for the same reason they’re good for humans
- Tomatoes have a myriad of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
- Tomatoes have a high water percentage, helping the body stay hydrated.
Let’s take a deeper look. Among other things, fresh tomatoes are high in the following nutrients.
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that benefits the body and immunity in general. And it helps combat the consequences of stress and heat stress in poultry, including oxidative stress, poor immunity and feed intake, and impaired fertility.
Vitamin E is another essential vitamin that greatly influences tissue structure, muscles, nerves and circulation, and reproduction regarding sperm resilience and egg production.
Potassium helps balance various cellular and bodily processes, including osmotic pressure, glucose transportation, nerve transmission, muscle activity, and heart function. Also vital for proper egg development and muscle strength.
Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid vital for feed conversion efficiency and hormonal balance. It also improves the egg yoke’s nutritional, visual, and taste properties and influences shell hardness.
Lysine is an amino acid that plays important metabolic roles, promotes growth and muscle formation, and improves meat quality.
Also, tomatoes are juicy – they contain a high percentage of water, helping the chickens stay hydrated, especially during hot summers and the molting season.
Tomato Pomace as Chicken Feed
If you’ve been growing tomatoes on a mid-to-large scale, you might have ended up with tomato pomace as a byproduct. (Or you can source it in another way.)
What is tomato pomace? It is a byproduct of tomato processing made up of dried tomatoes and tissue leftovers, such as skin and seeds.
Even if you don’t have access to tomato pomace and don’t plan to include it in your chicken feed, please read the section below. It reveals the overall benefits of tomato as chicken feed and not just the dry waste version we call pomace.
Although we don’t use it, tomato pomace is considered highly nutritious, with 60 to 70% of fiber, 10 to 20% of protein, and 5 to 10% fats. Also, like fresh tomatoes, it’s a source of lycopene, carotenoids (beta-carotene), phenolic acids, and flavonoids.
Because it’s a natural and abundant (waste!) source of all these goodies, farmers have been curious if it can positively affect farm animal health and production. Believe it or not, there are plenty of research papers on tomato pomace as a poultry feed.
Although there have been some conflicting revelations (everyone gets frustrated when one group of scientists claims that a substance is beneficial while the other one claims it’s harmful, right?), what is certain is that tomato pomace is safe for chickens to consume, and likely beneficial in various ways. However, what percentage of the total feed tomato pomace should be and the definite list of pros and cons is yet to be determined.
Pros and Cons of Tomato Waste as Chicken Feed (Evidence-Based!)
Here are some research highlights on using tomato pomace, paste, and other waste in chicken feed.
- A study focusing on the influence of the carotenoid lycopene on egg production found that laying hens fed mixtures containing tomato paste or lycopene additive laid lighter eggs. But only those eating the tomato paste produced more eggs.
- Lycopene from tomatoes or other sources also increased the incorporation of lycopene into the egg yolk and chicken livers, consequently making the yolks reddish. Also, lycopene helped eggs keep fresh longer (increased oxidative stability, to be precise).
- According to some studies, the addition of pomace at a lower dose of up to 100 kg/t in laying hen menus during 27 to 38 weeks of life increased daily feed intake; inclusion of a higher pomace dose (150 kg/t of diet) increased the feed conversion ratio (FCR, or simply – weight gain) by 2.9%.
- Some believe the positive effect on weight gain comes from lysine, an essential amino acid that helps the body build muscle protein.
- Another study found that an additional 16% tomato pomace to laying hen diets also boosted feed consumption.
- To remain objective, note that some studies found no benefits or even some adverse effects of pomace consumption on intake and weight gain at similar rates.
- Generally, broilers seem more susceptible to poor tomato pomace effects on weight gain since a high fiber percentage dilutes protein content in the feed. However, the impacts are minor. They result in feed conversion losses relevant only in the industrial farm setting. On the other hand, laying chickens need less protein and better tolerate fiber while reaping other nutritional benefits of pomace.
- Aside from weight gain issues, adding up to 7% boiled tomato waste in the diet of broiler chicken was shown to have positive effects on fat metabolism and decrease cholesterol content in the meat.
- The alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E) content from tomato waste feed could prolong the shelf life of heated or stored poultry meat after slaughter.
We also read an excellent tomato pomace chicken study entitled tomato pomace may be a good source of vitamin E in broiler diets in the University of California Hilgardia Journal. (Credit to King, A. and Zeidler, G.)
The study results indicate that tomato pomace could serve as a viable vitamin E source in broiler chickens, which may help chicken meat shelf-life and reduce fat deterioration.
(We admit that the tomato chicken pomace study got published in January 2004, so it’s a tad dated. However, we thought the study was intriguing and worth reading for all chicken ranchers and raisers.)
How Many Tomatoes Can Chickens Eat?
When feeding your chooks tomatoes – especially the fresh ones – moderation is the key. Tomatoes should always get offered as an addition and a treat and not forced as a dietary staple.
What could be the trouble with too many tomatoes? It is an issue with all watery and acidic fruits – too much can cause diarrhea in chickens. Acidic food and diarrhea are especially concerning for baby chicks, who are more susceptible to diet-related diarrhea than adult chickens.
As for dried tomato or tomato pomace, some studies indicate that the optimal amount is approximately (up to) 15% of the total feeding mix.
- What Can Chickens Eat? Ultimate List of 134 Foods Hens Can and Can’t Eat!
- Can Chickens Eat Grapes? What About Grape Leaves or Vines?
- Can Chickens Eat Pineapples? What About Leftover Pineapple Skins?
- Can Chickens Eat Apples? What About Apple Sauce or Apple Seeds?
- Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa? What About Alfalfa Sprouts and Alfalfa Cubes?
Are Tomatoes Toxic for Chicken Diets?
Ripe tomato fruits are not toxic to chickens, but unripe tomatoes or any green parts of the plant might be. Here’s a deeper explanation.
All plants from the nightshade family – including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants – are somewhat toxic. For example, you’ve probably heard you shouldn’t eat raw or cooked potatoes if they’re green after peeling. There’s a good reason to avoid green potatoes! They are rich in solanine, an alkaloid that interferes with certain cellular functions.
However, cooking destroys most solanine (thus, we eat cooked potatoes), and ripe tomatoes contain very little.
The story is different in green tomato plant parts, including unripe fruits, that contain higher amounts of solanine that could be dangerous if consumed.
Fortunately, green tomatoes and green tips of tomatoes don’t taste well to chickens.
To sum it up:
- Ripe tomatoes for chickens – yay, do feed!
- Unripe tomatoes for chickens – nay, stay away.
Can I Give Moldy Or Spoiled Tomatoes to My Chickens?
No! Rotten Tomatoes might be a quality movie review website, but there is no quality in feeding chickens – or any other animal – rotten, spoiled, or moldy tomatoes.
Besides the fact that it is unhealthy for the chickens, the dangers of feeding the animals in your home food chain also transfer to humans.
Aflatoxins are fungal toxins produced by molds of the genus Aspergillus, most commonly A. flavus and A. parasiticus. Like other molds, they grow on decaying plant matter, including various animal feed.
The trouble is that aflatoxins are poisonous, carcinogenic, and mutagenic, and they accumulate in the produce of animals that eat them – including meat, eggs, and milk.
Although fruits, including tomatoes, are not atop the list of crops affected by aflatoxins, it’s not worth the risk. After all, aflatoxin was discovered only in the 1960s. Who knows what else is out there?
The best way to take care of moldy tomatoes is to keep them from spoiling in the first place. Still, it happens to the best, so if you still waste a batch, consider composting. But beware! Due to high water content, adding fresh, rotten tomatoes to a compost pile is best suited for large outdoor compost piles – but not small balcony-type ones.
So – can chickens eat tomatoes?
The answer is yes! As long as the tomatoes are ripe. But never feed underripe green tomatoes or tomato leaves to chickens!
We thank you again for reading our tomato and chicken diet guide.
We invite you to comment if you have more questions about what chickens can and cannot eat.
We have tons of experience raising backyard chickens. And we love brainstorming with like-minded homesteaders.
We thank you again for reading.
Have a great day!