Cotton or cotton plants are a suitable supplemental feed for beef cattle, says Tryon Wickersham, Texas AgriLife Research nutritionist.

“Although a non-traditional feedstuff for cattle … cottonseed, with its high fat content and cellulose (lint), provides for a fairly high-quality feedstuff,” says Wickersham. “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.”

Several livestock producers have asked AgriLife Extension forage specialist Larry Redmon about the protein and energy content of cotton plants.

“Due to the continued drought, many cattle producers are examining new options for feeding cattle instead of traditional grass hay,” says Redmon. “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.”

Having never been asked the question before, Redmon had fresh cotton samples analyzed; Wickersham also began testing plant samples, but these had already been defoliated or baled.

Preliminary results show the following: Fresh whole cotton plants, including stems, leaves and bolls – 13.3% crude protein and 62.4% TDN. Whole cotton plants, including stems and bolls but minus the leaves – 11.2% crude protein and 58.8% TDN. Cotton and seeds from a harvested cotton module – 15.6% crude protein, 59.4% TDN.

Wickersham suggests that cotton could be used as a source of supplemental energy. Meanwhile, Gaylon Morgan, Extension cotton specialist, notes that most cotton defoliation or desiccation products prohibit grazing or feeding to livestock for at least 30-45 days.

“We recommend referring to the product label to ensure the minimum label restrictions are met,” Morgan says.

Samples of cotton or cotton plants to be grazed or fed should be analyzed for nutritive value, Redmon adds.