Answer: Sunflowers seeds have three basic components—the hull, the oil, and the seed body. The hull is very high in cellulose and other fibrous components and is largely indigestible for pigs and poultry. If the hulls of sunflowers can be removed prior to feeding to pigs and poultry, the sunflower seeds will be a much better source of energy and protein. However, removing the hulls can be difficult. You might want to review the Rodale Press’s plans for a simple sunflower seed huller and oil press, which is available online at http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library/oilpress.html.
The oil in sunflower seeds is an excellent source of energy for pigs and poultry. It is also commonly extracted and processed into biodiesel. On-farm oil extraction is rarely 100% complete, so even if you choose to first process sunflowers for biodiesel, the remaining material can be a good source of energy for pigs and poultry.
The seed body itself is rich in amino acids (the building blocks for proteins) as well as some energy that is available for pigs and poultry. As the crude fiber content increases, the energy value of the feedstuff decreases. Interestingly, the crude protein content (and more importantly the amount of lysine and methionine) is highest for a product that has both hulls and oil removed. This makes sense when you consider that neither hulls nor the oil contains amino acids that are available to either pigs or chickens.
Because the oil in sunflower seeds is mostly unsaturated you should limit the amount of sunflower seeds and oil fed to finishing pigs. Generally 10% sunflower seed (no hulls, but full oil) is considered “safe” to feed to pigs for the last couple of months. Feeding more vegetable oil may result in softer, oily pork fat, which may be better for your arteries, but is generally considered undesirable by consumers of pork. The soft fat issues seen in pigs when fed very high levels of vegetable oil is not as well established in poultry but may also be an issue.
In summary, the quality of sunflowers as a feed for pigs and poultry is directly related to the removal of the hulls. If you can remove most of the hulls you have an excellent source of energy and protein for your animals. If removing the hulls is not really possible, ground sunflower seeds will not really harm the animals, but they will require more feed per pound of gain due to the lower energy value of the feedstuff. General feeding guidelines for pigs and poultry are as follows:
Seeds and oil, hulls removed
Young pigs: maximum of 15% of diet
Finishing pigs: maximum of 10% of diet
Breeding stock: maximum of 25% of diet
Poultry: maximum of 20% of diet
If most of the oil is removed, these inclusion levels can be increased slightly without negatively impacting fat quality of the finished animal. If hulls are not removed, these inclusion levels should be decreased in order to support typical rate of growth and feed efficiency.
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