Using Sunflower Seed in Organic Poultry Diets

eOrganic author:

Dr. Jacquie Jacob Ph.D., University of Kentucky

NOTE: Before using any feed ingredient make sure that the ingredient is listed in your Organic System Plan and approved by your certifier.


Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an oilseed crop native to North America and grown around the world. Sunflower seed meal is a byproduct of oil extraction from sunflower seeds.

There are two types of sunflowers (Senkoylu and Dale, 1999). One type is high in oil content (40-51%) and is the one most used in production of sunflower oil. The seeds of these high-oil sunflowers are black with a thin hull stuck tightly to the kernel that is difficult to remove. The other type of sunflower has much less oil content (about 25%) and is used primarily in the snack, confectionery, bakery, and bird food markets. The seeds of these sunflowers are larger with a thick, striped hull that is not held as tightly to the kernel. It is much easier to remove the hull from the low-oil varieties.


The nutrient content of sunflower seeds depends on the variety and growing conditions, which in turn affect the nutrient content of the sunflower seed meal produced after oil extraction. The method of oil extraction also affects the nutrient content of sunflower seed meal. Solvent extraction is a more effective method of oil extraction than mechanical extraction, yet it is important to note that solvent-extracted sunflower seed meal cannot be used in organic poultry diets (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000). The screw-press extraction method results in a high-oil sunflower seed meal (San Juan and Villamide, 2001).

§ 205.270 Organic handling requirements.

(c) The handler of an organic handling operation must not use in or on agricultural products intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)),” or in or on any ingredients labeled as organic:

(1) Practices prohibited under paragraphs (e) and (f) of §205.105.

(2) A volatile synthetic solvent or other synthetic processing aid not allowed under §205.605: Except, that, nonorganic ingredients in products labeled “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” are not subject to this requirement.

Sunflower is rich in linoleic acid (Senkoylu and Dale, 1999) as well as naturally occurring antioxidants (Rebolé et al., 2006). High oleic acid sunflower seeds have higher oleic acid at the expense of linoleic acid (Rebolé et al., 2006). The level of the antioxidants in high oleic sunflower seed is similar to conventional varieties.

Sunflower seed meal is lower in lysine than soybean meal, but higher in methionine (Senkoylu and Dale, 1999). Processing time and temperature of the sunflower seeds affects lysine available in the final meal. High temperatures during oil extraction can damage the protein. The result is a reduction in the availability of amino acids, especially lysine (Senkoylu and Dale, 1999).

The fiber level of the product depends on the extent to which the seeds are removed prior to oil extraction. High levels of hulls improve oil extraction efficiency but also increase the fiber content of the meal, reducing its potential as a feed ingredient in poultry diets. The variability in percent hulls remaining in the meal is the reason that there is a high variability in poultry performance between sources of sunflower seed meal.

Unlike most other oilseed meals, sunflower seed meal has not been found to have anti-nutritional factors (Senkoylu and Dale, 1999).

Nutrient content of sunflower seed meal (Batal and Dale, 2010)

Dry matter, % 93 93
Metabolizable energy, kcal/kg 1760 2310
Metabolizable energy, kcal/lb 800 1050
Crude protein, % 42.0 41.0
Methionine, % 1.50 1.60
Cysteine, % 0.70 1.80
Lysine, % 1.70 2.00
Tryptophan, % 0.50 0.60
Threonine, % 1.50 1.60
Crude fat, % 2.3 7.6
Crude fiber, % 21.0 21.0
Ash, % 7.0 6.8
Calcium, % 0.40 0.43
Total phosphorus, % 1.00 1.00
Available phosphorus, % 0.25 0.25

Feeding Sunflower Seeds to Poultry

Although not common, whole sunflower seeds can be included in broiler diets at a level of 15-20% (Selvaraj and Purushothaman, 2004).

Sunflower seed meal can be included in poultry diets at the maximum recommended level depending on the quality of the specific product being used. This will vary by variety of sunflower grown and the method of oil extraction. Compared with solvent extraction, the heat and mechanical pressure that occurs with mechanical pressure extraction reduces amino acid availability (San Juan and Villamide, 2001).

Substituting sunflower seed meal for soybean meal in broiler, starter and grower diets had no effect on growth rate but did adversely affect feed efficiency (Rama Rao et al., 2006). The researchers recommended that only two-thirds of the soybean meal be replaced with sunflower seed meal so that the effect on feed efficiency is minimized. This is equal to an inclusion rate of 34.5% in the starter diet and 29.6% in the finisher. Conversely, high fiber sunflower seed meal was included in broiler diets up to 30% with no adverse effects on growth or feed efficiency (Ibrahim et al., 1991). Inclusion of high fiber sunflower meal, however, adversely affected layer performance when included in the diet at greater than 8.9% (Vieira, 1992).

Research suggests that high oil sunflower seed meal can be included up to 28-30% in broiler diets with no adverse effects on growth or feed efficiency. Pelleting can improve performance (Senkoylu and Dale, 2006).

With high-oleic sunflower varieties, an inclusion of 10% sunflower seed meal can be used to increase the oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid) of chicken meat with no adverse effects on broiler performance (Rebolé et al., 2006). Vitamin E supplementation was effective in preventing lipid oxidation in the meat. Increasing unsaturated fatty acid content of eggs can be achieved by feeding 15% flax seed, 18% high-oleic acid sunflower seed meal, or 21% high-linoleic acid sunflower seed (Jiang et al., 2003). Sensory evaluations indicated that the eggs produced with flax seed had off-flavor. This was not the case with either of the sunflower seed meals.

Broilers fed diets containing 35% sunflower seed meal performed better than those fed a diet containing 35% canola meal. Enzyme supplementation did not affect bird performance for either group of broilers (Kocher et al., 2000). As would be expected, similar results were found with a 20% inclusion of sunflower seed meal in low-energy broiler diets (Aftab, 2009). With barley-sunflower seed meal diets (60:20 ratio), enzyme supplementation had no effect on egg production or feed efficiency, but there was a reduction in the number of dirty eggs (Francesch et al., 1995).

When feeding broiler breeder pullets, feed restriction is often used to prevent the pullets from becoming obese. The use of high fiber diets has been shown to be equally as effective without the need for strict feed restriction (Zacek et al., 2003). Sunflower seed meal can be used as a source of fiber in such diets.

References and Citations

  • Aftab, U. 2009. Utilization of alternative protein meals with or without multi-enzyme supplementation in broilers fed low-energy diets. Journal of Applied Poultry Science 18:292–296. (Available online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Batal, A., and N. Dale. 2010. Feedstuffs Ingredient Analysis Table: 2011 edition. [Online]. Feedstuffs. Available at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Francesch, M., A. Perez-Vedrell, E. Esteve-Garcia, and J. Brufau. 1995. Enzyme supplementation of a barley and sunflower-based diet on laying hen performance. Journal of Applied Poultry Research 4:32–40. (Available online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Ibrahim, M. A., and E. A. El Zubeir. 1991. Higher fibre sunflower seed meal in broiler chick diets. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 33: 343–347. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Jiang, Z., D. U. Ahn, L. Ladner, and J. S. Sim. 1992. Influence of feeding full-fat flax and sunflower seeds on internal and sensory qualities of eggs. Poultry Science 71:378–382. (Available online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Kocher, A., M. Choct, M. D. Porter, and J. Broz. 2000. The effects of enzyme addition to broiler diets containing high concentrations of canola or sunflower meal. Poultry Science 79:1767–1774. (Available online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Rama Rao, S. V., M.V.L.N. Raju, A. K. Panda, and M. R. Reddy. 2006. Sunflower seed meal as a substitute for soybean meal in commercial broiler chicken diets. British Poultry Science 5:592–598. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Rebolé, A., L. Rodgrígues, L. T. Ortiz, C. Alzueta, C. Centeno, A. Viveros, A. Brenes, and I. Arija. 2006. Effect of dietary high-oleic sunflower seed, palm oil and vitamin E supplementation on broiler performance, fatty acid composition and oxidation susceptibility of meat. British Poultry Science 47:581–591. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • San Juan, L. D., and M. J. Villamide. 2001. Nutritional evaluation of sunflower products for poultry as affected by the oil extraction method. Poultry Science 80:431–437. (Available online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)
  • Selvaraj, R. K., and M. R. Purushothaman. 2004. Nutritive value of full-fat sunflower seeds in broiler diets. Poultry Science 83:441–446. (Available online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)
  • Senkoylu, N., and N. Dale. 1999. Sunflower meal in poultry diets: A review. World's Poultry Science Journal 55:153–174. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)
  • Senkoylu, N., and N. Dale. 2006. Nutritional evaluation of a high-oil sunflower meal in broiler starter diets. Journal of Applied Poultry Research 15:40–47. (Available online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)
  • United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. National organic program: Final rule. Codified at 7 C.F.R., part 205. (Available online at: (verified 6 Jan 2014)
  • Vieira, S. L., A. M. Penz, Jr., E. M. Leboute, and J. Corteline. 1992. A nutritional evaluation of a high fiber sunflower meal. Journal of Applied Poultry Research 13:382–388. (Available online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)
  • Zacek, V., E.K.M. Jones, M. G. Macleod, and P. M. Hocking. 2003. Dietary fibre improves the welfare of female broiler breeders. British Poultry Science 44:30–31. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 7 Jan 2014)

Published January 8, 2014

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.