From Field to Dairy: How Whole Cottonseed Gets to You

Published on Wed, 05/11/2022 - 11:05am

From Field to Dairy: How Whole Cottonseed Gets to You.

 Article and photos provided by Cotton Incorporated.

The value of cotton lies not just in its textile uses, but also in its byproduct, whole cottonseed. Whole cottonseed can be an excellent addition to cattle diets1, and every person involved in cotton production has a keen eye on preserving its quality. Here’s a step-by-step description of how whole cottonseed goes from the field to cattle operations around the country.

Planting and Growth
Alabama farmer Mike Tate grows cotton, corn, soybeans and winter wheat. The growing season kicks off in February. Tate practices no-till farming to prevent soil erosion, so he sprays herbicides to remove existing vegetation.

Cotton planting begins during the last week of April. Cotton plants mature throughout the summer and are harvested in October.

Pest management is one component of growing cotton, according to Tate. He uses a cotton plant with Bt technology2; this genetically modified plant variety is resistant to lepidopterous insects, which reduces the need for late season pesticide applications.

Processing Cotton With Care
Once cotton is harvested, it is compacted into modules and sent to the cotton gin for processing.

Cotton gins use equipment to clean the cotton of debris. Among the first steps is to process the cotton through the “hot box,” which uses hot air to evaporate moisture so it’s easier to clean. Then, a machine called the “wad buster” shakes the cotton against a screen to break up clumps before it’s transported to a burr machine that uses centrifugal force to spin off any remaining detritus.

The cotton enters a machine called a “gin stand,” which is fitted with saws that separate the lint from the cottonseed. The saw teeth grab the lint and pull it through a narrow passage while the cottonseed falls onto a separate conveyor.
Once cottonseed is processed, it gets trucked, railed and barged to dairy farms across the country.

Nourishing Cows With Whole Cottonseed
This care pays off when it meets its end user. Nutritionist Carmen Monson recommends whole cottonseed because it provides a great balance of fiber, fat and protein–on average, 21% fiber, 17% fat and 24% protein, according to Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extension.3

“Because the fat is trapped within the layers of the hull, it breaks down more slowly, which allows the animal to utilize all the nutrients,” Monson said.

This slow release of fat combined with high digestible fiber yields higher milk production, typically with better butterfat content, according to a University of California, Davis study.4

For handling cottonseed, Monson recommends using a walking floor and dump truck rather than a hopper bottom truck. She also recommends that farmers without a commodity shed make space in a machine shed for storage.

If you’re ready to add whole cottonseed to your cattle’s diet, find qualified sellers of whole cottonseed on  

1. Cranston, J.J., et al. (2006). Effects of feeding whole cottonseed and cottonseed products on performance and carcass characteristics of finishing beef cattle. J.Anim. Sci. 84(8):2186–2199. doi:10.2527/jas.2005-669.
2. Hardee, D.D., Van Duyn, J.W., Layton, M.B. and Bagwell, R.D. (2000). Bt Cotton & Management of the Tobacco Budworm-Bollworm Complex. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, ARS–154. 40 pp.
3. Jacobs, L., Mullenix, K. and Brown, S. (2019). Whole Cottonseed Use in Beef Cattle Diets. Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extension.
4. DePeters, E.J., Taylor, S.J., Franke, A.A., Aguirre, A. (1985) Effects of feeding whole cottonseed on composition of milk. J Dairy Sci. Vol. 68, no. 4, pp. 897-902. doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(85)80907-3