Feb 10, 2017
Central Arkansas
I’ve no science to go on here -just some thoughts and deducing. Just something to consider maybe...
My wife is in the habit of throwing handfuls of unshelled sunflower seeds to the chickens in their coops when she is reloading the wildbird feeders. As I thought about it, I said to her that I wondered if there might be a potential problem with that. Her response was what I suppose most folks conclude when they feed their chickens sunflower seeds: “Wildbirds eat them all the time and a chicken is a bird. Therefore sunflower seeds should be as good for a chicken as it is for a Cardinal.
But in coming to that conclusion what I think most folks don’t consider is the fact that wildbirds shell the sunflower seed first and DISCARD the non-nutritious fibrous indigestible shell. Wildbirds do NOT eat the shell of the sunflower seed. They crack it open, eat the seed, and drop the shell which lands in the discard pile below the feeder. Have you ever had a soggy-wet fibrous mass of indigestible chewed-up sunflower shells in your mouth? If so, you get the picture. My concern was that too much shell in the chicken’s crop(craw) or anywhere in the gut could cause problems with impaction or blockage if a mass of wet fibrous nondigestible shell collects there. We have a Silver-Laced Wyandotte hen that for the past 2 1/2 days has some type of mass or impaction in her crop that is very painful to her when it’s touched. And she is lethargic, obviously not feeling well and eating only little. I don’t know if it’s a mass of sunflower shells, an impaction of straw, a tumor, or what, but my wife had thrown a bunch of unshelled sunflower seeds into her coop the evening before she turned up feeling bad and she ate a bunch of them. It was the next morning that we found her obviously not feeling well and it was this afternoon (3rd day of feeing bad) when I discovered the lump in her crop that very obviously pains her when touched. I can hold her, pet her, touch her all over, but when I touch her crop, she starts a non-normal cackling and making a real effort to get away. It’s obviously painful and is the source of her illness.
Again, I don’t know what’s in her crop so can’t for-sure pin it on the sunflower shells, but I’ve worried for a long time about the potential for problems with the shells knowing that the wildbirds purposely discard them -and knowing from personal experience what a mass of soggy-wet fibrous sunflower shells feel like in my mouth after I’ve chewed on a handful of them for quite a while before I finally have to spit the fibrous wad out!
Just some food for thought (pun intended).
There's a difference between birds that take off the shell before ingesting the seed and those that don't. Many birds eat the seeds whole and have no problems. My chickens get the old cockatiel and budgie seed all the time and they love it as a treat. Chickens and other birds that eat seeds whole will seek out small stones/insoluble grit to assist their gizzard in grinding up everything. I've never had a problem feeding whole sunflower seeds to chickens and feeding whole grains is actually beneficial to them as it makes their gizzard work more efficiently.
I don't feed just sunflower seeds to birds or chickens. I feed a mixed wild bird seed as a treat that contains sunflower seeds. 20170610_142706.jpg So they don't get a lot. GC
Edited to add; I also provide Granite Grit in a separate container, year round.
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My birds also get some sunflower seeds. Often sprouted, sometimes dry. No problem. They also have plenty of hay in both coop and run. I catch them eating that all the time. No problem.

Grit is essential. During snow season which lasts from Nov through much of April, I provide grit. When ground is thawed, they can find their own grit.

One thing to consider: sunflower seeds are high in fat. Birds that get a lot of fat are more apt to have high levels of visceral fat which can lead to egg laying difficulty. Giving a lot of fatty treats is essentially "killing your birds with kindness."

IMO, a bird that has crop problems may very well have other underlying problems.
@lazy gardener i have a couple questions along this line. I sprout BOSS and wheat berries for my 8 Silkie they get about a cup to a cup and a half is this too much daily? Also tonight I noticed one of my 3 week old chicks running around with a sprouted BOSS, not sure if mama gave it to her or if she stole it. Should I stop giving sprouts until the chicks are larger?

I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to all who posted the quick replies to my post here.
Not knowing much about avian physiology I assumed all birds had crops and gizzards to aid in their pre-digestion and that if all the local wildbirds that I’m familiar with refuse to eat the sunflower shell, that it must be done for good reason. I figured that chickens were about the only birds that would eat ‘em and as I’ve often heard- a chicken will eat just about anything! Even stuff that’s not good for them! Now don’t get me wrong, our chickens are a part of our family here at our place. They are our pets and I love them as much as I love my dogs and cats. But as smart as chickens are to live a chicken’s life, intellectwise chickens aren’t the brightest stars in the universe of critters (I know...I stated that at the risk of offending some of the chicken lovers here... while some will be nodding their heads in agreement with me).

Now an update on our ‘Lacy’: checked her just 30 minutes ago (we leave a light on in our 2 coops until 9:00 each night thru the short winter days -it made a dramatic difference in their wintertime egg production)— Lacy was at the feeder pecking away so she’s got some appetite. That’s a good sign I think. I hope this thing clears up and that she gets back to normal.
Again, thanks all, for the replies and passing along of your experience.
Maybe im doing sprout wrong. I add the BOSS with shells on and wheat berries to a mason jar soak for 24 hrs dump in colander and rinse 2 x a day till they start getting the white tail (around day 3)then start feeding to chickens.

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