With cotton seed flirting with $400/ton this fall, whether it stays in your dairy ration is an iffy proposition.
"Most people are cutting back,” says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing for Cotton, Inc. "You can still get some benefit with 3 lb/cow/day. So some dairy producers are keeping it in their fresh pens and high groups to maintain butterfat and body condition.”
The reasons cottonseed is so dear this year are two-fold: High soybean prices have displaced 1.5 million acres in the Deep South. And then Hurricane Gustav, which devastated farmland in the Mississippi delta in August took out hundreds of thousands more acres.
USDA reports acres planted to cotton nationwide dropped to 9.3 million acres this year, about a 14% decline from 2007. And with the ravages of the 2008 hurricane season, harvested acres might come in at just 7.8 million acres.
And early fall weather could play a role as to the tonnage yet harvested. "The whole cotton crop is in Texas, and we're facing maturity issues there with delayed spring planting,” says Wedegaertner. "We're hoping for a late frost. A freeze would shut down the crop. One more week of good weather could add two or three bolls per plant, which would make a difference.
"Bottomline, cottonseed will be limited in supply this year,” he says.
Rick Titel, a ration analyst with Agri-Consulting, DeForest, Wis., says cottonseed prices are dictating what his clients are feeding. "In some cases, they're still feeding a couple of pounds per cow. Others are taking it out completely,” he says.
Cottonseed, he says, has some unique feeding characteristics and it's difficult to pull from TMRs being fed to high-producing herds. "You have to look at what alternatives you have—inert fats and distillers grains—and maybe a herd that's not high end,” he says.
"And we'll try to keep cottonseed in a pre- and post-fresh groups, our transition cows. But we may pull it out of the general milking groups later in lactation,” he says.
He's also advising clients who grow their own soybeans to pencil in the cost of cottonseed versus feeding the beans. If the price of beans continues to drop, as it has this week, and cottonseed remains high, feeding those beans might be an option.