Sunflower boosts milk yields and income amid feed shortage

An incessant milk shortage in the country occasioned by lack of animal feeds has put a strain on milk supply, but vanguard farmers have found solace in sunflower by products which hasve increased milk supply by unto 5 litres daily.

The North Rift region, which produces 80 per cent of the country’s milk for sale, has registered a 40 per cent drop in supply in the last one year. The main culprit has been the skyrocketing feed prices that have locked thousands of dairy farmers from access. This coupled with dwindling pasture due to prolonged sunny spells has worsened the situation.

But oblivious to many of these farmers sunflower which has received real kudos from scientists nutritional wise remains acutely under utilized. 

Numerous studies have shown that Sunflower cake contains more crude protein at 12.5 percent and considerably more fat at 11 percent compared to conventional feeds and fodder. Feeding whole sunflower seeds to dairy cattle as a way to increase the energy content of the diet of high-producing dairy cows may boost milk production by 3-5 percent.

Such studies have been corroborated by ordinary farmers ahead of their peers who have realized the unrivaled nutritional value of sunflower meal for their livestock.

Madge Njeri a retired teacher now smallholder dairy farmer of eight cows, had long been buffeted by dwindling fodder and prohibitively priced synthetic feed. 

It was a matter of time before milk production went dismally low in quality and quantity. From producing 70 litres a day, her milk production went down to 30 litres. “That was the biggest shock of my life. I have always relied on my cows for income and paying my kid’s school fees. It took a lot of agony trying to get the solution and rescue my dairy farming before it was too late,” she said.

A scientist friend introduced her to Sunflower which has made impressive turn around in her farming. 

In one acre of her land tens of hundreds of sunflower plants stand tall, their conspicuous yellow flowers testament to the wonders of a plant ignored and forgotten by majority of farmers.

She extracts the oil from sunflower which she use for a separate business. The remains of the sunflower seeds are what she uses to obtain sunflower cake that is fed to animals.

Her cow’s milk production capacity has not only gone back to where it used to be but has even surpassed that. Cumulatively she collects 80 litres a day.

It is a success story that has caught the attention of fellow farmers in Nakuru County who have now formed themselves in farmer field schools to train themselves on using sunflower seeds as animal feeds alternative.

“So far we have over 100 members and our intention is to hit 1,000 members by year end. We believe this is very doable because the interest among farmers has been remarkable,” said Kimani Njomo one of the pioneer farmers who have embraced sunflower farming.

The farmers have not only found solace in sunflower as an alternative feed for their livestock, but are now diversifying into pressing of the sunflower oil which also enjoys fanatical demand both locally and internationally.

“I used to spend Sh6,000 on buying animal feeds in this case conventional ones and nappier grass, But even with such a huge budget, milk production was appalling and I was operating at a loss. Investing in sunflower production was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have cut costs by upto 60 percent,” said Moses Wanderi another farmer in the farmer field school.

Sunflower meal, also called sunflower oilcake, is obtained by grinding flakes after most of the oil has been removed by either solvent or mechanical extraction processes.

. The high oil content in the mechanically extracted oilcake provides greater energy density, which is a valuable attribute for animals with high energy requirements such as dairy cows.

Sunflower oilcake constitutes the fourth largest source of supplemental protein for livestock feeding after soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and canola meal. It can be used freely in balanced diets for poultry and pigs owing to the absence of toxic compounds.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has approved 15 varieties of sunflower after testing them in various parts of the country. Most of these varieties takes between 75 and 110 days to mature and are already been grown by farmers in Bungoma, Kakamega and Meru.

Sunflower seeds can be found from stockists and seed companies across the country.