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Southeast: Using whole cottonseed as a supplement in beef cattle herds

Kim Mullenix for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 August 2021

In 2020, there were 8.5 million acres of cotton harvested in the U.S. From this acreage, an estimated 4.5 million tons of whole cottonseed was generated.

Whole cottonseed can be purchased from cotton gins throughout cotton-producing areas, with price primarily dependent on the local availability of cotton being ginned. Whole cottonseed can be used as a feed supplement in beef cattle diets. Overall quality of whole cottonseed depends on the cotton variety, seed source, field weathering and storage conditions post-crop harvest. Though quality varies, on a dry matter basis, whole cottonseed contains approximately 95% total digestible nutrients, including 24% crude protein, 17% fat and 21% crude fiber. Whole cottonseed is a good source of phosphorus (0.75%) but is low in calcium (0.16%).

When developing a supplementation plan for brood cows, the number of ingredients needed to meet requirements can oftentimes vary. Utilizing whole cottonseed can reduce the number of feedstuffs required in a ration because it provides a good combination of digestible energy and protein – which, in turn, may reduce labor by eliminating the need to mix ingredients and overall storage space required for the use of multiple supplements.

The recommended feeding level of whole cottonseed is between 6 to 8 pounds per head per day for mature cows or roughly 0.5% of bodyweight. This feeding level limits fat intake to maintain proper rumen function. Whole cottonseed contains gossypol, which is a potentially toxic compound that, when consumed at elevated levels, has been shown to have negative impacts on fertility in growing bulls. Thus, many producers ask about the safety of feeding whole cottonseed to cows during the breeding season, but when fed at the recommended levels to limit fat consumption, gossypol levels in the diet are typically not great enough to cause reproductive complications.

For large operations, commodity sheds work well for whole cottonseed storage. Small operations can utilize bulk bags or peanut/gravity wagons for storage. These storage options allow easy access for a front-end loader or scoop to dispense the whole cottonseed directly onto the ground or into a trough. V-shaped automatic feeders and feed trucks are not as well suited for feeding whole cottonseed because it does not flow as freely as other feedstuffs. Whole cottonseed should not be stored in stacks greater than 8 feet high to allow adequate air flow and prevent overheating. Additionally, avoid storing whole cottonseed directly on dirt or plastic to prevent moisture or “sweat” to accumulate.

For additional information on the use of whole cottonseed or other cotton byproducts in beef cattle diets, visit our Alabama Extension website at to learn more about potential use of these products in your operation. end mark

Kim Mullenix
  • Kim Mullenix

  • Extension Beef Specialist/Associate Professor
  • Auburn University
  • Email Kim Mullenix