Avoiding Gossypol Toxicity While Feeding Whole Cottonseed

Published on Thu, 09/22/2022 - 2:07pm

Avoiding Gossypol Toxicity While Feeding Whole Cottonseed.

By Cotton Incorporated.

 Whole cottonseed offers a great nutritional profile for cattle rations as a balanced source of fat, protein and fiber1, but farmers should educate themselves about gossypol toxicity, a rare complication that can occur when whole cottonseed is fed above the recommended rate.

Gossypol is a naturally occurring toxin found in the cotton plant.2 Ruminant animals like cattle can detoxify gossypol via microorganisms in the rumen that bind to the toxin so it can’t be absorbed.3 When fed at high levels, cattle can experience gossypol toxicity, which primarily causes heart damage and may have a temporary impact on bull fertility.4

Lower the risk of gossypol toxicity
Avoid feeding whole cottonseed to calves until the rumen develops around 4 months of age.3

Do not feed above the recommended ration levels. The maximum ration levels for whole cottonseed are 0.5% of body weight for mature cows and 0.33% of body weight for weaned calves.3

Avoid free-choice feeding and consider offering a mixed ration. Cattle sometimes prefer whole cottonseed over other components of the ration, leading to overconsumption.

“We don’t recommend free-choice feeding because some cows will eat a lot more than others, and calves would be able to eat a lot if they want to,” said Dr. Matt Poore of NC State University.

“Alternating individual ingredients … allows animals to eat more or less of feeds they like or don’t like.”

To avoid this, farmers should offer a mixed ration rather than alternating ingredients.

Allow all animals access to the cottonseed at once. Poore recommends mixing whole cottonseed with grain and spreading it on a feed bunk to ensure all animals have access to it at once.4

Avoid feeding bulls whole cottonseed 60 to 90 days before the start of breeding season.3

When fed appropriately, whole cottonseed shows little risk of gossypol toxicity and offers many benefits to dairy cows, beef cows or feeder animals. Whole cottonseed’s balanced composition of fat, protein and fiber provides the nutrition cattle need to be healthy and productive. Whole cottonseed has been shown to increase milk production and butterfat when added to dairy cow rations.5 It also provides an effective source of nutrition for beef cattle without any adverse effects on performance or carcass characteristics.6

With these tips, you can feel confident you’re giving your cattle all the powerful nutritional benefits whole cottonseed has to offer while eschewing the negative consequences of gossypol toxicity or reduced fertility.  

1Kellogg, D.W., Pennington, J.A., Johnson, Z.B. and Panivivat, R. (2001). Survey of management  practices used for the highest producing DHI herds in the United States. J. Dairy. Sci. Vol. 84, Supplement, E120– E127. doi:10.3168/-jds.S0022-0302(01)70206–8.
2Ely, L., Guthrie, L. (2012). Feeding whole cottonseed to dairy cows and replacements. University of Georgia Extension. https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=SB59&title=Fee....
3Myer, R.O., McDowell, L.R. (2003). Potential for gossypol toxicity when feeding whole cottonseed to beef cattle. This document is AN130, one of a series of the Animal Science Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/AN130
4Poore, M., Rogers, G. (1998). Potential for gossypol toxicity when feeding whole cottonseed. Department of Animal Science, NCSU. https://projects.ncsu.edu/cals/an_sci/extension/animal/nutr/mhp95-1.htm.
5Bernard, J.K. (1999). Performance of lactating dairy cows fed whole cottonseed coated with gelatinized cornstarch. J. Dairy. Sci. Vol. 82, no. 6, pp. 1305–1309., doi: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(99)75353-1
6Warner, A.L., et al. (2020). Effects of utilizing cotton byproducts in a finishing diet on beef cattle performance, carcass traits, fecal characteristics, and plasma metabolites. Am. Soc. of Anim. Sci. Vol. 98, issue 2, doi:10.1093/jas/skaa038.