Can Sheep Eat Tomatoes? Is it Safe?

Sheep are often stereotyped as strict grass eaters. After all, that’s what you’re likely to see them eating day in and day out when they are moseying around the pasture. In truth, sheep can actually eat a wide variety of things, but compared to most other livestock species, they tend to subsist on a pretty strict diet due to their sensitive digestive tracts.

two sheep enjoying some tomatoes
two sheep enjoying some tomatoes

But it’s possible for sheep to eat many fruits and veggies as it treats or supplements to their usual diet. How about something like tomatoes? Can sheep eat tomatoes safely?

Yes, sheep can eat tomatoes safely as long as they are completely ripe and fresh. Tomatoes are a good source of varied vitamins and minerals for sheep, but tend to cause digestive upset because of their acidity. Note that green tomatoes and all other parts of the plant are toxic, though.

Tomatoes are something that your sheep should only get on a limited basis as a treat or to help break them out of menu boredom with their usual diet.

You’ve got to be cautious because they have a reputation for causing diarrhea and occasionally bloat in sheep, and all other parts of the plant contain dangerous toxic compounds.

As long as you’re careful, you don’t need to worry about your sheep eating tomatoes, but keep reading so you can learn what you need to know.

Do Sheep Like Tomatoes?

Some sheep do, others don’t. In my experience, you’ll have some adventurous eaters in your flock that are eager to try them, and others that aren’t so keen- or at least they won’t come around until they see other sheep eating them.

Don’t worry about it if you have any stubborn sheep that refuse tomatoes because there’s bound to be something else that they will eat instead. Besides, when they start getting left out of treat time they’ll usually come around!

How Nutritious are Tomatoes for Sheep?

Tomatoes are fairly nutritious for sheep, and they make a decent source of energy but also good vitamin and mineral supplements.

Looking at the vitamin lineup, we see that tomatoes are a remarkably good source of vitamin C, a decent source of vitamin K, and that they have a fair variety of all other vitamins, including vitamin A and beta carotene, thymine, riboflavin, niacin and the rest of the B-complex vitamins besides B12. You’ll also get a little bit of vitamin E in the bargain.

The mineral content is similarly diverse but there is no great standout as with the vitamins. Tomatoes can provide sheep with a decent amount of manganese and potassium with somewhat lesser amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and just a bit of calcium.

And as you already know, tomatoes are remarkably juicy, averaging right at 95% water by weight. This can be a good thing in terms of hydration, but it can also cause problems for sheep as we will discover.

How Can Tomatoes Benefit Sheep?

Tomatoes are not a dietary mainstay or extremely nutritional supplement for your flock, but they can definitely do plenty of good as long as you feed them on a limited basis. If you think of them in terms of a healthy treat or snack, they are great.

Tomatoes are very rich in vitamin C which is a known benefit for immune system function and many other things in the body, and the assortment of all of the other vitamins and minerals together can improve everything from skeletal health to organ function, wool growth and quality, blood oxygenation, nervous system function, and eyesight and a whole lot more.

All good things, and all definitely beneficial, but you must keep in mind that you cannot intensify these benefits by giving your sheep more tomatoes…

Excess tomato consumption has been linked to a variety of troubles for sheep, troubles that we will learn about in just a few sections. Keep the quantities small and the feedings infrequent and they’ll do fine, though.

Don’t Give Sheep Green or Moldy Tomatoes!

The first thing you need to know about giving tomatoes to your sheep is that you must never give them green, unripened tomatoes or ones that are showing signs of mold or rot.

Unripened tomatoes, along with other parts of the plant, contain solanine, a glycoalkyloid toxin which can cause serious digestive distress and potentially even death in sheep if they eat too much. Accordingly, they should only ever get fully ripened fruit from the plant, and nothing else.

Rotten tomatoes, like any other bad fruit or veggie, greatly increase the chances of digestive upset but also infection with a variety of foodborne illnesses.

You should never use your sheep as a garbage disposal to repurpose or recoup spoiled produce be it from your kitchen, your garden, or your fields.

Stick with feeding them only fresh, ripe, and wholesome tomatoes to avoid problems.

Can Sheep Eat Raw Tomatoes?

Yes, raw tomatoes are just fine for sheep, and this is how they are best served to your flock. They’re easy enough for them to eat and digest with just a little bit of preparation from you.

Can Sheep Eat Heirloom Tomatoes?

Yes, definitely. Heirloom tomatoes are often lumpier and uglier compared to most of the supermarket varieties we’re used to eating, but they are just fine for sheep to eat.

One thing that must be pointed out is that many heirloom varieties come in different colors besides ruby red, and many of them are a modeled green and red or green and orange color, sometimes even a pale yellow, when fully ripe and safe to eat.

The rule for avoiding green tomatoes is in reference to unripened common supermarket varieties, so make sure you get familiar with whatever variety you are growing so you’ll know when it’s ripe and ready to eat for you or your sheep.

Can Sheep Eat Tomato Vines?

No. Tomato vines, along with other parts of the plant, contain high amounts of solanine, the aforementioned toxin discussed above.

If your sheep eat tomato vines, they are certain to get an upset stomach, but substantial consumption will lead to major diarrhea, potentially vomiting, weakness, stumbling, seizures, and eventually death through respiratory collapse or heart arrhythmia.

Don’t deliberately feed them tomato vines and don’t trust your sheep to avoid them! Keep them away from tomato plants!

Can Sheep Eat Tomato Leaves?

No. As with the vines and all other parts of the plant, tomato leaves contain solanine and must not be fed to sheep, nor must they be allowed to eat or go near the plants themselves.

Can Tomatoes Cause Health Problems for Them in Other Ways?

Aside from the aforementioned issues with solanine, tomatoes can potentially cause other issues for your flock. Luckily, these are only a major concern if you’re giving your sheep way too many tomatoes at once or feeding them too many tomatoes in their diet generally.

For starters, tomatoes are not nutritionally complete and they cannot subsist on them. This is why they’re classified as a treat or occasional supplemental food. The other issue is that tomatoes are highly acidic and very, very juicy. Sheep should eat mostly dry matter as a rule, and tomatoes definitely aren’t that!

Even in ideal circumstances, even if you give them tomatoes slowly to let their rumen acclimate, diarrhea is still a possibility that you must watch out for.

If you notice your sheep getting scours immediately after they get a serving of tomatoes, you should probably discontinue feeding them and then reduce the quantity next time or consider halting them all altogether.

How Often Can They Have Tomatoes?

Sheep should only have small quantities of tomatoes once or twice a week at the absolute most. They are nutritious and wholesome, yes, but they’re just too acidic and too prone to cause scours and other digestive problems in sheep for them to have them more often.

And, as always, you must remember to slowly introduce them to your sheep to prevent major digestive upset. Give them just a few small pieces the first time and then see how they do before giving them a slightly smaller portion the next time.

How Should You Prepare Tomatoes for Serving to Sheep?

Tomatoes must be picked, have the stems and calyx removed, and then be washed prior to serving to your flock.

Make sure you cut the tomatoes into quarters, or even smaller slices in the case of very large ones, to make them easier to chew. Sometimes sheep will attempt to swallow medium-sized tomatoes whole, and they can be a choking hazard!

Are Tomatoes OK for Lambs to Have?

Technically yes, but I highly recommend that you avoid serving them. Assuming that your lambs are old enough to start weaning and switch to solid food, tomatoes are nominally safe, but their acidity and extreme moisture content are very likely to upset the especially delicate stomach and rumen of lambs.

There are lots of other supplemental foods and treats you can give them that come without these risk factors, so I recommend you stick to those…

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