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Can Chickens Eat Tomatoes? A Controversial Food
Conflicting information is abundant when it comes to what is safe and what is not safe to feed your chickens. Many backyard chicken raisers love to use chickens for recycling food. Any table scraps or discards from meal preparation can be placed in a bowl and used to feed your girls. In return, you get back wonderful and tasty eggs.
But can chickens eat tomatoes? Will tomatoes harm them in any way?
As a general rule, chickens can and will eat just about anything you eat. There are a few “no no’s” like chocolate, dry and uncooked beans, and plants in the nightshade family, but the average meal ingredient in moderation is safe for your chickens.
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A Controversial Food
Tomatoes, are one of the controversial foods. The confusion comes because tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. The Solanaceae family includes common foods such as tomatoes, eggplant, chili peppers and potatoes. The theory is that the nightshade family plants contain toxins called lectins which are damaging to both people and animal health.
Lectins are thought to be harmful because they bind the cells in a body together and can cause inflammation damage and pain, as well as arthritis. However, simply cooking these foods can break down the lectins and deactivate the binding properties.
Tomatoes are often eaten raw. In the fruit we do eat raw, the quantities of lectin are very low and there is no definitive evidence of them causing inflammation or arthritis. In fact, tomatoes have vitamins, minerals, fiber and polyphenols which make them healthy for us and our chickens to eat.
When Can Tomatoes be Harmful to Chickens?
There is a reason we eat ripe tomatoes, except for the occasional fried green tomato, because green tomatoes are not suitable for people or chickens. Any unripe green veggie, like green tomatoes and green potatoes, can make your chickens sick (as well as people). Common sense tells us that if it is not good for our bodies, it is also not safe to feed to chickens.
If some green peels from potatoes or green tomatoes do happen to make it into your chicken compost bin, you still probably don’t need to worry too much. Chickens will take one bite and realize they are bitter and they will not continue to eat them.
Chickens Know What To Eat and Not Eat
A good test of this theory is watching a chicken in a vegetable garden. You will see them eating bugs on and around potato, tomato, and other nightshade vegetable plants, but you won’t see them eating the green leaves. The bitter taste and a chicken’s natural instinct to not eat plants that are poisonous to them, usually guides their free-range diet. Pick a nice plump, ripe, tomato and set it down around a flock of hungry chicken, and watch what happens to your tomato. This is a totally different story.
Moderation is Key
Remembering that too much of any one type of food is bad for your chickens, feeding too many tomatoes can have a negative effect. It can have an adverse effect on egg production. So, if your garden is loaded with ripe tomatoes and you have been tossing the overripe and extras into your coop, do take precautions to moderate the amount you are serving your flock.
Another situation in which tomatoes can be harmful to your chickens is if you are feeding them moldy tomatoes. While molds like penicillin can be beneficial, there are other types of molds that produce toxins and grow on fruits and vegetables that can be very harmful to your flock. In particular, the mold aspergillus flavus produces the toxin aflatoxin which is cancer causing to both people and animals.
An excellent food safety tip is to never feed any food to your chickens that contains mold. This applies to tomatoes and fruits and other vegetables. It even applies to your chicken feed. Keep it dry and mold free as mold in any form, on any food your chickens eat, can be very harmful.
How to Safely Feed Tomatoes to Your Chickens
Tomatoes have been eaten by many chickens without any adverse effects. They can be supplemented as snacks and treats when served in moderation. As with caring for any animal, use common sense and serve a snack as a sensible portion along with the regular diet.
- Only feed ripe tomatoes to your chickens
- Never supplement more than 5% of their diet with tomatoes
- Do not feed tomato plants to chickens
- Do not feed green or moldy tomatoes
- Cut into chunks to distribute along with regular food and to ensure the entire flock has access to the treat
Want to see how much chickens love eating chopped tomatoes? What this entertaining YouTube video and see how this flock devours their tomato snack!