Sunflower seeds can be found in most agricultural stores because they make a great treat for lots of farm animals. And you might be wondering if your sheep can enjoy them too. So let’s take a look and see if sunflower seeds and plants are safe for sheep to eat.
Sunflower plants and seeds are not only safe for sheep to eat, but they also have lots of nutritional benefits. Sheep should eat black husk sunflower seeds; these are easier for them to chew and digest.
But sheep have sensitive stomachs so you should always do your research before feeding them new things. So below we’ll find out everything you need to know about feeding your sheep sunflowers.
Sheep Can Eat Sunflower Plants
The great news is that sheep can eat sunflower plants and they’re good for a sheep’s diet. Sheep need to eat lots of different types of pasture plants as part of a healthy diet. This includes sunflowers.
All parts of the sunflower plant are safe for sheep to eat. And the leaves, heads, and stalks are a good source of fiber and roughage. When you understand the sheep’s digestive system then you’ll see why roughage is important.
A Quick Look at Sheep Digestive Systems.
A sheep’s digestive system is very different from a human one. They have four stomachs for a start! And because of their unique digestive system, they’re known as rumen animals. Other rumen animals include goats, cattle, and alpacas.
The first of these stomachs is known as the rumen and this is where sheep ruminate their food. Rumination is when the food goes into the stomach but is then regurgitated back up into the mouth.
The sheep will chew the food some more and then swallow it back down again. Rumination is what we know as chewing the cud. And it’s why sheep and cattle look like they’re chewing away all day long.
The rumen contains lots of bacteria, microbes, and protozoa which break down the food. Animals that ruminate digest and absorb the nutrients from food in a slow, gradual way.
So now that you know sheep can safely eat sunflower plants, next you might want to know if the seeds are ok too. And the good news is that it’s a yes.
Sheep Can Eat Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are also safe for sheep to eat. But when it comes to feeding your sheep sunflower seeds, make sure you give them ones suitable for animals. Human sunflower seeds are often cooked and seasoned, so they’re not suitable for sheep.
Black husk sunflower seeds are the best ones to give to your sheep and other livestock. This is because they have softer hulls so they’re easier for animals to chew and digest.
Sunflower seeds are a rich food that is full of vitamins and minerals. So this is why you should treat them as a grain when you’re feeding them to sheep.
Because sheep are rumen animals they’re designed to eat mostly roughage and grains and treats should only make up a small part of their diet.
Feeding Sheep Grains
Sheep can eat most grains in moderation as a source of extra energy and nutrition during leaner times. Even though it’s natural for sheep to eat grains, they should be kept to a minimum, as too many grains can cause bloat.
In the summertime, when there’s lots of rich pasture available, then you shouldn’t need to feed your sheep grains at all. So long as the pasture is good, sheep will get everything they need from grass and plants.
But in the winter, when pasture is scarce, then you’ll usually have to supplement your sheep’s diet with forage such as hay, green chop, or sheep silage. And grains such as corn, barley, wheat, and oats will help them have enough energy for staying warm in the winter.
Another option is to feed them specially formulated sheep pellets instead of grains. These are convenient to use and are nutritionally balanced.
But it’s important that you only give them sheep pellets and not ones that are produced for other types of farm animals such as horses or goats. The high levels of iron and copper found in other types of pellets can be fatal to sheep.
But sometimes sheep do need extra grains in their diets. Older, malnourished, or pregnant and lactating sheep usually need the extra nutritional support of larger grain rations.
When it comes to feeding grains, you should try and feed them in the middle of the day. This is because sheep like to graze in the morning and afternoon. This way, the grain rations won’t affect your sheep’s grazing routine.
Do Sheep Eat Sunflowers?
Sunflowers are part of the forbs family of plants. And forbs are what sheep love eating most! Forbs are leafy plants that grow amongst grasses and they usually produce a flower.
Most of the time sheep know what’s good for them so they’ll be keen to eat sunflowers, seeds, and all. So yes, your sheep can eat sunflowers – and they’ll love the special treat.
Are Sunflowers Good for Sheep?
Sunflowers are good for sheep. The sunflower leaves and stalks are full of fiber, phosphorus, and vitamin E. But it’s the seeds that really pack a punch when it comes to nutrition.
They contain lots of things that are good for your sheep and we’ll take a look at them below.
- Essential Fats – Sunflower seeds are high in “good” polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat which is essential for your sheep’s diet.
- Protein and Carbohydrates – These are the main building blocks of life and are essential for physical function and development. Sunflower seeds are a great source of protein.
- Fiber – Helps your sheep to absorb food. And it promotes a healthy digestive system.
- Antioxidants – The high levels of selenium and vitamin E make sunflower seeds highly antioxidant. Antioxidants will help to remove harmful toxins from your sheep’s body.
- Vitamins – As well as being full of vitamin E, sunflowers are a great source of the b complex vitamins. These are good for your sheep’s well-being and brain function.
- Minerals – Sunflower seeds have a huge range of essential minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. These minerals help all of your sheep’s organs to function properly.
- Folates – Folates are also known as folic acid. And they are essential for blood production and circulation.
So don’t feel bad about letting your sheep eat sunflowers. They’re a great thing to let your sheep eat – especially when they’re otherwise hard to clean up in your backyard homestead.
The Benefits of Sunflowers for Sheep
Because sunflowers are full of essential fats, sunflower seeds make an excellent supplement for your sheep in the winter. This fat along with the protein will keep them warm and boost their energy levels.
The high range of vitamins and minerals will support and boost your sheep’s immune system. And as well as improving overall health and vitality, sunflower seeds will also make your sheep’s fleece look healthy and shiny.
The high levels of antioxidants in sunflower seeds can help reduce inflammation. And studies have shown that sunflower seeds can have a positive impact on heart health.
How to Feed Sheep Sunflowers
One way to feed sunflowers to sheep is to let them loose in a field and let them have a sunflower feeding party. However when sheep eat sunflowers this way they tend to trample, defecate on, and waste a lot of the plants.
So if you have a whole field of sunflowers to feed your sheep then you might want to consider harvesting and drying the sunflowers first. This way you can ration the portions throughout the winter and make sure that none is wasted. If you have an abundance of sunflowers they can also be turned into silage.
Many sheep feeds are now produced with sunflower meals. This is a by-product of the sunflower oil industry. The plants are dried and processed into a meal that you can feed to your sheep. Studies show that sunflower meal is just as good as soybean meal when it’s mixed with other grains.
You can also feed sunflower seeds as a treat or mix them in with your sheep’s regular grain. Your sheep will love it if you throw them a few handfuls of sunflower seeds each day.
But make sure that your sheep don’t eat too many sunflower seeds! It’s recommended that sheep only eat half to one cup of sunflower seeds each day. Seeds are a treat so they should only make up a small part of your sheep’s diet.
Introduce Sunflowers Slowly
Because of their intricate and sensitive digestive systems, you should always make diet changes slowly with sheep.
Rapid and drastic diet changes can cause heavy stress on a sheep’s digestive system. This can lead to a range of gastric conditions including bloat which can be fatal.
To avoid bloat then you must introduce sunflower seeds gradually. You can do this by feeding just a small handful of seeds to your sheep first. If your sheep don’t have a bad reaction after 24 hours then you can gradually increase the portion size.
Symptoms of Bloat
Bloat in sheep is a very serious condition and should be considered a medical emergency. It happens when too much gas builds up in the rumen and it can’t escape. You should be aware of the symptoms of bloat, especially when it comes to changing your sheep’s diet or pasture.
If your sheep has bloat then it will have some or all of the following symptoms.
- Panting or breathing difficulties
- Signs of abdominal pain such as kicking or staring at the area
- Abdominal swelling especially on the left side.
- Your sheep might become stiff and unsteady on its legs or might collapse
- Froth on mouth or nostrils
- Trying to urinate or pass droppings regularly
If you think that your sheep has bloat then you should call your vet immediately.
Other Safe Treats For Sheep
To avoid bloat then it’s good to know which foods are safe to feed your sheep. Safe treats for sheep include:
But always remember to introduce new treats slowly. And if you have any questions about your sheep’s diet then don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for advice.
Treats you Should Avoid
Below is a list of things that you should never feed to your sheep. These are poisonous and can make your sheep very ill. If you think your sheep has eaten any of the things on the list then call your vet for advice immediately.
- Animal products
- Nightshade plants – tomatoes, eggplant, pepper
- Brassicas – broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts
If your sheep ever gets into these foods or has other concerning symptoms, please reach out to your veterinarian immediately.
Can Other Animals Eat Sunflower Seeds and Flowers?
Sunflowers are a favorite treat amongst many wild and domestic animals. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, birds, and even black bears and deer will all help themselves to sunflower seeds in the wild.
And when it comes to feeding other animals on your homestead treats then sunflowers are a hit. They’re safe for birds, horses, chickens, goats, and cattle too. Sunflowers are a great supplement food to invest in and they’re an easy plant to grow on your homestead too.
Interesting Facts About Sunflowers
Sunflowers really are amazing plants. We love growing them in our backyard homestead. Mostly my kids love growing the mammoth varieties – because they’re huge. In any case, here are some cool facts about sunflowers.
- Sunflowers are native to central North America and they’re mostly grown for their oil. But the stalks and heads have been used to feed livestock for many years.
- The heads of the sunflower have the most nutritional value and this decreases as you work your way down the stalk.
- Sunflowers are a reliable, high-yielding crop. They grow all over the world at a range of altitudes and they’re tolerant to fluctuating temperatures.
- They grow well without water in drought situations because of their long taproot. This long taproot can also improve the quality of your earth.
To give your sheep the best quality of life then you need to make sure that they have a healthy, balanced diet. One way you can do this is by feeding them nutrient-rich foods like sunflower seeds.
And it’s not just the seeds that are good for sheep, the rest of the plant is a great source of roughage. But be sure to make any diet changes gradually and only feed your sheep sunflower seeds in limited amounts.
Key Takeaways: Sheep and Sunflowers
Sunflowers really are amazing. Our animals especially love black sunflowers. They’re very reasonably priced at local feed stores, too. That way, if you don’t want to grow them yourself you don’t have to. I’ve yet to get good at drying sunflower heads and extracting the seeds, so being able to buy is a great option.
In any case, black oil sunflower seeds are a great thing for all of your animals – especially your sheep, goats, chickens, and other livestock. Plus, they don’t taste too bad if you’re curious. Just don’t expect them to be as good as toasted-and-seasoned sunflowers – because these are still raw.
In any case, make sure you check out our article on something you should NOT feed sheep next – it’ll surprise you how commonly people wonder if sheep can eat this (and they shouldn’t eat it). And then I’ll even go against the grain and tell you the one time it’s okay to feed your sheep that thing. Give it a read next!
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Griffler, Zee. “Daily Diet, Treats, & Supplements For Sheep.” The Open Sanctuary Project, 26 May 2021, opensanctuary.org/article/daily-diet-treats-supplements-for-sheep/.
- Griffler, Zee. “Potential Sheep Health Challenges.” The Open Sanctuary Project, 15 June 2021, opensanctuary.org/article/common-sheep-health-issues/#bloat-or-grain-poisoning.
- Hobby Farmers Basic Nutrition for Sheep. Tasmania Animal Biosecurity and Welfare, dpipwe.tas.gov.au/Documents/Sheepfeed.mlc.pdf.
- “Sunflower as a Feed.” National Sunflower Association, www.sunflowernsa.com/wholeseed/sunflower-as-a-feed/#:~:text=Sunflower%20as%20a%20Feed&text=Sunflower%20meal%20is%20the%20by,livestock%20feed%2C%20especially%20for%20ruminants.
- “Sunflower Forage and Crop Residues.” Feedipedia, www.feedipedia.org/node/143.
- “Sunflower Seeds VS Oats?” Homesteading Forum, 18 Oct. 2013, www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/sunflower-seeds-vs-oats.497296/.