By Blair Fannin, Texas AgriLife Extension
Texas beef producers are exploring the use of whole cotton plants as a protein source for cattle due to extreme drought conditions, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
"Due to the continued extreme drought, many cattle producers are examining new options for feeding cattle instead of traditional grass hay," said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist in College Station. "One new item with little nutritive value information is grazing unharvested cotton plants, baled whole cotton plants, (which) are simply baled cotton."
Several livestock producers have inquired about crude protein value in cotton plants as well as energy content, Redmon said.
"In many places where cotton lint yield was so low, many people were considering baling their whole cotton plants and feeding it to their cattle or grazing the standing cotton."
Redmon said he had never had the question before, but received some fresh cotton plant samples for analysis. Additionally, Dr. Tryon Wickersham, Texas AgriLife Research nutritionist in College Station, began testing cotton plant samples that he collected as well. Wickersham’s samples had already been defoliated or had been baled and were being fed directly as the cotton module.
The preliminary results were quite interesting, Wickersham said.
"Although a non-traditional feedstuff for cattle, the presence of the cotton seed with its high fat content and cellulose (lint) provides for a fairly high quality feedstuff," Wickersham said. "The fat content is quite a bit higher than would normally be fed to beef cattle and some scouring may occur, but the animals do well with the cotton diet."
Preliminary results included the following:
- Fresh whole cotton plants, including stems, leaves and bolls: crude protein 13.3 percent, total digestible nutrients 62.4 percent.
- Whole cotton plants including stems and bolls, but minus the leaves: crude protein 11.2 percent, total digestible nutrients 58.8 percent.
- Cotton and seeds from a harvested cotton module: crude protein 15.6 percent, total digestible nutrients 59.4 percent.
Wickersham suggests the cotton could be used as a source of supplemental energy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist, notes most cotton defoliation or desiccation products prohibit grazing or feeding to livestock feed for at least 30 days to 45 days.
"We recommend referring to the product label to ensure the minimum labels restrictions are met," Morgan said.
Redmon said weather conditions are not forecast to improve in the near future and those who continue to hold cattle during these unprecedented drought conditions will find it difficult to find hay.
"They will also pay extremely high prices for hay they do find, and can set themselves up for significant environmental damages by keeping animals in pastures that are devoid of any ground cover," Redmon said. "As reluctant as we are to sell cattle, the best option from an economic and ecological standpoint is likely to simply sell out."
Redmon also advises a sample of any cotton or cotton plants to be grazed should be analyzed for nutritive value prior to feeding or grazing.