Sunflower as a Feed
Sunflower meal is the by-product of the oil extraction process. Oil is the majority value of sunflower seed and meal is considered a by-product. Sunflower meal is an excellent livestock feed, especially for ruminants. For the last several years, the supply of U.S. sunflower meal has been somewhat inconsistent. That is changing as the domestic market for sunflower oil increases.

There are three large sunflower crushing plants in the U.S. and two small plants. Some of the sunflower crushing plants remove a portion of the hull prior to the oil extraction process. This process called ‘dehulling' or ‘decortication' results in a sunflower meal with protein levels above 30% and fiber levels of 21% and below. One sunflower plant uses only a mechanical press when removing the oil from the seed. This results in a fat content of 13 percent. The other processing plants use both a mechanical and solvent extraction process and therefore have fat contents of 1 percent.

Because of the variation of mechanical systems at the various oil extraction plants, each sunflower processing plant has protein and fiber levels unique to that plant. The individual plant specifications are listed below in order of volume.

Processing Plant Specifications

Location Protein Fat Fiber
ADM Enderlin ND 35 1.0 18.0
Cargill West Fargo ND 32 0.5 21.0
ADM Goodland KS 30 0.5 25.0
Colorado Mills, Lamar CO* 28.0 10.5 23.9
* Mechanical press only
Pricing and Volume

Meal is generally priced on a protein unit basis. Sunflower meal has traditionally priced at a discount to soybean meal which is considered the premium meal in the world market. The discounts largely relate to the lower lysine and high fiber levels. Part of this discount may be due to sunflower meal's inconsistent supply throughout the year.

Historically, much of the U.S. sunflower seed was crushed in the first six months after harvest and the majority of the oil was exported. With the advent of NuSun® oil for domestic markets, the annual crush is being spread out equally over the 12 month period. This provides meal users with a consistent supply throughout the year.

It is expected that U.S. demand for sunflower oil will increase consistently by 10 percent or more per year for the next several years. This will result in a corresponding increase in meal production as well. Visit the U.S. Sunflower Meal Supply & Demand tables for a historical review.
Sunflower Meal Uses

Sunflower meal is the fourth largest oilseed meal produced and consumed in the world. Sunflower meal has the greatest potential use in ruminant rations but also has a place as a protein supplement in non-ruminant rations. Unhulled or partially dehulled sunflower meal can be substituted for soybean meal on an equivalent protein basis in feeding ruminants. The low-fiber and higher protein meals can be utilized in feeding poultry and swine. Lower levels of lysine and threonine may cause some restrictions on some non-ruminant uses of sunflower meal. However, sunflower meal contains an excellent level of methionine which provides potential advantages for mixing with other meals.

Comparison with Other Oilseed Meal

Item Sunflower Soybean Canola Cottonseed
Crude Protein 32% 47% 36% 41%
Fat 1% 1.5% 3.5% 1.50%
Fiber 21% 3.1% 12% 11.0%
Ash 6% 6.4% 6.8% 6.30%
Lysine 1.14% 2.99% 1.93% 1.72%
Arginine 2.46% 3.4% 2.21% 4.55%
Cystine 0.55% 0.73% 0.89% 0.70%
Valine 1.75% 2.26% 1.91% 1.78%
Isoleucine 1.38% 2.10% 1.41% 1.23%
Methionine 0.68% 0.68% 0.73% 0.67%
Threonine 1.13% 1.85% 1.54% 1.36%
Tryptophan 0.65% 0.65% 0.48% 0.48%

Dairy Cattle

Sunflower meal is entirely adequate as the sole source of supplemental protein in dairy rations. Milk production was similar when partially dehulled (18) or fully dehulled (12) sunflower meal replaced soybean meal in dairy cow rations. Cows fed an extruded blend of sunflower and soybean meal had a more desirable amino acid balance than cows fed soybean meal, indicating that a blend of sunflower and soybean proteins may be better than either protein source alone for high producing cows (3). Production increased slightly when cows were fed a blend of sunflower meal and soybean meal instead of only soybean meal as the protein supplement (10).

The high oil content sunflower meal is an excellent feed source for dairy as well. Most modern dairies supplement fat in feed rations for lactating cows. The high fat sunflower meal eliminates the need for some or all of the fat supplement requirements. Supply of the high fat content sunflower meal is limited.

Sunflower meal is also well utilized in young calves and growing heifers (13, 16). Weight gains and feed consumption were similar for calves and heifers fed sunflower meal or soybean meal. Digestion trials indicated that protein digestibility was the same for both meal rations (79 percent) but energy digestibility was slightly less for sunflower meal rations (73 percent vs.78 percent for soybean meal) because of the low digestibility of sunflower hulls (1,10,20).

Sunflower meal is generally quite palatable. In research comparisons with soybean meal, sunflower and soybean meals were equally palatable by all ages of cattle ranging from young calves to milking cows. In studies with beef cattle, sunflower meal and cottonseed meal were equally palatable (15).
Beef Cattle

As with dairy, sunflower meal can be entirely adequate as the sole source of supplemental protein in beef cattle rations (15). Sunflower meal has been compared to urea, soybean and cotton meals in beef cattle studies. Sunflower meal was equivalent to soybean meal for growing heifers. The 31 percent protein sunflower meal was as suitable as urea when fed to steers at up to 20 percent of the ration and as suitable as cottonseed meal when fed at 11 percent of the growing finishing ration (15). Feeding sunflower meal at 22 percent of the ration resulted in increased dry matter and crude protein digestibility and higher nitrogen retention. Limited studies indicated reduced weight gains and feed efficiency when beef cattle were fed 28 percent protein sunflower meal instead of a fully dehulled 41 percent sunflower protein meal (11). This difference was greater with barley than with corn-based rations. 

Additional Documents
Meal in Beef Cattle Diets file size: 261 kb
Sunflower Meal in Beef Cattle Diet


Early 1980s research in feeding trials utilized a dehulled 41 percent sunflower meal (no longer available). In that work (4, 6) found a 41 percent protein sunflower meal was equivalent to soybean meal in corn/oat rations and was equivalent to cottonseed meal in 12 percent crude protein rations for growing and finishing lambs. Weight gains tended to be greater when fed soybean meal, but a 50:50 blend of sunflower and soybean meals was equivalent to soybean meal. In comparisons with cottonseed meal, weight gains tended to be higher with sunflower meal, especially when fed low protein rations. Growth and wool production with eight percent crude protein rations, designed to be limiting in protein, were greater with sunflower meal, indicating that sunflower meal was slightly superior to cottonseed meal because of its higher methionine content (14). 

There may be more limitations in feeding swine sunflower meal due to the high fiber and lower levels of lysine. However, the lower fiber sunflower meals can successfully replace from 25 to 50 percent of the soybean meal in swine feeds. Lysine supplementation is necessary when replacing greater than 50 percent of the soybean meal. Lysine supplementation is more critical in early feeding than at finishing (2). The high fiber and low protein sunflower meal can be used up to 50 percent replacement of soybean meal in swine rations, but at higher substitution levels energy intake and weight gains may be reduced because of the high fiber content in sunflower meal (2, 5). 

The high protein and low fiber sunflower meals have application in poultry rations, but generally as a partial replacement for soybean meal. Lysine supplementation is required in laying hen diets containing over five percent sunflower meal. Threonine is a second limiting amino acid for broiler chicks and laying hens (9). The maximum amount of sunflower meal that can be included in diets for broiler chicks appears to be 15 percent in all mash diets and 30 percent in pelleted diets; higher amounts may adversely affect performances. Sunflower meal in laying hens can replace 100 percent of supplemental proteins, (including soybean meal) if sufficient supplemental lysine is included (9). 
Whole Seed Feeding

Whole sunflower seed can be feed to dairy cows as a fat supplement to the diet. Cottonseed has become the oilseed of choice as a fat supplement partially due to location of production and transportation costs. Cottonseed has approximately 17 percent fat content seed while oil-type sunflower seed is 40 percent.

Sunflower can be used without any processing of the seeds. There appears to be no advantage in cracking or rolling sunflower seeds prior to feeding. The size of the seed results in cows chewing and breaking down the product during digestion (1). Feeding sunflower seeds in a mixed ration eliminates any issues of feed preference or palatability.

Milk production increased as much as 15 percent when sunflower seeds replaced barley, corn or oats as an energy source in the diet of early lactation cows (8).

Researchers also found that growing dairy heifers fed whole sunflower seed responded well showing improved growth efficiency over animals fed no sunflower seeds.

Researchers caution that sunflower seed in the rations must be carefully controlled. A general rule for lactating dairy cows is 100 to 200 g/kg sunflower seed in grain mixes; or 1.0 to 1.8 kg of oilseed sunflower or 1.4 to 2.3 kg of confectionary or non-oil sunflower daily per cow (8). Sunflower seed is high in fat and too much fat can result in scouring, decrease in feed consumption and depressed milk fat and protein content.

Feeding whole sunflower may be most economical in areas where sunflower is being produced. Transporting sunflower seed long distances can be costly because of the light weight of the seed (28 lb/bushel). Feeding distressed sunflower seed may be an excellent option. This could include light test weight seed due to an early frost or high insect damaged seed unfit for human consumption are some examples. Determining fat content in these seeds may be important prior to developing a feed formula. Often distressed seeds are lower in oil content.

1. Ahrar, M. and D.J. Schingoethe. (1978). The feeding value of regular and heat-treated soybean meal and sunflower meal for dairy calves. J. Dairy Sci. 61 (Suppl. 1):168 (abstr.).

2. Baird, D.M. (1981). Sunflowers: swine applications. Feed Mgt. 32(6):32.

3. Drackley, J.K., and D.J. Schingoethe. (1986). Extruded blend of soybean meal and sunflower seeds for dairy cattle in early lactation. J. Dairy Sci. 69:371.

4. Erickson, D.O., M Hankel, M.R. Light, W. Limesand, and T. Faller. (1980). Sunflower meal vs. soybean meal for feeder lambs. J. Dairy Sci. 51 (Suppl. 1):96 (Abstr.).

5. Gargallo, J., and D.R. Zimmerman. (1981). Effects on sunflower hulls on large intestine function in finishing swine. J. Anim. Sci. 53:1286.

6. Insley, L., D.O. Erickson, M.R. Light, and W. Limesand. (1983). Lamb performance as affected by protein level and source. J. Anim. Sci. 57 (suppl. 1):110 (Abstr.).

7. Lilliboe, D. (1999). Sunflower meal applications-for livestock & poultry feeds. The Sunflower. 25(5):14.

8. Marx, G.D. (1988). New oilseed meals may be economical alternative protein supplement. Minnesota Dairy Rep. AG-BU-2235.

9. McNaughton J.L., and J.W. Deaton. (1981), Sunflowers: Poultry applications. Feed Mgt. 32(6):27.

10. Nishino, S., S. Kondo, and K. Hayashi (1980). Feeding value of sunflower meal as a replacement for soybean meal in lactating cows. J. College of Dairying 8:275.

11. North Dakota State University (1983). North Dakota research: Swine, ruminant meal test results. The Sunflower 9(2):40

12. Parks, C.S., G.M. Edgerly, G.M. Erickson, and G.R. Fisher. (1981). Response of dairy cows to sunflower meal and varying dietary protein and fiber. J. Dairy Sci. 64 (Suppl. 1):141 (Abstr.)

13. Park, C.S., G.R. Fisher, and C.N. Haugse. (1980). Effect of dietary protein and sunflower meal on blood serum cholesterol of dairy heifers. J. Dairy Sci. 63:1451.

14. Richardson, C.R., and R.N. Beville, R.K. Ratcliffe, and R.C. Albin. (1981). Sunflower meal as a protein supplement for growing ruminants. J. Anim Sci. 53:557.

15. Richardson, C.R., and G.D. Anderson. (1981). Sunflowers; beef applications. Feed Mgt. 32(6):30.

16. Schingoethe, D.J. (1981) Sunflower: dairy applications. Feed Mgt. 32(6):18.

17. Schingoethe, D.J., and M. Ahrar. (1979). Protein solubility, amino acid composition, and biological value of regular and heat-treated soybean and sunflower meals. J. Dairy Sci. 62:925.

18. Schingoethe, D.J., J.A. Rook, and F. Ludens. (1977). Evaluation of sunflower meal as a protein supplement for lactating cow. J. Dairy Sci. 60:591.

19. Schneiter, A.A. (1997). Sunflower Technology and Production. American Society of Agronomy. Agronomy 35:765.

20. Stake, P.E., M.J. Owens, and D.J. Schingoethe. (1973) Rapeseed, sunflower , and soybean meal supplementation of calf rations. J. Dairy Sci. 56:783.
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