Feeding Sunflower Seeds to Horses

Sunflower Seeds_Snack and Black Oil_BRSunflower seeds come in 2 basic classifications with some specialized varieties in each. Black oil sunflower seeds are primarily produced for sunflower oil production, and striped sunflower seeds are primarily produced for confectionary/human consumption.

  • Black oil sunflower seeds will be about 17% protein, 44% fat and 24% neutral detergent fiber (NDF).
  • Striped sunflower seeds will be about 16% protein, 24% fat and 40% NDF.

The hull of the sunflower is fairly tough and is not very digestible and the horse may not break all of the hulls when eating the seeds, so some may pass thru undigested. (The birds in your pasture will appreciate this!).

The black oil sunflower seeds are most readily available for purchase in bagged form as they are also popular for feeding birds and are the most widely used by horse owners. The oil content of black oil sunflower seeds is about 29% Omega 6 fatty acids and about .09% Omega 3 fatty acids. The oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is why it is popular for human use.

The key element to consider in deciding if there is a good reason to use black oil sunflower seeds is to consider what you are actually adding to the diet and at what cost.

  • Current bagged retail price may be about $16.00-$20.00 per 20 pound bag.
  • This translates to $1600-$2000 per ton, which is fairly spendy for a horse feed!

If you feed a pound of black oil sunflower seeds, you are adding about 7 ounces of oil (less than a cup) and 2.72 ounces of protein with minimal digestible NDF or other nutrients. If you buy bulk soy oil, you should be able to add more oil at lower cost by adding straight oil and you will have a better Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio.

Black oil sunflower seed use for horses needs to be assessed basis what the ingredient actually adds to the diet and what the cost is compared to other ingredients or feeds.

9 Replies to “Feeding Sunflower Seeds to Horses”

  1. It is my understanding that sunflower seeds and oil are also more pro-inflammatory as are corn and wheat germ oil. Not good choices for older horses or long-term for any horse or human.

    1. Hello MK, You can feed one to two pounds per day, however, as indicated in our article, it’s very expensive when compared to other feed options, and also a rather ineffective source of calories, and not a balanced source of nutrients. We’d recommend simply upping your horse’s current grain or hay ration slightly, to acheive the same effect for a lot less money and in a more balanced nutritional fashion.
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  2. I feed 3 cups of boss a day however I do not ground I soak them I also feed 6 lbs of pro force fuel a day when the hard work out my horses endure the boss seeds help keep them at the ideal weight they need.
    They get hay twice a day
    But it is truly a struggle with out the seeds and the high crude fat in the pro force to keep there weight where it needs to be

  3. I bought an amazing bag of feed that my old T/B really enjoys and I noticed it comes with sunflower seeds. I’m worried that they could eventually wear down his teeth though. Is this valid or am I being paranoid?

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Interesting question! While sunflower seeds do have a relatively tough hull compared to cereal grains, I would not expect the seeds in the feed to contribute in any significant way to premature wear for equine teeth. If the horse has dentition issues, there may be some seeds that pass thru undigested if the hull is not crushed during chewing process.

      Best of luck!

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