If there’s one food that is associated specifically with birds, it is probably seeds. And, though our precious chickens are omnivores that can eat all kinds of foods, there’s always a place for seeds in their diet…
Humans aren’t quite as prolific seed-eaters as birds are, of course, but we eat our fair share. Some, like sunflower seeds, are popular as snacks and recipe ingredients in cultures around the world. So, can our chickens eat sunflower seeds too, and are they safe?
Yes, sunflower seeds are totally safe for chickens as long as they are all natural with no added ingredients.
Seasoned, flavored, or salted sunflower seeds should never be given to chickens. Plain sunflower seeds happen to be highly nutritious, and are a great supplement or treat.
You might like sunflower seeds yourself, but I promise you that your chickens absolutely adore them. It isn’t even a question.
But, you don’t want to buy just any sunflower seeds off the shelf and give them to your flock in case other ingredients might make them sick.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know about what kinds of sunflower seeds are safe for your birds and what kinds aren’t just below.
What Benefits Do Sunflower Seeds Have for Chickens?
Sunflower seeds are a natural food for chickens and so long as they aren’t messed up by the addition of harmful ingredients and other adulterating substances, they have tons of health benefits.
For starters, sunflower seeds can help reduce stress, improve and stabilize metabolism, boost the production of red blood cells and the oxygenation of blood, aid in digestion and the absorption of other nutrients, and help chickens grow new feathers after injury or during the molt.
But they can do even more than that. The wide assortment of vitamins and minerals can improve overall energy levels, aid in hydration by giving chickens electrolytes, boost immune system health, and help maintain a healthy nervous system, including a chicken’s eyes.
And naturally sunflower seeds are a wonderful source of calories for chickens that can help keep them warm on cooler days if required. So long as you feed them in moderation, there’s a lot to like about sunflower seeds!
Sunflower Seed Nutritional Info
If you’ve only ever considered sunflower seeds as just a snack for crushing your salty cravings, you are probably in for a big but pleasant surprise.
Sunflower seeds are absolutely jam-packed with vital micro and macronutrients, including vitamins and minerals of all kinds. Brace yourself; this is going to be a long list!
Looking at vitamins, we see sunflower seeds are loaded with most of the B complex vitamins, including tremendous amounts of thiamine, vitamin B6, folate and niacin, and somewhat lesser but still high amounts of riboflavin and pantothenic acid.
They have an extraordinary amount of vitamin E and some choline along with a tiny bit of vitamin C.
The mineral quantity is also truly remarkable, with tons of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc, and only slightly less iron.
Sunflower seeds contain a pretty good shot of potassium, at least compared to any vegetable, and a decent amount of calcium.
Also notably, sunflower seeds are naturally very low in sodium. They only taste as salty as they typically do because we drown them in the stuff…
As such, if you’re feeding your chickens plain sunflower seeds you won’t have to worry too much about their salt intake levels.
Are Whole Sunflower Seeds Safe for Chickens?
Yes, they are safe. Chickens will eat sunflower seeds entirely whole and break them down internally.
Unlike us humans, chickens can digest that tough outer hull and they’ll be more than happy to eat it as-is.
Are Dehulled Sunflower Seeds Safe for Chickens?
Yes. Sunflower seeds that have the tough outer hull removed are still great for chickens, and they will love them all the same.
This is a good option to consider if your birds are bantams because larger sunflower seeds that are intact might be challenging for them to eat. The tiny, softer kernels within, on the other hand, will be easy.
Are Sunflower Seeds Still Safe for Chicks?
Surprisingly, no. Whether they are dehulled or intact sunflower seeds are a choking hazard for chicks.
Also, even if they can eat the seeds easily enough, the developing digestive tract of chicks is not well equipped for handling these large and nutrient-dense seeds.
Even if they are able to eat them without any risk, an upset stomach and potentially diarrhea are not out of the question.
Now, you can give sunflower seeds to your chicks when they are a little bit older. Wait until they’re around 6 weeks of age or potentially a little older before letting them try out sunflower kernels, or if they are a larger breed you might let them take a crack at whole sunflowers.
How Frequently Can Sunflower Seeds be Fed to Chickens?
Although it seems like a stupid question (because birds and seeds, right?) sunflower seeds should not be the primary part of a chicken’s diet, and they shouldn’t even be a significant secondary part.
Sunflower seeds are extremely nutritious, yes, but they are not nutritionally complete and very calorie dense. Way too fattening if chickens are going to eat them all the time.
For this reason, you want to treat sunflower seeds as a supplement, or as a treat that your chickens will love.
Not for nothing, sunflower seeds are prone to making your chickens start packing on the pounds if you allow them to overindulge in sunflower seeds.
Give your flock a couple of small servings of sunflower seeds per week, or maybe even just one per week depending on their nutritional requirements.
They will certainly love them, and they’ll get plenty of benefit from the nutrition they have, trust me.
What’s the Best Way to Serve Sunflower Seeds to Your Flock?
There will never be anything is easier to give to your chickens than sunflower seeds. You can put them in a bowl or scatter them anywhere they can reach them, and they will gobble them up. It’s just that simple.
If you want to make other foods a little bit more enticing to chicken you can also mix in some sunflower seeds, but don’t be the least bit surprised if you notice your birds ignore the other food and just dig for the sunflower seeds.
Never Feed Salted or Seasoned Sunflower Seeds to Chickens
Since we’re talking about sunflower seeds and salt recently, now is a good time to mention that you should never, ever give your chickens sunflower seeds that are salted, honey roasted, seasoned, sauced or subjected to flavorings or any other such trickery.
Sure, we think these taste delicious but ingredients like sugar, salt, oils and artificial flavorings can spell bad news for your chicken.
An upset stomach is going to be all but a certainty, and with it likely diarrhea. That can lead to dehydration and that’s bad enough, but even more serious issues like fatty liver syndrome, sour crop and salt poisoning are possible.
Only give your chickens plain, unsalted sunflower seeds, and preferably ones that are sold for animal and not human consumption.
Sunflower Seeds Can Attract Rodents!
Here’s another tip you should take to heart. Never leave out large quantities of sunflower seeds, either in a bowl or stored in a sack anywhere outside where other animals can get to it.
You also want to be careful about spreading around too many sunflower seeds.
This is because sunflower seeds are notorious for attracting mice and rats. Once they show up, they will settle in and then will start breeding and pretty soon you’ll be overrun with rodents.
Remember that mice and rats can kill chicks, steal eggs, and in the case of large rats, potentially threaten chickens directly, so you don’t want that to happen…
Only give your chickens enough sunflower seeds to make a serving, and securely store the remainder.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.