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Consider Unharvestable Sunflower for Livestock Forage

Saturday, September 1, 2001
filed under: Harvest/Storage

Consider Unharvested Sunflower as Livestock Forage

If sunflower is too immature to harvest, or given any other reason that you’re unable to combine sunflower, then you might want to consider using it as forage for livestock.

You cannot harvest sunflower that has been adjusted for losses through crop insurance, but cutting sunflower for silage, or grazing it, is permissible after it’s been appraised and released. If insurability of a damaged field is in question, consult with your crop insurance agent before doing anything with it.

Cattle will waste much of a standing sunflower field, so it’s normally advised to harvest a sunflower field and then let cattle graze the residue, which is nutritious and palatable for cattle. “The residue is comparable to corn or milo residue. It’s fine for cattle, with adequate protein and energy. Once calves are weaned, turn the cows into the residue and they’ll do a fine job of cleaning it up. As the graze it down, you may want to feed a protein supplement such as alfalfa,” says Gerry Kuhl, Kansas State University extension beef cattle nutrition specialist.

Protein of sunflower silage will be higher than corn silage, but the energy value will be about 70% of corn silage, says Kuhl. The disadvantage of sunflower silage is the fibrous stalk that causes a high fiber content which can be two to three times as much as corn silage. Intake of sunflower silage may be a problem when it is the only forage fed because the high fat content can reduce consumption. The high fiber content in sunflower silage may also reduce intake by slowing down the rate of passage. These problems can be managed by limiting sunflower silage to one-half or less of the total forage in the ration, says Kuhl.

Another challenge in using sunflower for silage is that it may be too wet for ensiling. The brown, dried appearance of the leaves can mislead producers about the dry matter content of the whole plant. But even when the seed is mature, the dry matter content of the whole sunflower plant can still be 20%, which is too wet for ensiling. The ideal dry matter content for ensiling sunflowers is between 30 and 40%. It may be beneficial to mix corn and sunflower silage to achieve a silage product that ferments better and is more nutritious.

Sunflower silage is not recommended for high production dairy cows. And make sure there are no livestock feeding or grazing restrictions on any pesticides applied on the sunflower, advises Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University extension beef cattle specialist.  Tracy Sayler

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