Sunflower silage a viable option for livestock producers

Local News

When thinking of eating sunflowers, you may think of enjoying a bag of flavored sunflower seeds. But did you know that it also makes good silage for livestock?

Even with a slight improvement in the state’s drought conditions, much of North Dakota still sits in the extreme drought category.

Sunflowers are a very drought-resistant crop with their long taproots, making it very useful for in a year as dry as this one.

Darrell Oswald of the Menoken Farm said, “The window to seed them is pretty wide, and so you’ve got some time, you could’ve seeded them earlier.”

With the lack of moisture affecting this year’s harvest, livestock producers across the state have been struggling to find alternative feeding methods.

As the search continues, some have found success in making silage out of sunflowers.

Zac Carlson, a beef cattle specialist at the NDSU Research Extension Center said, “Inherently, sunflowers are going to carry more nitrogen, and that’s simply what crude protein is. And when we talk crude protein, it’s simply an accounting of all the nitrogen compounds within that plant.”

Speaking of protein, sunflower silage contains more protein than corn silage.

Corn silage contains about eight percent crude protein compared to nearly 12 percent in sunflowers.

“Four points doesn’t sound huge, but depending on the animal you’re feeding that to, the time of year, or the physiological state of that animal, as cows have a higher requirement for both protein and energy when they are lactating because they are producing that milk,” explained Carlson.

Some ranchers have weened their calves early on this summer due to the drought, but this high protein alternative may give livestock producers options.

It is worth noting that oil content in sunflower silage is much higher than that of corn, which is generally around 2 percent.

Carlson said, “It’s going to be bringing in likely somewhere between seven and 10 percent of total composition of the sunflower silage will be oil.”

As with anything, there are drawbacks.

“They show a lot of promise. Up here again, the birds are a concern,” said Oswald.

Blackbirds have been eating away at some of the sunflower crops, picking away potential key nutrients that could be used to feed livestock.

While it is not a perfect solution, this uncommon practice gives producers options for the coming years.

Carlson also says that producers should be aware of any pesticides they may have used on their fields if they intend to use their crops for feed.

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