Friday, August 16, 2013

Chickens and Tomatoes

So much is happening at the farmstead this time of year. The garden is now into harvest mode. The year's first honey has flowed, the young livestock are weaning and the pressure canner stands at the ready in the corner of the kitchen, clean and ready for processing the harvest. It's a busy time of year as preparations are made for the upcoming winter months.

The spring chicks have been growing and exploring all summer. The young pullets are beginning to lay and entering into the next stage of their lives as hens. The older hens, your good layer girls, are beginning to molt and may have stopped laying for a while. It's vacation time for them.

Cross the harvest with your chickens and it can spell disaster or a delightful composting system. Chickens love ripe tomatoes. In fact, chickens love most anything red. Try wearing red socks or shoe laces into the coop sometime! They are drawn to the color red, as are most animals, and will find their way into your garden if you have not secured it well. There is nothing more disappointing than to go to the garden to pick your first ripe tomato, only to find that it had been previously enjoyed by one of your free ranging yard birds.

Tomato tips

-Do not feed too many. Remember the addage, "Everyting in moderation". Tomato is a nightshade and nightshades need to be used with caution.

Use chicken wire to protect plants in your garden
-Do not substitute tomatoes for chicken feed. Hens need protein to produce eggs. If they do not have enough protein, they may stop laying. 

-Do not allow your chickens to roam freely in the garden. Wire off your tomatoes and other yummy vegetables so there will be veggies for you and your family.

-I've heard several people say, "I gave my chickens tomatoes and they stopped laying."  I know this has happened to some folks and I think I have an explanation as to why. Tomatoes come ripe at the same time of year as the annual molt begins in poultry. If chickens are eating lots of tomatoes, they may not have room for their regular poultry feed. Not enough protein in their diet will reduce egg production.

Too much tomato!

Chickens make wonderful composting animals. After your garden has run it's course, or after the frost, fence it off and let the chickens clean it up before winter sets in. Their efforts make winterizing the garden less of a chore.