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Should you feed cottonseed this year?

00:00AM Sep 15, 2008

Rick Lundquist

High cottonseed prices have prompted more questions from my clients as to whether they should continue to feed whole cottonseed this year. They are getting to the end of last year's contracts, which were $100 - $150/ton less than current offers. I addressed this topic in a column a few weeks ago when cottonseed prices spiked, but many dairy producers face this decision now as old contracts expire.   

The authors of Cottonseed Digest profile dairy buyers of cottonseed into four categories:

Group 1: The base demand group that will feed 4-6 lbs. of cottonseed regardless of price.

Group 2: Dairy producers that will feed 2-3 lbs. of cottonseed regardless of price and would like to feed 4-6 lbs. The last 2-4 lbs. is price sensitive.

Group 3: This group is the major swing factor for cottonseed demand. They enter the market when the price is right or other factors such as short forage supplies prevail and will switch to substitutes if opportunities exist.

Group 4: The group that can't feed cottonseed because they don't have access to it or probably don't feed a TMR. Dairy producers in this group will probably migrate to Groups 1, 2 or 3 over time.

With corn at $6.50/bu. and soybean meal at $385/ton, cottonseed is worth a little over $300/ton, based solely on its protein and energy contributions to the ration. Current prices are quite a bit higher than this in many parts of the country. The effects of hurricanes Gustav and Ike will undoubtedly have a big affect on the price of cottonseed this fall and these factors have yet to be ascertained. 

But other factors also need to be considered when evaluating whether to feed cottonseed. Cottonseed contributes intrinsic factors such texture to the grain and fat that is "encapsulated” in the seed. So the total fat content of the ration needs to be considered as well as the sources. Distillers grains are a pretty good substitute for cottonseed, but are high in unsaturated fat which is fully exposed to rumen microbes. Soybeans (roasted or raw ground) are an excellent replacement for cottonseed, but current prices aren't competitive either. Another option is additional bypass fat or tallow. In each case the effective fiber in the cottonseed should be replaced with additional forage.

I've recently reduced feed costs in many diets by removing cottonseed from rations, with no affect on cow health or production when I accounted for the factors I just discussed. I've also kept cottonseed in some rations because of the same factors. I recommend that you consult your nutritionist for your specific situation.

Click here to go to Cottonseed Digest Web site, published by Informa Economics, Inc. Eagan,MN.

Rick Lunquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at