During the spring and summer, when tomato plants begin to grow, you’ll start to see hornworms on them. These caterpillars are destructive and can destroy an entire tomato plant in a day. Since they seem edible and a pest in the garden, you may wonder if chickens can eat hornworms.
Can chickens eat hornworms? Yes, chickens can eat hornworms. This caterpillar is very nutritious and healthy for them to eat. However, hornworm’s main food source is the tomato plants, which contain a toxin known as solanine. This toxin is harmful to the chickens, even death can occur. To prevent any health issues, it’s best to buy hornworms from a reputable seller or raise them yourselves.
What Are Hornworms?
Hornworms are caterpillars of the Manduca genus hawk moths. There are two species of these caterpillars:
- Tobacco hornworm, “Goliath worm” or Manduca sexta
- Tomato hornworm, or Manduca quinquemaculata
These are the most common species of hornworms you’ll see in your garden. Tobacco hornworms are green in color with seven diagonal markings along their sides. On the back ends, it will have a red spiked tail. The spike or ‘horn’ is what gives this caterpillar its name.
In the wild, tobacco hornworms mostly feed on tobacco and tomato plants.
Tomato hornworms are a little different from tobacco hornworms. Instead of a diagonal shape, tomato hornworms have a V-shaped marking on their back and a black spike on their tail.
Their main food source is the same is tobacco hornworms which are tobacco and tomato plants.
Are Hornworms Safe For Chickens To Eat?
The hornworm itself doesn’t contain any toxins that could harm the chickens.
However, the caterpillars will feed on tomato plants as it’s their main food source. The tomato plants contain a toxin known as solanine. This toxin can be harmful to the chickens in large amounts.
If you see your chickens are plucking hornworms from the plants and eating them, it’s really no cause for concern. A few hornworms will not have any negative effect on their health.
Is It Healthy For Chickens To Eat Hornworms?
Hornworms provide a great source of calcium and moisture. Both of these are what the chickens need on a daily basis to stay healthy and strong.
One adult hornworm contain the following:
- Moisture — 85%
- Protein — 9%
- Fat — 3.07%
- Calcium — 464 mg/kg
- Phosphorous — 1394 mg/kg
Hornworms have a good amount of calcium. This is an essential nutrient for the chickens. They need calcium every day for optimal health. For baby chickens and egg-laying hens, calcium is very important. For chicks, they need a lot of calcium in their diet since they grow up very fast.
As for egg-laying hens, they need calcium to lay strong and healthy eggs. Since the eggshells are made up entirely of calcium, it makes sense for the hens to get plenty of calcium in their diet.
Hornworms have a very high amount of water content. This means these caterpillars make excellent food to keep the chickens hydrated, especially during the summer months.
Can Baby Chickens Eat Hornwoms?
Yes, baby chickens can eat hornworms. They will get a good amount of calcium, which they need to grow up strong and healthy.
If you toss them a hornworm, they will peck at it and eat pieces of it.
How Many Hornworms Should You Feed Your Chickens?
Hornworms are nutritious and healthy for the chickens to eat. If you let your chickens roam freely, they can eat as much as they can catch.
In the wild, hornworms are not abundant. In a typical garden, there may be only a few of the hornworms. This means that each chicken will get to eat one or two hornworms, while some may not get any at all.
On the other hand, if you bought hornworms or raise them for the purpose of feeding your chickens, each chicken should get 1-2 hornworms to eat.
Other Worms That Chickens Can Eat
Earthworms are one of the chicken’s favorite food. They will after them when they see one. Earthworms are packed with nutrition, especially protein. Most backyard chicken owners will let the chicken roam in the yard, plucking them from the ground.
Mealworms are high in protein, which makes them a great feeder for chicks and egg-laying hens. Chickens will have no issues eating the mealworms. You can feed them either live or freeze-dried mealworms.
Silkworms are one of the healthiest insects that you can feed your chickens. It’s nutrient-dense, yet low in calories. It’s a good source of calcium, protein, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3. Silkworms are easy for the chickens to digest since it has a soft body.
Hornworms are abundant during the warmer months of the year. You’ll find them munching on the tomato plants in your garden. Chickens will go after them if they see one. Tomato plants have a toxin called solanine, but it has to be ingested in large amounts to cause health problems for your chickens.