Can chickens tomatoes? Yes! Chickens will readily eat ripe and cooked tomatoes. Studies even show that when laying hens were fed a diet with synthetic lycopene or tomato paste, they laid more eggs, and the eggs they lay had higher concentrations of lycopene in the yolk, which is a powerful antioxidant for humans.
Like other treats, tomatoes must be fed in moderation, and there are some toxicity concerns.
Ripe Tomatoes vs. Unripe Tomatoes
Ripe tomatoes are safe for chickens to consume, while unripe tomatoes can pose a potential risk. Unripe tomatoes contain a substance called solanine, which is toxic to humans and animals.
Green tomatoes contain the highest concentration of the alkaloid solanine, called tomatine. Up to 500 mg per 1 kg of fruit weight can be found in a green tomato.
It’s best to wait until the tomatoes are ripened before offering them to your chickens.
You may know that green tomatoes are a culinary delicacy in the South, and many green tomato recipes are quite popular.
However, the tomatoes used are generally in the early stages of ripening — a blush of color is beginning to form — they are not hard and completely green and immature. They will contain less solanine and can be fed in limited quantities or cooked to make them even safer.
Cooking tomatoes enhances their nutritional value, particularly in increasing the concentration of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. When cooked, tomatoes release more lycopene than in their raw state, making them an even healthier treat for chickens.
Additionally, cooking reduces the acidity of tomatoes, which is better for chickens' digestion.
You can safely feed cooked tomatoes to your chickens as part of a varied diet, ensuring they are plain and free from any added spices or ingredients that might be harmful to poultry — like excessive amounts of cheese.
One study looked at feeding chickens with tomato paste, and the results were surprising.
Feeding Chickens Tomato Paste & Synthetic Lycopene: A Study
Effects of Dietary Lycopene or Tomato Paste on Laying Performance and Serum Lipids in Laying Hens and on Malondialdehyde Content in Egg Yolk upon Storage.
This small but useful 4-week study took 160 laying hens and broke them up into 4 groups, each fed a specific diet.
Each group was fed a corn and soy-based chicken feed as the base, and to that was added either synthetic lycopene to contain 10 or 20 mg per kg of diet or 17 g of tomato paste per kg of diet.
Laying hens fed diets containing the synthetic lycopene or tomato paste laid lighter eggs compared with those fed on the control diet.
By the way — egg yolk color is easily faked, and this is one example of how that could be done.
Your dark orange yolks are not necessarily better and the result of healthy chickens on pasture eating a more natural diet; they're often hens fed extracts known to increase pigment in yolks, like marigold powder — but that's a different article for a different day.
Egg production was higher in tomato paste-fed layers but lower in those fed on a diet containing 20 mg/kg of synthetic lycopene compared with the control diet-fed counterparts.
The synthetic lycopene did not affect egg quality except for yolk color or serum lipid profiles.
Malondialdehyde (MDA) content in serum samples and eggs stored at 24°C for four weeks was reduced by both the synthetic lycopene or tomato paste.
Malondialdehyde (MDA) is one of the final products of polyunsaturated fatty acids peroxidation in the cells. An increase in free radicals causes overproduction of MDA.
Malondialdehyde level is commonly known as a marker of oxidative stress.
That last part is pretty interesting to me, and it should be to anyone else who thinks they can store eggs at room temperature for days and weeks on end without affecting the quality and health of said eggs.
This study shows that the addition of low levels of synthetic lycopene or tomato paste into the layers' diet is an effective nutritional strategy to enhance the oxidative stability of fresh eggs.
Natural tomato paste — and likely cooked tomatoes and raw tomatoes — may increase or help with production in your egg-laying chickens.
Another study found similar results as above, and even more interesting feedback using tomato powder fed to laying hens.
Yet another study showed improved feed conversion in broiler meat chickens fed tomato waste.
One also showed that feeding tomato peel powder can help control parasite reproduction, which is especially useful for those of us raising meat chickens.
Moderation is Key
While tomatoes can be a healthy addition to your chickens’ diet, feeding them in moderation is essential.
Like any treat, whether fruits like grapes, bananas and peels, greens, veggie scraps, and similar — tomatoes should be given as a supplemental addition to their regular feed and not as a primary source of nutrition.
Too many tomatoes can lead to an imbalanced diet and affect egg production.
Have your young, healthy layers suddenly dropped in production with no other cause?
You may be giving them too many treats that are low in protein and other essential chicken things.
Chicks do not need any treats.
We feed our flock fermented chicken feed alongside a weekly portion of scrambled eggs, but other than the foods they naturally will forage and hunt on pasture and in the garden compost piles or find in their composting deep litter in their coop, I do not go out of my way to give additional foods.
According to a study in the Journal of Food Protection, chickens may get infected with salmonella from contaminated tomatoes, which can potentially lead to salmonella contamination in eggs.
Am I going to worry about salmonella in my homegrown tomatoes? No. But you may want to wash them first, especially if bought at the grocery store.
Are Tomatoes Good For Chickens?
Tomatoes and tomato products offer several nutrients, vitamins, and minerals beneficial for chickens. These include:
- Lycopene: An antioxidant found in higher concentrations in cooked tomatoes, beneficial for the immune system and overall health.
- Vitamin C: Helps in boosting the immune system and overall health of chickens. It can even help chickens cope better with heat stress in the summer months.
- Vitamin K: Important for blood clotting and bone health.
- Potassium: Essential for proper muscle function and overall cellular health.
- Folate: Supports cellular growth and function.
Extremely toxic substances are present in tomato leaves, flowers, and vines, so it is crucial to avoid feeding them.
Only the fruit is safe for consumption; your chickens will likely avoid the rest of the plant.
Avoid feeding moldy or rotten tomatoes — leave those in the compost pile to attract the bugs which your chickens will love to eat instead.
Tomatoes have many nutrients that are potentially beneficial for chickens, and numerous studies have shown that feeding tomato products can enhance aspects of broiler and egg-laying chickens' health and production value.
Chickens enjoy tomatoes, and chicken keepers can indulge their chickens by feeding tomatoes occasionally.
Stay away from hard, green tomatoes, and avoid feeding any other part of the tomato plant.
Studies & References
- An BK, Choo WD, Kang CW, Lee J, Lee KW. Effects of Dietary Lycopene or Tomato Paste on Laying Performance and Serum Lipids in Laying Hens and on Malondialdehyde Content in Egg Yolk upon Storage. J Poult Sci. 2019 Jan 25;56(1):52-57. doi: 10.2141/jpsa.0170118. PMID: 32055196; PMCID: PMC6993882.
- Productive performance of broiler chickens fed tomato waste: Link.
- Friedman, M.; Tam, C.C.; Kim, J.H.; Escobar, S.; Gong, S.; Liu, M.; Mao, X.Y.; Do, C.; Kuang, I.; Boateng, K.; et al. Anti-Parasitic Activity of Cherry Tomato Peel Powders. Foods 2021, 10, 230. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10020230
- Tomato powder in laying hen diets: Effects on concentrations of yolk carotenoids and lipid peroxidation: Link.
- Long M, Yu H, Chen L, Wu G, Zhao S, Deng W, Chen S, Zhou K, Liu S, He L, Ao X, Yan Y, Ma M, Wang H, Davis MA, Jones L, Li B, Zhang A, Zou L. Recovery of Salmonella isolated from eggs and the commercial layer farms. Gut Pathog. 2017 Dec 14;9:74. doi: 10.1186/s13099-017-0223-8. PMID: 29255489; PMCID: PMC5729242.