Can My horse Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds have been a popular snack for as long as sunflowers have been around. Just like we enjoy picking up a bag of sunflower seeds and chomping away, so too do our horse friends (only they need us to pick the bag up for them). Horses love snacking on sunflower seeds. Not only are the seeds healthy and delicious for horses, but they are 100% safe. There is literally no reason to keep your horse away from these pint-sized snacks. In fact, many horse owners choose to add sunflower seeds into their horse’s daily ration as a fat supplement to improve the sheen and shininess of their coat. It’s like if eating potato chips gave us thicker and more lustrous hair! Plus, sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins, minerals, and magnesium – all the building blocks for a healthy horse.
The reason sunflower seeds can help beautify a horse’s coat is because the seeds are packed full of fat and protein and are completely natural. All the omega-3 fatty acids found inside of sunflower seeds work to keep the horse’s skin and coat healthy and fresh. This is why horses with skin conditions are recommended to have sunflower seeds added as a staple inside of their diet.
How Many Sunflower Seeds Can I Feed My Horse?
Horses will eat sunflower seeds until they burst, but under no circumstance should you allow your horse to eat more than two pounds of seeds per day. That would be an incredible amount of sunflower seeds, and a little too much for your horse. Because these seeds are low in omega-3 fatty acids and high in omega-6 fatty acids, your horse’s diet could become unbalanced and upset. This is never good for any creature’s diet. We recommend you feed your horse somewhere between .25 pounds and 1 pound, that’s between 100 and 450 grams. This is enough to give the horse a boost to their fat intake, and hopefully a shinier coat of hair.
It is important to understand that there are two different types of sunflower seeds: striped sunflower seeds and black oil sunflower seeds. The striped seeds are consumed by humans. These seeds are created in factories and are tailored for the human’s digestive system and mass consumption. Black oil sunflower seeds are what you would commonly find in birdseed. You can also find bags of black oil sunflower seeds at just about any specialty shop where you buy your horse’s feed. Because black oil seeds are used to produce sunflower oil, you can find these in bulk. Striped sunflower seeds should never be given to your horse. The classifications are very different.
Whereas striped sunflower seeds are about 24% fat and 16% protein, black oil sunflower seeds are about 44% fat and 17% protein. That means your horse is getting nearly double the healthy fat intake from black seeds than it would from striped seeds. Not to mention, the chances of finding enough bulk striped sunflower seeds to feed a team of horses is slim. If you did find enough, it would undoubtedly cost a fortune!
What Do Black Oil Sunflower Seeds Do for Horses?
To put it simply, black oil sunflower seeds don’t “do” something specific for horses, they’re just healthy. It’s like asking what a full serving of almonds “does” for humans; they are simply good for you. Black oil sunflower seeds are such a great addition to the diet of your horse because they are extremely nutritious. They come jammed full of vitamins, protein, minerals, fat (omega 6), and a whole lot of magnesium. There are roughly 100 milligrams of magnesium in ever ounce of seeds. And while we’re talking measurements, you can expect a full 10,000 milligrams of omega 6 fatty acid in each cup of black oil sunflower seeds, with only 34 milligrams of omega 3 fatty acid.
Because of the huge disparity between omega 6 and omega 3 found in these seeds, you’ll need to ensure that your horse is getting extra omega 3 somewhere else. This can be done by adding two cups of chia seeds or flaxseeds to their diet, anything high in omega 3. Too much omega 6, because it is such an inflammatory acid, can cause problems for older horses, obese horses, or injured horses. The natural ratio is 4:1, omega 3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids.
Can Horses Eat Sunflower Seed Shells?
To answer this question, we must return to the difference between stripped sunflower seeds and black oil sunflower seeds. With the latter, the shells are incredibly soft, making them perfect for birds and other critters. Horses can easily chew and digest the shells of these seeds. However, striped seeds have tough shells (we’ve all struggled chomping through sunflower seed shells), and they are not entirely digestible by your horse. Their digestive tract simple can’t handle a full pound of hard shells. And while the birds may be pleased to find these half-digested shells littered throughout the pasture, your horse probably won’t. Feed them black oil sunflower seeds only and never worry about the shells!
What Should I look for When Buying Black Oil Sunflower Seeds?
Not all seeds are created equal. When you are buying large bags of black oil sunflower seeds to give your horse, make sure you read the labels with care. It’s true that many large feed stores will sell sunflower seeds which have been sprayed with vitamin mixtures. These sprays are often not proven to be safe for geriatric horses or birds. You want to only buy sunflower seeds that have no adulteration. Also, if you have an ageing horse who can’t chew quite as well as they used to, we suggest buying just the heart (the inside part of the seed) and grinding them up before you feed them to your horse. Whatever you do, always make sure you have your horse’s health in mind. And if you’re unsure, consult a veterinarian.