Chickens are omnivorous birds that will eat just about anything they can get their beaks on, and as anyone who keeps them will know, they love it when we give them tasty snacks and treats to enjoy.
However, while there are lots of foods you can give them, there are also several that need to be avoided. As such, you might be wondering whether sunflower seeds are ok for them – so to help, in this post, we answer the question, can chickens eat sunflower seeds?
Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds? The short answer
Before we get into the details of feeding sunflower seeds to chickens, let’s start with a simple answer.
What’s more, they’re full of nutritious goodness that will benefit your chickens in many ways – so if you want to give them a healthy and tasty snack, sunflower seeds are a great choice.
But of course, there’s more to this topic than just that – so now let’s jump in a delve a bit deeper into the question.
Are sunflower seeds good for chickens?
Sunflower seeds are an excellent snack to give to chickens due to their nutritional value.
They are high in protein, containing as much as 26%, so they’re a useful snack to give to chickens while they’re going through their molt in the fall.
The oil in sunflower seeds also helps increase the size and nutritional value of the eggs they lay, but the fat content is polyunsaturated fat, the healthy kind that’s found in olive oil and avocados, so it’s not bad for your chickens’ health.
They also contain Omega-3s, a kind of healthy fatty acid.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E, which is vital for the immune system and helps keep skin and feathers healthy, and they contain minerals such as calcium, which is important for eggs, selenium, a natural antioxidant, and zinc, important for reproductive health.
Which types can they eat?
There are many types of sunflower seeds to choose from, and the most important thing to remember is chickens shouldn’t be eating the kind of sunflower seeds that are intended for human consumption.
This is because people tend to like them roasted and salted, but for chickens, this is not recommended.
Instead, they should eat raw, unsalted sunflower seeds, which are far better adapted to their needs.
Sunflower seeds also come in two main varieties, black and striped – and they’re not the same.
The main difference is in the oil content, with black seeds containing around 40-50% oil while striped ones only contain around 25% oil.
This means that black sunflower seeds are the preferable variety, but unfortunately, those sold commercially as bird feed are usually striped.
As a result, by far the best option is to grow your own black seeds because that way, you know they are the healthiest and most beneficial type for your birds. You also know that they are organic and free of any pesticides or any other chemicals that might harm your chickens.
If you do buy them, try to find a good supplier – because sometimes, packs of sunflower seeds intended for bird feed also contain bits of stalk and other debris.
How to feed sunflower seeds to chickens
As long as you have unsalted and unprepared sunflower seeds, there’s nothing special you need to do to them before feeding them to your chickens – although you do have a few options.
The first is simply to spread out a handful or two of sunflower seeds in their run area to encourage them to forage for the seeds. This has the advantage of keeping them busy and active, ensuring they get plenty of exercise while also fighting boredom.
Another option is to give them the sunflower head to peck at with the seeds still in it, another option that will keep them occupied because they will have to work for their seeds.
You can also tie up some sunflower heads full of seeds above the heads of your chickens. Again, this will make them work for their snacks and will keep them busy and interested.
Finally, if you just want to ensure they receive the benefits of all the nutrients from the sunflower seeds, you can mix them in with the chickens’ regular feed.
You don’t need to shell the seeds before feeding them to your chickens – but shelled seeds will probably leave you with less to clear up after they’ve finished eating them.
How to harvest and store sunflower seeds
If you grow your own sunflowers, you’ll probably be wondering when and how to harvest the seeds for your chickens – since growing them is the easy part.
Harvesting seeds is easy, but the key is knowing when to do it.
The seeds will be at their most nutritious and full of oil when the leaves have turned brown and the sunflower head is drooping – which will usually be some time between late August and early October, depending on where you live.
If you try to harvest them too early, you will end up with black oil all over your hands, and apart from anything else, it doesn’t smell particularly appealing.
Once your sunflowers are ready, you can remove the seeds by banging the sunflower heads on a table to make them all fall out.
You can then collect them up for storage.
You’ll need to store them in a rodent-proof container because rats and mice love sunflower seeds just as much as chickens.
You’ll also need to keep them dry and free of moisture because otherwise, they will go bad.
If you store them somewhere cool and dry, the seeds can be kept for up to three months – which is perfect for providing your chickens with a healthy and beneficial snack as the summer turns to fall and then to winter.
So how many seeds can you feed to chickens? The answer is, like any treat or snack food for chickens, they should be given in moderation.
Chickens have specific nutritional requirements, and their regular feed is formulated to provide everything they need.
You can supplement this with other foods, but this should never exceed 10% of their diet – the other 90% of what they eat should come from their regular feed.
This means feeding chickens sunflower seeds in moderation is a great idea. They’ll love eating them and the seeds are packed with all kinds of nutrients that will help them thrive.
However, sunflower seeds or other treats should never be the main part of what chickens eat or they will end up missing out on vital nutrients, their laying productivity will suffer and they may even become malnourished.
In practice, this means a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds every two or three days should be fine – but anything more than this would be too much.
To finish, let’s deal with two common myths about feeding sunflower seeds to chickens
Sunflower seeds cause chickens’ feathers to fall out
Perhaps because sunflower seeds are often fed to chickens in fall, which coincides with their annual molt, some people have come to believe that sunflower seeds cause chickens’ feathers to fall out – but this is simply untrue.
On the contrary, the high protein content of sunflower seeds is highly beneficial to molting chickens, so this is the best time of the year to feed them to your birds.
However, sunflower seeds can also be given to chickens at any other time of the year – and you don’t have to worry about it making their feathers fall out.
Sunflower seeds make chickens fat
Some people believe that sunflower seeds can make chickens fat, and while this could possibly be true if chickens were allowed to gorge themselves on sunflower seeds as much as they wanted, by feeding them in moderation, this will never happen.
As we mentioned above, sunflower seeds should be seen as a treat rather than a staple and when fed to chickens like this, they will never make chickens overweight, so again, there’s nothing here to worry about.
Sunflower seeds contain healthy types of fat, so feeding them in moderation to chickens is entirely beneficial to their health.
A tasty and nutritious snack for your birds
As we have seen, chickens love sunflower seeds, and what’s more, they’re full of healthy and nutritious goodness that can help keep your chickens happy, healthy and productive – so if you want to give your chickens sunflower seeds, go right ahead!
The main thing to remember, as is the case with any snack foods we give to chickens, is that they should only be fed in moderation. 90% of their diet should come from their regular feed – but as part of the other 10%, raw, unsalted sunflower seeds can be a great option.