With cotton harvest complete, producers now wait for ginning to wrap up as preparations begin for another year. Livestock owners, on the other hand, are gearing up to purchase cotton byproducts to supplement minerals and feed throughout the winter months.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System beef specialist Kim Mullenix said the Southeast is one of the largest cotton-producing regions in the United States, with Alabama contributing significant acreage to the regional total. This makes cotton byproducts more accessible to producers within the state.
Choosing a feed supplement
Feed quality is one of the most important aspects of livestock care, especially heading into months with limited foraging possibilities. Supplemental byproducts can make a noticeable difference in herd health and wellness.
There are many crop byproducts available to producers, including soybean, peanut, corn, wheat and rice. Alabama producers commonly use cotton byproducts, as they are readily available.
When choosing a supplemental byproduct, livestock producers have to consider several factors including moisture content, nutrient profile, transportation and storage, contaminants, availability and regulations. Producers must also consider cost.
Supplemental feeding is costly and can account for a large portion of input costs during the winter months if fed with low quality forages.
“Because cotton byproducts are desirable as feeds, the value has increased in recent years,” Mullenix said. “Producers can compare potential supplements on a cost per pound of nutrient basis to determine the most economical winter supplementation option.”
Common cotton byproducts
Mullenix said the cotton crop in the state generates several widely used byproducts. They include whole cottonseed, cottonseed meal, cottonseed hulls, gin trash and cotton stalk residue.
“Cotton byproducts are especially useful during the winter months as a supplement for beef cattle,” she said. “For example, whole cottonseed is an excellent supplement for brood cows because it supplies both energy and protein in a single feed.”
Whole cottonseed can contain abundant amounts of energy and is a good source of added energy to cattle feed. Cottonseed is also an excellent source of protein, containing 96% total digestible nutrient and 24% crude protein. Extension professionals recommend feeding 0.5% of a mature cow’s body weight. With 17% fat, feeding whole cottonseed at this rate holds fat intake below 4% of the total diet.
Mullenix said a 7- to 8-pound daily intake of cottonseed, along with a mid-quality hay, should prevent intake limitations and provide sufficient nutrients for lactating cows.
Cottonseed meal is derived from the extraction of cottonseed oil. It is typically utilized as a protein supplement for beef cattle. This supplemental feed varies in CP remains depending on the oil extraction method.
As a forage supplement, it can work well when the desired daily supplement intake is two to four pounds. Cottonseed meal contains approximately 45% CP, 75% of the TDN. Cottonseed meal is also a good source of phosphorus. Producers commonly feed cottonseed meal mixed with other feedstuffs to increase protein concentration and intake.
Cottonseed hulls are a palatable roughage source that are low in nutritive value (42% TDN) and are only 4% to 5% CP. This byproduct can be used as a roughage source instead of grinding hay but should be incorporated into a complete diet. Cottonseed hulls are highly palatable.
However, low bulk density and high transportation costs limit the use of cottonseed hulls to cattle producers located near processing plants. The combination of high transportation costs and low protein and energy concentration render cottonseed hulls a less economical option in large amounts for mature cows.
Loose and baled gin trash are also available as supplemental cattle feeds. Loose gin trash consists of unusable residue remaining from the cotton ginning process. It is an inexpensive—often free—roughage source that producers can utilize for beef cattle.
Logistics are the biggest limiter for using gin trash. It is dusty and often wet before transportation and storage, causing the nutrients to bind and become less digestible. Nutritional value varies depending on the level of seed contribution.
Alabama Extension professionals recommend that producers conduct a feed analysis. This will help accurately determine the nutritional value of gin trash and subsequent feeding rates.
Baled gin trash byproducts are similar to loose gin trash. However, baled gin trash has a slightly higher feed value for beef cattle. Baled material has a higher relative contribution from lint, seed and hulled material. The bales of gin trash may be a more accessible feed resource for producers.
For more information about cotton byproducts, consult the Alabama Extension publication Cotton Byproduct Use in Beef Cattle Diets. More information about whole cottonseed is also available in the publication Whole Cottonseed Use in Beef Cattle Diets.
Alabama Cooperative Extension contributed this article.