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Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds? Are They Good for Them?

handful of sunflower seeds

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Raising chickens in your yard is an activity millions of people enjoy. Chickens lay delicious, nutritious eggs and are an excellent protein source. It’s estimated that, in 2018, around 10 million American households were raising backyard chickens, about 3% of the population. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, those numbers have increased significantly.

If you raise chickens, you might wonder if they can eat sunflower seeds. The answer is that chickens can eat sunflower seeds; even better, they’re a cheap source of excellent protein that will help your chickens thrive.

Have more questions about feeding sunflower seeds to your hens and roosters? If yes, read on! We have helpful, real-world sunflower seed information and advice for you below that will make your chickens very happy!

new chicken divider

Why Are Sunflower Seeds a Good Snack for Chickens?

There are two types of sunflower seeds, black oil and striped, and both are nutritious and healthy snacks for your chickens. These popular seeds contain several vitamins and other excellent nutrients for your chicken’s health, including vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, and protein. Vitamin B, for example, strengthens your chickens’ immune system, while calcium is essential for strong bones and beaks.

Magnesium is vital for hens as it improves their muscle tone, which is essential if you raise them for their eggs. The high levels of protein in sunflower seeds provide energy for chickens and, when molting or during times of stress, are critical for good health in winter.

Sunflower seeds also provide healthy fat and antioxidants, improving the quality of their eggs and boosting their immunity. The vitamin E in sunflower seeds does the same and protects your chickens against diseases like bronchitis. Lastly, the linoleic acid in sunflower seeds is essential as winter approaches to keep your chickens at a healthy weight. Plumper chickens can handle the cold better.

chicken pecking sunflower seeds
Image Credit By: ER_09, Shutterstock

Which Type of Sunflower Seed Is Best for Chickens?

Although chickens can eat both types of sunflower seeds, striped and black oil, most experts agree that black oil sunflower seeds are the better variety.

The main reason is that they have a higher oil content, which provides more fatty acids and calories for your birds. Additionally, black oil sunflower seeds have thinner shells, making them easier for your chickens to digest. We suggest trying both and seeing which type your chickens like best.

Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds with the Shell On?

You can give sunflower seeds to your chickens with the shells on without any worries. They won’t try to remove the seeds but will swallow them whole. A chicken’s digestive system will have no problem breaking down the sunflower seed shell.

What’s interesting is that the seeds will also be broken down by the grit that’s present in your chickens’ muscular gizzard. The combination of muscle force and grit makes short work of the shells, allowing them to pass quickly.

When Can Chickens Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Adult chickens, including hens and roosters, can eat sunflower seeds throughout the year without problems or issues. However, chicks should not be fed sunflower seeds until they have reached at least 30-days of age or older.

Another thing to remember is that sunflower seeds should be fed to your chickens in moderation, following the 90/10 rule. The rule states that 90% of the food you feed your chickens (and other animals) should be their recommended feed, while 10% should consist of snacks. Sunflowers are considered a snack.

If a chicken is eating 1.5 pounds (24 ounces) of feed in a week (the recommended amount), it should get no more than 2.4 ounces of sunflower seeds during the same time. If you have four chickens (the average) and feed them 6 pounds of feed per week, you should give them no more than 9.6 ounces of sunflower seeds. That’s a little over half a pound.

One vital thing to remember is that chickens love sunflower seeds and will greedily eat all that you give them. This is why feeding them sunflower seeds following the 90/10 rule is essential: they won’t stop at 10% on their own and can easily become overweight.

chickens eating grit
Image Credit: AngelaQuinn, Pixabay

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How Should You Feed Sunflower Seeds to Chickens?

If you’re like most people and keep your chickens cooped up in your backyard, the easiest way to feed them sunflower seeds is to sprinkle them on the ground. Not only is this an extremely easy way to give sunflower seeds to your chickens, but it also goads them into getting some much-needed exercise while they forage for them.

Some chicken experts also believe this method is a great way to mentally challenge your chickens and stimulate their minds, which is essential if you want to keep them happy and healthy. If you like, you can also mix sunflower seeds with your chickens’ regular feed mix or sprinkle them on top of the fruits and vegetables you feed them.

Which Seeds Are the Best for Chickens?

Chickens love sunflower seeds but also enjoy and will readily eat a wide variety of other seed types. Below is a short list of the best seeds to feed your chickens that will provide them the most nutritious value:

  • Buckwheat seeds
  • Canola seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Grass seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

Although you can’t buy them in bulk, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other types of melon seeds can be given to your chickens without worry and are quite nutritious. You can also give them the seeds from peppers, cucumber, broccoli, pomegranate, and lettuce.

All these seeds will provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can keep your chickens healthy. Again, however, you should follow the 90/10 rule and not feed them more than 10% of their diet in any of these seeds (or all of them combined).

Chia seed on a wooden spoon
Image Credit: ValeriaLu, Pixabay

Which Seeds Should Chickens Not Eat?

We’ve seen that there are quite a few seeds that chickens can eat, but there are several that shouldn’t be given, including some that are toxic. Below are the types of seeds that you should avoid giving to your chickens:

  • Foxglove seeds
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit seeds
  • Lily of the valley seeds
  • Morning glory seeds
  • Sweet peas
  • Poppy seeds
  • Unprocessed beans or legumes

There are several seeds that you should very much avoid giving your chickens because they’re poisonous.  These include apple seeds, cherry seeds, and pear seeds which all contain a chemical called amygdalin. The problem with amygdalin is that, when it’s digested, it breaks down into hydrogen cyanide (HCN) which is extremely poisonous.

Can Chickens Eat Bird Seed?

Chickens can eat bird seed, but it’s not a food that you should give them regularly. Most bird seed mixes have too much fat and too few vitamins to be of correct nutritional value. They also have too little calcium, which is essential for laying hens.

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Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen today, chickens can eat sunflower seeds and will eat them with gusto. Sunflower seeds contain various nutritional components that are excellent for their health, including several vitamins, minerals, and protein.

However, experts recommend following the 90/10 rule and giving your chickens no more than 10% of their total food intake in sunflower or other types of seeds. In other words, while chickens may love sunflower seeds and other seeds, they can’t survive and thrive on seeds only.

Best of luck raising your chickens in your backyard and keeping them healthy! One thing is certain; raising chickens is a rewarding activity for everyone in the family and provides some of the most delicious eggs you’ve ever eaten!


Featured Image Credit: ER_09, Shutterstock

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