Compared to other herbivores, sheep have something of a reputation as being highly limited eaters. Grass, perhaps a little bit of hay, and that’s it.
But it might surprise you to learn that sheep can actually benefit from a varied and well-rounded diet complete with fruits and vegetables.
How about one of the most common, the tomato? Can sheep eat tomatoes?
Yes, sheep can eat tomatoes, but they should eat only ripe tomatoes and only have them occasionally. Unripe tomatoes along with the vines and leaves of the tomato plant contain solanine, a harmful toxin.
Tomatoes can be a juicy and tasty treat for your sheep to have every once in a while, but you must use caution.
Green tomatoes along with the leaves and other parts of the plant are bad news and can poison sheep.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about feeding tomatoes to your sheep.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes for Sheep
Tomatoes are most renowned for being a savory and versatile vegetable, but they also pack in a good bit of nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Tomatoes contain a little bit of vitamin A equivalent, nearly as much beta-carotene, and a reasonable assortment of the B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate.
Tomatoes also have a fair amount of vitamin E and vitamin K, and quite a lot of vitamin C, though this is somewhat wasted on sheep since they make their own internally.
The mineral content of tomatoes is also surprisingly good, with magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium present and reasonable quantities, with somewhat lesser amounts of calcium, iron, and zinc.
Altogether, the vitamins will significantly improve the cellular health and function of sheep, facilitate the usage of calcium and other minerals and also improve the production of new DNA.
The minerals work together to improve the strength of the skeleton and connective tissues, and potassium in particular is vital not only for proper electrolyte balance and muscle function but for the balancing of bacteria in the rumen, which is always something that sheep struggle with.
Also notable is that tomatoes average about 94% water by mass, meaning they are a great way to help your sheep stay hydrated on hot days.
Caution: Green and Unripe Tomatoes Contain Solanine
If there’s one thing you must be aware of when it comes to feeding tomatoes to your sheep, and any fashion, it is the potential presence of solanine, a glycoalkaloid toxin for most mammals.
Believe it or not, tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family, and you have probably heard of deadly nightshade before.
Although not as ferociously toxic as its cousin, the same compounds that make that infamous plant so dangerous are present in tomato plants, including the fruits.
Rather, these compounds are present in the fruits until they are fully ripe. You should never, ever let your sheep eat green or otherwise non-ripe tomatoes for this reason as it can make them terribly sick or even kill them.
Also, solanine is present in all other parts of the tomato plant, and in particular the leaves and vines, so never, ever let your sheep eat the plants directly.
Sheep are usually pretty good about avoiding things that they shouldn’t eat, or things that might harm them, but you can never trust them to know for sure and a curious or hungry sheep might decide to take a bite that could result in a really bad time for them, and for you.
Can Sheep Eat Tomatoes Raw?
Yes, sheep can eat tomatoes raw and this is probably the best way overall to serve them up to your flock.
Raw tomatoes will have the maximum amount of nutrition, and they are always soft and juicy enough that she won’t have any trouble chewing and swallowing them.
Can Sheep Eat Tomato Leaves and Vines?
No! All parts of the tomato plant aside from the ripe fruit contain harmful amounts of solanine, and this includes the leaves, vines, roots, and the calyx or top of the tomato fruit.
Can Sheep Eat Tomatoes Cooked?
Yes, sheep can eat cooked tomatoes but you really don’t need to go through the trouble of cooking them prior to serving them to your sheep.
Cooking will deplete the nutritional content of tomatoes, including both vitamins and minerals, in addition.
Never Feed Tomatoes to Sheep that Have Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
One of the very best things about tomatoes is their versatility and all sorts of cuisines and countless dishes.
That means the tomatoes are often prepared with or used as an ingredient in all sorts of things. Unfortunately, your sheep can have virtually none of them.
Things like salt, sugar, oils, seasonings, and the like are all bad for sheep. At best, it could give them a terribly upset stomach, diarrhea, or other stress, but at worst it could lead to some seriously harmful diseases like inflammation of the intestinal lining, bloat, and other problems.
Save all the specialty dishes and preparations for yourself, and if you’re going to cook tomatoes prior to giving them to your sheep remember to only cook them plain with no added ingredients.
Beware of Pesticide on Grocery-bought Tomatoes
Another thing you’ll sadly have to keep in mind if you were going to purchase tomatoes from the store for giving to your flock is the presence of pesticides on them.
Although pretty much all of our commercial produce these days is heavily treated with countless pesticides from planting to harvesting, tomatoes are among the most heavily treated with these dangerous chemicals.
Despite having the assurances of various, untrustworthy government agencies, these pesticides have indeed been linked with all sorts of health problems in mammals.
Some of them are particularly severe, and usually occur after the chemicals in question build up and body tissues over time.
Pesticides have been linked with cancer, organ damage, neurological problems and reproductive harm in sheep, so you need to take this seriously.
If you purchase tomatoes from the store, try to get organic varieties that are certified pesticide free.
In fact, the very best thing you can do is grow your own so you know exactly what is on them, but barring this you should thoroughly wash any tomatoes you buy from the store prior to serving them to your flock.
How Often Can Sheep Have Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are healthy for sheep, assuming they are totally ripe, but even then they cannot have them all the time.
Tomatoes fit squarely in the supplemental category of food when it comes to sheep and other ruminants.
If you want to give your sheep a few servings of tomatoes, maybe once or twice a week, that is probably all they need to get the maximum benefit from them.
Feeding them any more often than that, or feeding them large quantities in a single sitting, can cause issues.
Remember that sheep should only be getting around 25% of their total calorie intake from foods other than pasturage.
Preparing Tomatoes for Your Flock
Tomatoes are soft and juicy, so soft that they require hardly any effort to bite and chew. Despite this, make it a point to slice up tomatoes into thin slices or small sections that are basically bite-sized for sheep.
Sheep may choke on anything, even tomatoes, that is too large for them to handle but that won’t stop them from trying. Spend the time to prep the tomatoes and your flock will be sure to love them.
Can Lambs Have Tomatoes, Too?
Yes, lambs may have tomatoes also but with a couple of caveats. You want to wait for lambs to grow up a little bit, at least old enough until they are no longer drinking milk and are subsisting entirely on solid food.
The next thing to keep in mind is that tomatoes are quite rich, and lambs have a pretty delicate stomach when it comes to novel foods.
Don’t be surprised if tomatoes initially cause diarrhea or other problems in the land, and it might not sound that bad that particular issue can rapidly lead to dehydration which can be fatal.
For that reason, keep the quantities small and only give them tomatoes very occasionally until they reach adulthood.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.