STATUS of the WHOLE COTTONSEED CRAZE, Courtesy of TTHA

Status Of The Whole Cottonseed Craze     By Jason Shipman

Roughly 10 years ago, I penned an article on the use of whole cottonseed as a supplement for deer. While the use of whole cottonseed is now widespread, the same questions and misconceptions about this feed source continue to circle. We figured it might be time to revisit this topic and the status of the “whole cottonseed craze.”

Supplemental feeding in general has gained popularity in leaps and bounds over the years. Research has shown better production in supplemented deer herds including higher reproduction rates, increased antler growth and body weights, and increased longevity which has allowed ranches to carry bucks longer. With a variety of different products available in the market place, including a myriad of pelletized rations, you don’t have to look far to find a supplemental feed option. One supplement that has been gaining in popularity is whole cottonseed.

The history of cottonseed as a supplement is as far reaching as the rumors that abound regarding its use. South Texas ranchers have used it as a livestock cake supplement for as far back as anyone can remember. Seasoned cattlemen and ranchers recount past stories in which some of the best bucks were taken in the areas where cattle were being caked with whole cottonseed. Somewhere along the way, people noticed the correlation and cottonseed began use as a deer supplement.

Feeding of whole cottonseed has now become somewhat of a phenomenon. It’s considered by some on the cutting edge of management techniques. Truth is, whole cottonseed has been here for a long time, but more recently has become mainstream in the public spotlight. With so little understanding regarding the effects of whole cottonseed as a supplement, naturally the rumors fly regarding its use.

“It kills hogs.”

“It contains a natural de-wormer.”

“It will sterilize males.”

The majority of these rumors are unfounded. And without scientific evidence, they lack merit. One rumor that most will agree with is that it works.

Researchers from the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville have worked to gather information and a scientific understanding regarding the effects of the use of whole cottonseed as a supplemental feed source. Led by Dr. David Hewitt, the institute conducted a series of research projects, funded by the Comanche Ranch. Research focused on the concerns that gossypol, a naturally occurring chemical or pigment found in whole cottonseed, may be toxic and reduce reproductive ability when consumed in high amounts. Findings indicated no ill or adverse effects in deer whose diets were composed of up to 30 percent whole cottonseed. Researchers also found that deer limited or regulated their own intake of whole cottonseed when placed on 50 percent whole cottonseed diets in captivity. These important findings suggest that overall health and reproduction is not compromised and consumption is not a concern when supplementing a wild free-ranging deer herd.

Introducing deer to whole cottonseed is much like introducing them to any other new feed type. It will take time for them to get used to something new. For some deer herds, and even individual deer, it will occur rather quickly, while it will take longer for others.

Whole cottonseed feeders can be made from v-mesh wire and a t-post. Simply use the wire to make a cylinder about 2 feet in diameter, and use the t-post to hold it in place. There is no need to wire the t-post to the basket because you will want to shake the baskets down from time to time. Whole cottonseed feeders need to be fenced off from livestock.

For best results, locate feeders near existing feed sources and close to a water source. Scatter some corn around the area close to the new cottonseed baskets. For increased success, introduce new feed types during the first quarter of the year (Jan./Feb./March), when the habitat and deer are both stressed. The majority of ranches feeding whole cottonseed will start feeding in January and let feeders run out in September. It is always better to err on the side of caution, and while research shows that deer regulate intake, it also shows that gossypol leaves the bloodstream in 4-6 weeks, eliminating any chances of sterility effecting reproduction rates.

The benefits of feeding whole cottonseed are obvious. It is high in protein, energy, fiber, and deer will readily eat it. Digestibility has been found to be compatible to that of the pelletized rations. While it is not a full ration feed and does not have a full mineral package, it makes up for it in other areas. Many like the fact that it is a “natural” feed and as such, is used to make many types of commercial feeds. It is generally cheaper than most pelletized feeds and there is less feed loss to non-target animals. Although little is actually known regarding its use, the general consensus is that it works. I have consistently seen great antler jumps while feeding whole cottonseed and have found that it helps put weight on deer and recover the body condition of post rut bucks. Landowners and wildlife managers with other ranches have reported similar findings.

Despite the many positive aspects of feeding whole cottonseed, there are some drawbacks. It can be labor intensive after handling multiple times, and it has its limitations. If you are not close to a cotton gin, it is not altogether easy to find. It generally must be purchased in bulk quantity and hauled or trucked in.

Keeping this in mind, availability often depends upon the farming year as well. With recent rains, we have experienced some record-setting cotton crops. Despite weather, irrigated fields provide a consistent source in tough times.

Once a source is located, purchased, and delivered, it must be stored and kept in a dry place. Then comes the fun part! It has to be shoveled into feeders consisting of troughs or wire baskets. Faced with a growing demand for whole cottonseed, some feed stores are now selling it in sacks, simplifying this entire process.

For those who don’t mind a little extra work, the results from ranches using whole cottonseed appear to be worth the trouble. Whole cottonseed has been added as an integral part of many management programs. Deer are selective feeders, foraging about and eating a little of this and a little of that. Keeping this in mind, multiple options of high quality feeds make sense.

While cottonseed does not replace protein pellets developed by nutritionists that have full-ration mineral packages, which include all macro and micronutrients needed, whole cottonseed does round out a solid feeding program. Eliminating the peaks and valleys between rainfall and changing range conditions is the goal, and consistency is the key when it comes to a supplemental feeding program. Pellets and whole cottonseed complement each other well, and elevating the nutritional plane will help maximize the full potential of your deer herd.

Article Courtesy of Texas Trophy Hunters Association