Expert Answers - Feb. 15, 2008

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Q: With the increase in cottonseed prices, how can I maximize my return on feeding it or are there other alternative feedstuffs to replace cottonseed?

A: Cottonseed is a unique feed ingredient. It is a good source of protein (~20 percent), fat (~20 percent) and digestible NDF (~50 percent), making it a very attractive feed ingredient for lactating dairy cow diets. Although popular, it is not an essential feed, but finding lower-cost replacement feeds with similar nutrient profiles is not easy.

Maximizing return from cottonseed

If cottonseed continues to be a feed option, one way to maximize return from cottonseed is to consider only feeding it to early-lactation or high-producing cows. These animals will benefit the most from the energy and fiber density in cottonseed. High-energy production diets often are marginal in fiber. Research at Ohio State University has shown cottonseed fiber to be as effective as alfalfa fiber for rumination and supporting milk fat percentage. Mid- to late-lactation cows have lower nutrient requirements and, therefore, their diets can be formulated with feed ingredients that are less nutrient-dense and less expensive.

High-fiber alternatives

Assuming a good source of highly digestible non-forage NDF would be the primary replacement for cottonseed, there are a number of fibrous byproduct feeds that should be considered. When replacing cottonseed with alternative feeds, however, dietary adjustments or the inclusion of additional feeds in the diet would be required. As mentioned, cottonseed is unique as it is a good source of protein, fiber and digestible NDF. There is no other single feed ingredient that can directly replace cottonseed one-for-one in diets.  

Following is a table with the nutrient concentration of common fibrous byproducts. Although similar in terms of NDF concentration, large differences exist between cottonseed and high fibrous byproducts in terms of crude protein, fat, starch and non-fiber carbohydrates. Determining the economic value of feeds in terms of their nutrient contributions and their break-even cost will not be discussed here. Readers should refer to a column by Dr. Bill Weiss in last month’s issue of Nutritionist e-Network newsletter.

Table 1. Nutrient concentration of high fibrous byproduct feeds that should be considered as partial replacements for cottonseed in lactating dairy cow diets.


 Feed  NDF  CP  Fat  Starch  NFC  P
% DM
 Cottonseed  44  44  44  44 8.2 0.6
 Beet pulp 44 10 0.6 2 39.2 0.1
 Brewers grains 42 25 6.5 10 20 0.6
 Corn gluten feed 45 26 2.4 12 19.5 0.8
 Distillers dried grains 44 25 10 10 16 0.7
 Soybean hulls 67 12 2 1 14 0.2
 Wheat midds 37 18 5 21 35 1.0


In summary

Targeting the use of cottonseed in diets for cows with increased nutrient needs or replacing cottonseed with lower cost feed ingredients should be considered. If dietary modifications are made, be sure to monitor changes in milk yield, milk components and MUN to evaluate the total economic effectiveness of lowering feed cost.

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