Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
(BOSS)

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds Plant



Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, often abbreviated BOSS, are not something that most horse owners would think of feeding to their horse.

However, they have many nutritional benefits, and are worth exploring.

First, let's back up to what BOSS are. They are bird feed. Yep, that's right, I'm talking about the same black sunflower seeds that you (well, maybe not YOU...but lots of people) buy in 50 lb bags to feed the birds during the winter.

They look like this:

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.



Now, I should take a moment to mention...

...in this page I am ONLY talking about the black oil sunflower seeds. NOT the striped seeds.

The striped seeds are the ones that humans usually eat, and they have thicker, tougher hulls that cannot be broken down by your horse's digestive system, so you should never feed them to your horse.

The picture to the left shows the striped seeds.

Again, to reiterate...do NOT feed the striped sunflower seeds to your horses, only feed the black oil sunflower seeds!

Are you a skeptic? I almost was too...

I have fed my horses BOSS in the past with great results. However, I must admit that when I first read about feeding them to horses I would have been a lot more skeptical than I was, except for one fact...

...we used to have a mare when I was growing up that would raid any bird feeder within reach. She LOVED the BOSS to be found in there.

So when I first read about people feeding it on purpose, I figured it had at least some merit, as I knew of at least one horse that loved them!

Nutritional Profile of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

BOSS are packed full of vitamins and minerals. Here is a look at a nutritional profile for sunflower seeds for human consumption:

General Nutrients:

NutrientAmount
(per 1 lb)
NutrientAmount
(per 1 lb)
Calories2588.40Protein103.50 g
Carbohydrates85.25 gFiber
(dietary)
47.74 g
Sugars15.03 gFat225.46 g
Water24.38 gOmega-3
Fatty Acids
0.25 g
Omega-6
Fatty Acids
148.40 gLysine24.5 mg

Vitamins:

VitaminAmount
(per 1 lb)
VitaminAmount
(per 1 lb)
Vitamin A222.48 IUThiamin10.36 mg
Riboflavin1.14 mgNiacin20.46 mg
Vitamin B63.54 mgVitamin C6.32 mg
Vitamin E340.50 IUFolate1033.90 mcg
Vitamin K12.25 mcgPantothenic Acid30.69 mg

Minerals:

MineralAmount
(per 1 lb)
MineralAmount
(per 1 lb)
Calcium527.43 mgCopper7.96 mg
Iron30.82 mgMagnesium1609.57 mg
Manganese9.22 mgPhosphorus3205.50 mg
Potassium3132.75 mgSelenium270.53 mcg
Sodium13.64 mgZinc22.99 mg

They are also high in amino acids...which are very important for muscle building and maintenance.

Why to feed Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds have two visible positive effects on horses:

  1. Great SHINY coats
  2. Weight gain

When fed in smaller amounts, they will give your horse a nice shiny coat (and improve hooves, according to some owners) without the weight gain.

However, at 2500 calories/lb. they can also be fed at higher levels to add some calories to your horse's diet and assist with weight gain. They are preferred by many owners over oil due to the fact that they provide fat along with other nutrients.

How to feed Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

BOSS can be fed as whole seeds right along with your horse's other feeds. For some picky eaters, you may have to start with very small amounts and gradually increase to the amount you want to feed. In my experience, most horses love the seeds once they get over the suspicion of it being a new feed.

Sunflower seeds should never be fed at a rate higher than 2 pounds per day.

Usually, they are fed at a rate of 0.5-1.0 cup per day for shine without the weight gain. For weight gain, you usually want to feed at least 2 cups per day, if not more. Of course, you may have to adjust these amounts for individual horses.

The volume of BOSS varies due to seed variation so this is one feed that you should actually weigh out every time you feed. In some bags, the volume to weight ratio will be approximately 5 cups/pound, while other bags will be as low as 2 cups/pound!

So, definitely weigh this feed every time you feed it. You can get a cheap kitchen scale at Wal-Mart or Target and use it specifically for feed use.

Who Should NOT Have Them?

The only group of horses that absolutely cannot have BOSS is horses that are HYPP positive. These horses need to have very controlled amounts of potassium in their diets, and BOSS contain a large amount of this mineral. This also goes for horses that might have HYPP but have not been tested.

Some people worry about the ability of horses with poor teeth to break down the shell. However, the BOSS shell is softer than the coating on an oat (try biting into each yourself if you don't believe me), so any horse that can handle oats should have no problem with BOSS.

There have been reports online of horses colicing when their diets contain BOSS, and having seed hulls show up in the impactions. However, all of these reports have been "unofficial" reports online, and none of them have been able to prove whether or not BOSS was the actual cause of the colic...its very possible those horses would have coliced regardless of whether or not there was BOSS in their diets.

Cost of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

BOSS have a pretty reasonable price for the nutritional punch they pack...

In most areas of the country you can pick them up for anywhere between $10-20 for a 50 lb bag. This will average out to roughly 30 cents/day if you are feeding 1 pound...but many horses don't need that much.

Since they are marketed for birds, the price stays fairly reasonable since the companies that package them know that people won't pay outrageous prices to feed wild birds...

...at least not prices as outrageous as we are willing to spend to feed our horses.

However, many people have reported the prices raising during the winter months by a few dollars per bag. My best guess is that this is because very few people feed wild birds year-round, so there is probably more demand from the bird-lovers during the winter.

Omega-6 vs. Omega-3

As discussed on their respective pages, omega-6 fatty acids are slightly more inflammatory than omega-3's which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Due to their high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, and almost non-existant omega-3 fatty acids, some horse owners worry that BOSS will promote inflammation in their horses.

When fed at levels no higher than 2 pounds per day, they should not cause a problem for your average horse.

Those owners with arthritic horses, or horses that already have inflammatory problems should consider whether the benefits

of BOSS supplementation will outweigh the negatives for their particular horse.

It should be noted, no research has proved what the ideal ratios of omega-6:omega-3's are in the horse...

...the only things we do know for sure regarding horses and omegas are:

  • Omega-6's cause inflammation (which is necessary to a small degree for healthy immune system)
  • There has been no research to show how much omega-6 is too much for a horse
  • Horses do not need omega-6 supplementation (but without knowing how much is too much, we cannot say if any supplementation has a negative effect or not)

So, for the average horse, there is no reason not to feed BOSS simply because of the omega-6 content...at least until more research is done.

However, like I mentioned above, owners of horses with inflammatory conditions (such as arthritis) should evaluate carefully their individual horse and decide whether or not BOSS might play a role in their diet.


Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, though a relatively unknown feed to the horse world, provide many benefits.

They are packed with nutrition, amino acids, and calories, so they are a great supplement for almost any horse to one degree or another.

The only horses that shouldn't have them are HYPP positive horses, or those of unknown status.

Now that you better understand the benefits and feeding methods of BOSS, you can better decide whether or not they play a role in your horse's diet.


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