Whole Cottonseed Supplementation

Whole cottonseed supplementation is a common practice in beef cattle nutrition, providing a high-energy and protein-rich feedstuff. Cottonseed, a byproduct of the cotton ginning process, offers several nutritional benefits that contribute to the overall health and productivity of beef cattle.

Feed Value

Whole cottonseed (WCS) is known to be a useful source of energy, fat, protein, and fibre.

The approximate feed composition of WCS is:

  • dry matter: 90 to 93%
  • digestibility: 80%
  • energy: 14 MJ/kg
  • crude protein: 22 to 24%
  • oil: 15 to 18%
  • calcium: 0.15 %
  • phosphorus: 0.75%

Seed quality can vary depending on the variety of cotton, seed source, field weathering during the latter part of the growing season and harvest, and any heat damage incurred during storage.

Gossypol Toxicity

Whole cottonseed can contain up to 1% gossypol. Gossypol is a toxic dye produced in the roots, leaves, stems and seeds of the cotton plant, with the greatest concentration occurring in the seeds. Mature ruminants such as cattle and sheep can tolerate higher levels of gossypol as it binds to proteins in the rumen. Younger ruminants however are susceptible to gossypol toxicity as their rumen is not yet fully functional. For this reason, cottonseed should not be fed to weaned calves less than 4 months old and weaned lambs less than 5 months old.

There has been some concern about cottonseed causing infertility in bulls. Research work and feedback from graziers indicate that this is not a problem. Bulls fed substantial amounts have not been affected by infertility.


Whole cottonseed  may contain residues of chemicals applied to the cotton crop during growing or harvest and so producers should request a Commodity Vendor Declaration (CVD) each time they purchase it. This declaration supports stock-raising claims and provides a record that the relevant withholding periods and export slaughter intervals have been observed.

Feeding levels

Cottonseed is a suitable supplement for stock grazing low-quality feed such as mature/frosted/drought affected tropical grass pasture or cereal stubble. For drought feeding, precise feeding levels have not been established. Breeders have survived on 1 to 2 kg of whole cottonseed per head per day. Amounts need to be adjusted according to the cattle class and other available feed. Cattle tend not to eat substantial amounts of cottonseed due to the fluff on the seed which tends to restrict intake. This, however, makes it an ideal drought supplement.

Cattle (with dry standing feed available):

Cows with calves at foot = 1.0–2.5 kg/head/day

Dry breeders = 1.0–2.0 kg/head/day

Steers = 1.0 kg/head/day

Calves (less than 4 months) = Do Not Feed

Weaners (4-12 months) = 0.5–2.0kg / head / day

Bulls = 0.0–0.5 kg/head/day

Suggested maximum levels are:

Weaners: 2 kg

Breeders: 4 kg

or 1% of live weight.

Sheep (with dry standing feed available):

Weaners (less than 5 months) = Do Not Feed

Weaners (over 5 months) = 100 g / head /day

Dry breeders & wethers = 150 g / head/day

Pregnant ewes = 200 g / head/day

Lactating ewes = 300 g / head/day

Feeding method

Whole cottonseed can be fed alone or combined with other feedstuffs. It does not require grinding, rolling, milling or any other processing or preparation.

Twice-weekly feeding is an accepted and successful method. Cattle unaccustomed to eating cottonseed may have to be trained – pour some molasses over the top or mix with cottonseed meal or grain then removed over a couple of feedings.

A successful feeding method is to dump a semi-load in the paddock, encircle the dump with an electric fence and push several days’ supply under the fence. The bottom wire (live) needs to be about 60 cm off the ground to effectively regulate the consumption rate.

Whole cottonseed can also be fed in small heaps on hard ground or in troughs. Both are popular methods. However, some feed may be wasted if cattle camp or walk on the small heaps.

Some brands of self-feeders are quite suitable for feeding whole cottonseed and there is a trailable version available made especially for cottonseed. However, some grain feeders are unsuitable due to the cottonseed not flowing into the feeding troughs, but rather bridging in the feeder.

In line with good drought management, care should be taken that dominant (often horned) cattle do not eat more than a fair share. It is good to draft off the weaker, poorer animals and feed them separately.

Cattle performance

Producers who have fed whole cottonseed in droughts find it gives satisfactory results. Cattle perform well and maintain or improve body condition. Weaker cattle become noticeably stronger within several days of total acceptance. However, for lactating cows, whole cottonseed should be fed before they start losing body condition.


Twelve tonnes of whole cottonseed is equivalent to 20 tonnes of grain by volume. Preferably, whole cottonseed should be stored in sheds. It should not be put in a grain silo as it will not flow.

Whole cottonseed can be stored for short periods uncovered in the open, but it must be dumped in a well-drained area. The dump must have a reasonable peak and smooth sides so it will shed water. Make sure it is well-fenced off so animals cannot access the pile.

The moisture content of the seed and air temperatures are critical factors. Cottonseed can combust spontaneously if stored wet or stacked too high (more than 5 m). The moisture level at the time of purchase should be 14% or less. If cottonseed gets wet, there is the risk of fungal growth and aflatoxins have been isolated. Feeding mouldy whole cottonseed involves the risk of death or lower performance levels.

Its storage life is at least one year, but weevils may infest dumps. Fumigation is necessary for longer-term storage.


Whole cottonseed will not auger and needs to be handled with a front-end loader or shovelled. For easy handling, it is best transported in tip trucks. Some producers cart it in stock crates lined with hessian or tarpaulins and then shovel it out.

Further information