Sunflowers as a methionine source for organic poultry production, sunflower hulling processes, and sunflower variety trial

2005 Annual Report for FNE05-540

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,419.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:

Sunflowers as a methionine source for organic poultry production, sunflower hulling processes, and sunflower variety trial


Sunflowers as a methionine source for organic poultry production, Sunflower hulling processes, and Sunflower Variety Trial – FNE05-540

Interim Report

Presented by:
Catherine Albert
Jalko Farm
261 Gagnon Rd
Madawaska, ME 04756
(207) 728-3150


This is a three-part research project. The heart of this project is the feeding trial to determine the merit of sunflowers as an organic source of methionine. Several trial rations containing sunflowers will be fed to poultry. Synthetic methionine is only allowed in organic poultry feeds on a temporary basis. Methionine is the limiting amino acid for poultry; without it, egg and meat production is severely compromised. Natural sources of methionine include fish, duckweed, and sunflowers. Jalko Farm wanted to trial sunflowers in poultry feeds since they are the only land-crop source of methionine.

Part two researches efficient ways for the large and small-scale farmer to hull sunflowers. Hull-less sunflowers are more nutritionally valuable to poultry than whole sunflowers. We identified efficient ways to de-hull sunflowers.

Part three involves a sunflower variety trial. No variety trials have been done for gray-striped sunflowers in Maine. Most trials were done in the Dakotas or Colorado. We identified appropriate varieties and rate their performance. Organic crop farms are in need of another sustainable rotation crop; sunflowers could be it.


The original goals of the project were as follows:

A. Research hullers and alter our oat-huller so that we can de-hull sunflowers for a feeding trial.
1. Provide directions on how to alter a Roskamp (large-scale) oat huller to hull sunflowers.
2. Research other lower cost, smaller scale pieces of equipment that could be used by small farmers to hull a small amount of sunflower seeds.
B. Conduct a feeding trial using the sunflowers harvested in Fall 2004. Evaluate egg production using varying percentages of sunflowers in the feed.
1. Randomly assign numbers to each bird in the flock. Affix leg bands to birds for identification.
2. Divide the available square footage (162 sq. ft) into four pens, each with 40.5 square feet. Set up automatic waterers, hanging feeders, and nesting boxes in each pen. Cover all windows. Provide 14 hours daily of artificial lighting on timers. The temperature will remain as constant as possible. The heat is set at 60 degrees, but no cooling devices are present in this area.
3. Create four separate feeding rations to try.
a. hull-less sunflowers meet the standards exactly as given in The Nutrient Requirements of Poultry.
b. hulled sunflowers (with the shell) to meet the standards as near as possible. This ration will have higher fiber, but will have the same methionine as the first ration.
c. the control feed minus the synthetic methionine.
d. the control feed.
4. Make one batch (400#) of each feed at the beginning of the trials. Freeze all feed, and keep all feed frozen throughout the trials. Feed will be fed to all birds in all trials frozen, as feed cannot be made in small enough batches to have available fresh through the trials.
5. Conducted a Randomized Block ANOVA statistical test.
C. Continue our field trial of organic sunflowers.
1. Research several varieties of gray-striped sunflowers to evaluate which is best suited to Maine climate,
2. Rent appropriate planting and cultivating equipment so that no plants are damaged
3. Rent a grain dryer to dry the end product.
D. Create a pamphlet that reports the following information:
1. Instructions on how to hull sunflowers
2. Information on sunflowers amounts/percentages that needs to be in the diet for optimum egg production
3. Performance records of different varieties of sunflowers grown in Maine.

Farm Profile

We (my husband Ben, son Luc, and I) currently operate a 214-acre farm, plus rent 70-100 additional tillable acres. We have a cow-calf operation, raise laying hens, turkeys, organic grains, and timber. All of our tillable acres are in organic production. All poultry are raised on organic feeds.

The farm has been in operation for well over 30 years by family. We have been managing the farm for the past 8 years. In December 2003 we opened a small organic feed mill (Northern-Most Feeds, LLC). This mill uses Jalko Farm’s grains, contracts grains from other local farmers, and purchases grain from New York. We rely on the farm and mill for about 70% of our income.


Cooperators on this project included:

Justin Jamison, Technical Advisor
J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Farm
RR2 Box 2570
Old Town, ME 04468

Dr Fred Servello
Associate Professor
Chair of Wildlife Ecology
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469

Ben Albert
Jalko Farm
261 Gagnon Rd
Madawaska, ME 04756

Justin Jamison provided assistance in choosing sunflower varieties. He also visited the field in September 2005. He examined the varieties and discussed performance with Ben Albert.

Fred Servello assisted in developing the experimental design of the feed trial. Dr. Servello studied poultry as a graduate and doctorate student. He currently studies wildlife ecology, specifically feeds. The feed trial has not yet been completed. He will assist on an as-needed basis in analyzing the results of the trial.

Ben Albert, part owner of Jalko Farm, manages the crops. He plans and implements all planting activities. Ben also is in charge of all equipment maintenance and alteration. Ben has a degree in Bio-resource (agriculture) Engineering Technology.

Project Portfolio

What HAS been done
During the summer of 2005, samples of sunflowers planted in the field trial were tested Methionine and other amino acids. A small sample of sunflowers was hand-hulled and sent for Methionine / amino acid testing.

We did preliminary research on de-hulling sunflower seeds. Ben found Internet references that reported that an old-fashioned corn meal grinder would remove the hulls from sunflowers. We had such a grinder in storage, so we set it up and ran sunflower through it. We found that it ground 25% of the seeds, de-hulled 40% of the seeds, and did nothing to the other 35% of the seeds. The large seeds were ground, the small seeds passed through untouched, and the medium sized seeds were de-hulled. If the seeds were sorted by size ahead of time, the corn meal grinder could be adjusted to hull each size of seed. Then, the project would be separating the hulls from the kernels. We tried using air to blow the hulls out of the kernels, but the hulls and kernels are about equal weight and this did not work. We still plan to do more research on small-scale methods of de-hulling sunflowers.

The Field Variety Trial has been completed. Four varieties were planted: Seeds 200 varieties 6946, Kodiak, Colonel, and Dahlgren variety Oil Seed 4421. Varieties 6946 and Kodiak were gray-striped. Colonel was an oil-gray hi-bred, and Dahlgren is an oil seed. These varieties were chosen because they were the only ones available. Seed must be untreated for use in organic production. In order to have a good selection of untreated sunflower seed, one needs to order by January. The grant was only confirmed in March.

Twenty acres of sunflowers were planted on June 9th, 2005. Four acres each of 6946, Kodiak, and Colonel were planted. Eight acres of 4421 was planted. After 4 acres of each were planted, we realized we still had 4 acres left unplanted. Instead of planting equal areas of all four varieties, we elected to just plant 4421. We didn’t think we had enough of the three Seeds 2000 varieties to replant them, and the 4421 came in a larger seed-count bag. See enclosed field map for variety locations.

Variety locations were marked with orange field flags. Plant date was later than ideal due to difficulty obtaining a sunflower planter. We looked for vacuum style corn and vegetable planters. The only available planters we found were in need of repair. We eventually found a vacuum style Noudet Gougis vegetable planter that only needed its gears to be freed. This planter plants seeds in rows. Both the row width and the seedling spacing can be altered to suit the crop. The field was harrowed with a soil-conditioner the same day as planting in order to remove weed competition.

We obtained a tine cultivator to remove weeds in the first two weeks after planting. After two weeks, the sunflowers are too large and would be damaged by cultivation. Ideally, the sunflowers should have been cultivated before immerging (3 days) and at 10 days. Due to wet weather conditions, we were unable to cultivate until June 23rd, 14 days after planting. To monitor the effectiveness of such late cultivation, we left 8 rows of each variety uncultivated. By visual estimation, the uncultivated rows had more than double the weeds as the cultivated rows. Earlier cultivation would have removed more weeds during their tender cotyledon stage. The late cultivation allowed more weeds to be too mature to be effected by tine cultivation.

Our crop was severely hampered by predators. Crows and Ravens ate about 25% of the 6696 and Kodiak seedlings during the cotyledon stage. Most of the predation occurred by US Route 1 and along the east edge of the field. Predation problems again occurred as the sunflowers were maturing. Crows, Ravens, and Bears ate 20 – 50% of all matured sunflower kernels. We were unable to harvest before predation due to an unacceptably high moisture level, and variations in maturity time within each variety. Additional animal damage occurred during flowering. Birds sat on the sunflowers, breaking the stalks below the flower (see attached pictures). Due to weather patterns, the sunflowers grew thin stalks and large heavy blossoms. The thin stalks were due to an unusually dry summer. The heavy blossoms occurred due to a period of moderate rainfall just prior to flowering. This damage occurred primarily on the west side of the field. We hypothesize that damage was worse on the west side due to drift from potato desiccants sprayed on a neighboring field. In addition to being thin, the stalks on the west side showed signs of necrosis where-as any damaged stalks on the east side were simply snapped. Bear damage occurred primarily in the extra 4 acres of the 4412 variety. The 4412 was located in closest proximity to bear habitat (woods) of the 4 varieties.

When the crop reached maturation, we handpicked samples from each variety to test for moisture. During this process, we discovered that most (60-80%) of the kernels were empty in varieties 6946, Kodiak, and 4412. The Colonel variety was the only successfully pollinated variety. In our 2004 trial, we noted several varieties of bees that pollinated our single 4-acre sunflower field. We only noticed low amount of bumblebees pollinating the 2005 field. Varieties 6946, Kodiak, and 4412 all reached peak blossom within a week of each other. Colonel variety peaked a full 10-14 days after the other 3 varieties. We hypothesize that there simply were not enough wild bees to pollinate 16 acres of sunflowers. The Colonel variety likely experience increased pollination because a) all available bees were already on-site from servicing the other 3 varieties and b) there were only 4 acres of sunflowers that needed pollinating instead of 16. Another hypothesis is that the Colonel variety could be better at self pollinating than 6946, Kodiak, and 4412. It is known that some varieties self-pollinate to some degree.

Varieties 6946, Kodiak, and 4412 reached peak blossom during the week of August 17-24th. Colonel reached peak flour during August 31st-Sept 3rd. Since temperatures and weather were conducive to field drying, we allowed them to dry until the second week of October. At this time, we collected samples for moisture testing and determined that the crop was a failure (no pollination). We elected to harvest only the Colonel variety, as there was little to no feed value in the empty hulls of the other varieties. We did not record moisture levels of the three failed varieties.

Justin Jamison, Technical Advisor, visited the field on September 4th, 2005. He and Ben discussed animal predation problems, stalk-snapping problems, and general vigor of the plants. They concluded that (prior to bear damage), 4421 had the best bloom rate and the least stalk-snap, likely due to their smaller blossoms. Lodging was also the least in the 4421, due to their short height. The lodging was the worse in the 6946 and the Kodiak varieties, which were the tallest. Lodging was significantly worse in the wet sections of the field (by springs). The extra water caused the sunflowers to grow taller in these sections. Plant height was directly correlated to lodging.

We did purchase a small grain dryer with the capital funds allotted. We used it to dry the Colonel variety to a moisture of _____.

What Has NOT Been Done and Why:
Sunflower De-Hulling and feed trial summary: Sunflower de-hulling research needed to be completed before any feed trials could be done, as we needed sunflower kernels for the feed trial. During the summer of 2005, unscheduled equipment repairs took priority over revamping the Roskamp huller for sunflowers. This caused the feed trial to be delayed. By the time Ben could work on the Roskamp, the chickens had gone into molt and could not be used for a feed trial. I wanted to use younger, more productive chickens for the feed trial. Due to childbirth, I was unable to order new chicks in the fall of 2005. Chicks are unavailable in the winter. I purchased chicks in March 2006, which should start laying in September 2006. The feed trial will start once the chicks are in full production.

What We Plan to Change
During winter 2006, I did more research on the use of sunflowers in poultry feeds. I compared the amounts of Methionine found in seeds we tested with reported book levels. The actual methionine levels are not as high as we had hoped. Based on these results, we are considering using purchased sunflower kernels for the variety trial. If we decide to go this route, we will send a sample of purchased kernels for amino acid/Methionine testing. We will wait to revamp the Roskamp until we see the results of the feed trial.

Catherine Albert