Sunflower provides high quality feed for livestock, it also produces healthy oil for people. Most dairy farmers may not know the value of sunflower as feed for dairy cows and even chickens. The main source of feed for dairy cows is Napier grass, maize stalks and hay.
The little dairy meal concentrates bought from agro-veterinary shops. However, giving your animals feed that is balanced both in nutrients and in adequate quantities will ensure good milk production all year round.
Making your own feeds not only cuts the cost of buying, it also ensures a farmer has good quality feed. The quality of feeds in the market is not assured, nowadays millers have devised ways of constituting poor quality feeds which are then sold to unsuspecting farmers. Beekeepers growing sunflower have an added advantage of high quality honey because bees collect pollen from sunflower while pollinating them.
A good source of proteins
Sunflower meal is one of the major protein sources in livestock feed, especially dairy cattle, chickens and even pigs and rabbits. It has a high protein, fibre and oil content. It has a protein content of between 29- 30% and a crude fibre content of 27-31% and lignin (9-12%) and lysine (3.5%). One good characteristic of sunflower is that it does not have any ingredients that affect nutrition in livestock, although its high fibre and lignin (the hard, woody part of the sunflower plant) tend to affect its digestibility. Besides, sunflower is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins.
Apart from dairy cows, sunflower can be fed to rabbits, pigs and chickens. The quality of sunflower fed to livestock depends on the way it has been processed. For example sunflower that is milled without removing the outer cover (also called husk or hull) has high fibre (between 27-31%) but low protein content (about 23%); but in highly processed sunflower where the husks are completely extracted, protein content can be as high as 40%.
Sunflower can replace other feed sources
Dairy cows produce more milk when fed on sunflower meal that is partially or fully dehulled. For rabbits, pigs and poultry, a sunflower meal that is high on fibre and lignin would be suitable since they require feed with less energy. But what farmers need to know is that sunflower is still nutritious even when fed to animals without much processing. Sunflower can be substituted with soya beans or even ground nuts but farmers are advised to take a sample of the sunflower feed for analysis to ensure it has the right balance of fibre and proteins.
According to studies conducted in Tanzania, sunflower added to maize bran at the rate of 31% and fed to Zebu cross-bred dairy cows increased milk yield from 6.6 litres per day to 8.1 litres per day. In Zimbabwe, sunflower cake added to maize and urea-treated maize stalks at the rate of 4.4kg per day in Jersey, red Dane and cross-bred dairy cows in open pasture, increased milk yield from an average of 5.8–6.0kg per day. In similar studies in UK, sunflower meal supplemented with fish and bone meal maintained the same amount of milk in Fresian dairy cows when it was replaced with soybean and rapeseed meal.
How to prepare animal feed
Sunflower cake is a rich source of protein and can make quality livestock feed for animals on the farm instead of buying expensive commercial feed whose quality is unknown. 3.5kg of sunflower, when pressed and milled, produce 1 litre of oil and 2.5kg of seed cake.
Dairy cattle rations
Mix 18kg of Sunflower cake with 100kg of maize germ to make dairy meal.
Give a highly productive cow 4kg of the sunflower and maize germ dairy meal and 2kg to low milk producing cows.
Apart from feeding concentrates, dairy cows should be given their daily ration of Napier grass, hay or any other available good quality fodder to their satisfaction.
Ration for chickens
Chickens starter: Mix 22kg of sunflower cake with 100kg of maize germ.
Growers’ mash: Mix 20kg of sunflower with 100 kg of crushed maize (gristed maize or chenga)
Layers mash: Mix 18kg of sunflower cake with 100kg of gristed maize.
NOTE: When formulating feed for dairy cows, farmers should ensure the sunflower content is not more than 20% of the feed ration. In poultry feed, the sunflower content should not be more than 7% of the total feed ration.
How to grow sunflower
Climatic requirements: Sunflower can do well in a wide range of soils but it does best in fertile, loamy soils. The plant has a deep taproot, which makes it grow even in areas with very little amount of rainfall. An average of 500-750mm of rainfall is adequate for sunflower production. It can be grown from sea level to an altitude of 2600 metres above sea level.
Land preparation: The land should be well tilled to form a firm seedbed. Spacing: Seeds can be planted at a spacing of 75cm by 30cm at the rate of 2kg per acre (5kg/ hectare). Plant 3 seeds per hill and thin to 1 plant per hill when the crop is 10-20cm high.
Fertilizer application: Sunflower does well in fertile soils. Application of rock phosphate would be appropriate because sunflower requires sufficient phosphate fertilizer to grow well. Application of well-prepared compost would provide additional nutrients to the soil. If rock phosphate is used, it is important to add humic acid from products such as Humax or Black Majik because rock phosphate is a slow release fertilizer that requires humic acid to hasten its breakdown and uptake by the plants.
Weeding: Sunflower does well in a weed free environ ment. Weed the crop when it is 0.7 metres high (after about 4 weeks). The crop cover prevents weed regeneration later.
Birds’ damage: Birds can damage up to 50% of sunflower if they are not kept away through scaring. To prevent bird damage farmers can take the following measures:
Cut the sunflower at knee height just before it dries completely. Cut off the head (capitulum). Spike the head on the standing stem with face downwards.
Remove the Sunflower heads after drying and store at home.
Threshing can be done at home using sticks and sunflower seeds stored.
Sunflower seeds should be dried to 10% moisture content before storage.
There are two main varieties of sunflower, the dwarf and the tall varieties. The tall varieties are open pollinated and grow up to a height of 1.5–2.4m. Their yield is poor compared to hybrids. Some of the tall varieties in Kenya are Hungarian white and Kenya Fedha. Dwarf varieties are hybrids and grow to a height of 1.2m, they give a higher yield compared to tall varieties. The most common dwarf variety is H 8998. Farmers can buy seeds for planting from agroveterinary shops or the Kenya Seed Company depots.