Whole cottonseed for survival feeding of beef cattle

Whole cottonseed has been used very successfully in Queensland for many years, mainly as a drought supplement and also in feedlot rations.


For whole cottonseed, the approximate composition 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%

Some lint (approximately 8%) is retained on the seed.


  1. Whole cottonseed can contain up to 1% gossypol - a toxic dye in the pigment glands scattered throughout the kernel. Whole cottonseed must not be fed to pigs, poultry and horses.

    Under drought conditions, we have seen young (non-ruminant) calves eat whole cottonseed without adverse effects. Nevertheless, care should be taken when feeding calves still on their dams. We do not advise feeding whole cottonseed to calves less than 12 weeks old. Mature ruminants break down gossypol in the rumen.
  2. 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 large amounts have not been affected by infertility. In droughts, low levels are usually fed for short periods, so infertility problems are not likely.

Feeding levels

For drought feeding, precise feeding levels have not been established. Breeders have survived on 1 to 2 kg whole cottonseed per head per day. Obviously, amounts need to be adjusted according to the class of cattle, and other feed available. Cattle tend not to eat large amounts of cottonseed due to the fluff on the seed which tends to restrict intake. This, however, makes it an ideal drought supplement.

Suggested maximum levels are:

  • Weaners: 2 kg
  • Breeders: 4 kg
  • or 1% of liveweight.

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 slowly remove 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 day's supply under the fence. The bottom wire (live) needs to be about 60 cm off the ground to regulate the rate of consumption effectively.

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 a good idea to draft off the weaker, poorer animals and feed them separately.

Cattle performance

Producers who have fed whole cottonseed in droughts generally 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 lactacting cows, whole cottonseed should be fed before they start losing body condition.


Twelve tonne of whole cottonseed is equivalent to 20 tonne 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 purchasing 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 deaths 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 stockcrates lined with hessian or tarpaulins and then shovel it out.