Can Chickens Eat Tomatoes ?

Chickens are a resilient bunch who enjoy a much more diverse diet than their ancestors, the dinosaurs.

While most dinosaurs restricted themselves to either meat or plant matter, chickens are omnivores that enjoy a bit of both.

Chickens go bananas for fruit, have an impressive tolerance for jalapeños, and gobble down cantaloupe seeds like popcorn.

That’s all fine and well because none of those fruits or vegetables contain potentially harmful substances. When it comes to tomatoes, however, things get a little more complicated.

So, can chickens eat tomatoes? They can if the fruit is ripe, but if it’s green it could prove fatal!

How to Safely Feed Your Chickens Tomatoes

In most circumstances, red is associated with danger, but when it comes to tomatoes, it’s the green you have to watch out for.

Bright red, ripe tomatoes are packed with antioxidants and make an exceptionally healthy treat for chickens. Ours help themselves to the fruits the moment they ripen but are savvy enough to avoid them up until then.

Unripe tomatoes, tomato stems, leaves, and even the little green hats or calyxes that adorn every tomato are all potentially toxic to chickens. That’s because they contain poisonous glycoalkaloids that disappear as they ripen.

The only way to safely feed your chickens tomatoes is when they are fully ripened and have all the green parts removed. Even if they’ve ripened a bit too much, they’re still edible for chickens and safe for them to eat.

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Of course, if they’ve ripened so much that they’ve started to go moldy, you should add them to your compost heap, rather than your chicken’s diet! Why? Because mold releases mycotoxins that can compromise your chickens’ health, causing diarrhea, loss of coordination, and reduced feed efficiency.

Brown chickens pecking at tomatoes on the ground.

Can You Give Chickens Too Many Tomatoes?

At the moment, our chickens can eat as many tomatoes as they want, simply because a very healthy and productive tomato plant has grown in their run. Fortunately, they seem to instinctively know not to over-indulge, probably because it causes digestive discomfort when they do.

In an ideal world, I’d restrict my chickens’ tomato consumption to three or four small cherry tomatoes once or twice a week – the equivalent of around one-quarter of a standard-sized salad tomato. In reality, a few of my chickens are probably eating that many tomatoes every day, while others steer clear of the fruit altogether.

Even though some of my hens may be consuming a couple of tomatoes too many at the moment, they aren’t showing any adverse reactions. I was worried that the high water content of those juicy red fruits would cause diarrhea, resulting in a filthy coop and mucky feathers, but so far, there’s no evidence of that.

Another thing I was worried about was egg quality, but research seems to suggest that tomato, or at least tomato powder, has a positive effect on both egg production and egg quality, giving the yolks a richer color and increasing the vitamin A content. 

Nevertheless, I do plan to remove all tomato plants from my chickens’ enclosure in the future so I more easily control the number of tomatoes they eat.

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Are Ripe Tomatoes Good For Chickens?

Ripe tomatoes are a juicy, fat-free treat that some chickens appear to relish and others choose to avoid. Those who are willing to eat them will get some notable health benefits from them, including a good dose of lycopene – an antioxidant that enhances fertility in roosters, eases the symptoms of heat stress, and reduces the risk of ovarian cancer in chickens.

Tomatoes also contain fiber, which supports the chicken’s digestive system, and vitamins C, K, and B9, which improve their overall health and support their metabolism.

On the downside, tomatoes have a fairly high sugar content, which isn’t particularly beneficial for chickens and can cause obesity. They also contain around 95% water, which can be a good thing if your chickens need more hydration, but could affect the consistency of their poop!

Chicken looking at a tomato held by a human.

Why Green Tomatoes Could Destroy Your Backyard Flock

Green tomatoes are so toxic that, if your chickens get their beaks on too many of them, you could lose your entire flock! Fortunately, most chickens seem to instinctively know that green tomatoes are no good for them, and avoid them like the plague. That’s something to be grateful for because the effects green tomatoes have on chickens are really unpleasant.

Green tomatoes contain several poisonous glycoalkaloids, the most dangerous of which are tomatine and solanine. Tomatine isn’t particularly toxic, and certainly not as dangerous as solanine, but it can still damage your chickens’ health.

One study found that chicken embryos exposed to tomatine developed abnormalities of the skull, beak, and eyes, and experienced swelling in the head and neck.

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As if that doesn’t sound frightening enough, green tomatoes, along with the stems and leaves, also contain high levels of solanine, which negatively impacts the chicken’s gastrointestinal tract and nervous system.

If you see a chicken showing any difficulties breathing or problems maintaining their balance, chances are they’ve consumed some green tomatoes. In extreme cases, solanine poisoning can even prove fatal, although this is more commonly caused by a chicken eating green potatoes, which have a much higher solanine content than green tomatoes.

FAQs

Can Chickens Eat Raw Tomatoes?

Chickens can eat raw tomatoes, provided they’re fully ripe. If you want to err on the side of caution, however, you might want to cook the tomatoes before offering them to your chickens as the cooking process will destroy any toxins and increase their levels of beneficial lycopene.

Can I Feed Mu chickens Tomato Skins?

Tomato skins contain as much nutrition as the fruit itself, so provided the tomatoes are ripe when you peel them, the skins will be safe and beneficial for your chickens to eat.

Parting Thoughts

Chickens can safely eat raw tomatoes, provided they’re ripe and juicy. Green tomatoes along with the leaves, stalks, and flowers of the tomato plant contain solanine, which is toxic to both chickens and humans. Ideally, you should restrict your flock’s tomato intake to one or two tomatoes a week, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, as consuming too many could cause digestive issues and a very messy coop! 

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