Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Proper Poultry Nutrition is Essential, but Treats Can Have Benefits Too

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: chickens sunflower seeds

Can chickens eat sunflower seeds is a common question. A proper diet is vital to your chickens’ health and development. Providing your birds the right scientifically formulated feed for their stage of life ensures that they receive all the essential nutrients and minerals they need to grow and thrive. While treats and kitchen scraps given regularly can undermine a flock’s absorption of necessary nutrients, an occasional snack offered in moderation will not only not derail your chickens’ diet but can also help develop a better bond between you and your birds.  

Feed Sunflower Seeds for Added Energy

A favorite tidbit—and one easily found at feed shops, farm-supply stores and even supermarkets—is black oil sunflower seeds. Commonly used in wild-bird feeders, black oil sunflower seeds contain approximately 50 percent fat and 20 percent protein, making them a great source of energy.

These seeds also feature thin shells, making them easy for chickens (and other birds) to eat. Because of their fat and protein content, black oil sunflower seeds should be fed in very small amounts, approximately a tablespoon for a flock of three to six birds.

To offer the seeds, scatter them around your chicken run or yard to not only treat your hens but also provide them with exercise. If your birds are docile, you can also offer black oil sunflower seeds from your palm. Be sure to hold your palm open and flat rather than cupped to prevent beaks from accidentally grabbing your skin instead of seeds.  

Read more: These 5 treats are sure to keep your backyard chickens happy!

Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds – What to Avoid

Sunflower seeds sold in the snack section of supermarkets should never be offered to chickens. Processed for human consumption, these types of sunflower seeds typically contain sodium, flavorings  and preservatives, which are unhealthy for birds to consume.

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Farm-supply and wild-bird stores usually sell sunflower hearts, which are the shelled sunflower kernel. You can offer sunflower hearts to your flock if you are averse to sunflower shells strewed throughout your yard or run. Sunflower hearts run a bit more expensive than unshelled seed, but they are better for your garden, as sunflower seed shells contain allelopathic toxins , which prevent other seeds—including grass seed—from germinating.   

Another option your chickens and you may both enjoy would be to plant a black oil sunflower garden. Black oil sunflowers grow to a height of 8 to 10 feet and feature golden yellow petals around a large brown center. These tall plants will provide shade for your flock and beautiful blooms for you to admire.

The flowers’ centers will be chock full of seeds at harvest time, provided wild birds don’t get to them first. Wild birds adore black oil sunflower seeds, so be aware that offering these seeds to your chickens may mean you’ll have some freeloaders hanging about.  

This article about can chickens eat sunflower seeds was written for Chickens magazine online. Click here to subscribe.

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