Feeding Tomatoes to Livestock

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

This week I was contacted by a food distributor that wants to move several tons of tomatoes to interested livestock producers. Culled tomatoes may be damaged, too small, misshapen etc. and do not meet the grading standards for sale in the fresh market or for processing. There is information on tomato pomace (tomato peels, seeds and small amounts of pulp) but very limited information on the tomato itself.

Can you feed tomatoes to livestock? Yes, but they should not be free choice. Unripe tomatoes and the green parts of ripe tomatoes contain a solanine-like alkaloid (saponin) called tomatine that may be toxic to insects, dogs and, to a lesser extent, herbivores (diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal irritation). However, it disappears as the tomato ripens. In one study, they were able to feed over 3 pounds of tomatoes to goats before their feces got soft (Goat Feeding Study). In other words, if you feed a lot of them, don’t stand behind livestock if they cough. One of my nutrition books suggests fresh tomatoes might be limited to about 15% of a concentrate ration.

Tomatoes have the energy and protein content of high quality hay. The calcium level is less than that of phosphorus so you may need to supplement calcium if high levels of tomatoes are fed.

Fresh tomatoes are very wet because they are only about 6% dry matter or 94% water. Therefore they cannot be transported very far. Material with low dry matter content has a limited shelf life that generally does not exceed a few days, particularly in warm-humid conditions. The tomatoes need to arrive fresh to minimize dangers of mycotoxins, and molds. Cull vegetable material can be mixed with drier feeds and ensiled with some measure of success, which can extend the storage life of the product. If anyone in the Columbus area is interested, they can contact me and I will share the contact information with you for this person interested in moving cull tomatoes.