Some horsemen prefer to feed the small black sunflower seeds usually sold as bird feed, but we choose the striped sunflower seeds sold as snack food. They’re large enough to be easily handled and are more visually appealing than the black seeds. Plus, larger sunflower seeds encourage better chewing. Thorough chewing is essential to the horse being able to utilize the fat, protein, vitamin and mineral content of the seeds. We’re not worried about the snack coatings, as salt won’t harm a horse. Many horses get far too little salt anyway.
The kernels of both black and striped sunflower seeds are high in oil. The full differences in nutritional value between the kernels contained in both types of seeds are less than you might think. An analysis available from growing trials performed by the Agricultural Experimental Station, University of Missouri, showed oilseed sunflower average oil content of from 41.3 to 60%. The types of amino acids, vitamins and minerals in both types of seed are identical.
When fed whole, the shell must be taken into consideration. Large striped sunflower seeds are as much as 50% shell by weight, extremely small black as low as 15% shell. However, the medium-size seeds of black and striped types (as found in seed mixtures for larger birds) both run about 25% to 35% shell. Oilseed sunflower is about 50% higher in calories because of the higher fat content, lower digestible fiber.
The composition of the seed kernel of striped versus black sunflower seeds is not likely to vary in fat content by more than a few percentage points and is often identical. The hulls of black and striped seeds are equally digestible.
When feeding medium-size seeds of either type, there’s little difference except for fat. Extremely high-fat varieties of sunflower seed are expensive to produce and not likely to be bird seed.