Despite higher prices, nutritionists still consider nutrient-dense cottonseed one of the most cost-effective feeds.

Like so many other dairy feed ingredient costs in 2007, whole fuzzy cottonseed prices reached new heights. Reduced 2007 cotton plantings, along with increased demand among biodiesel manufacturers and crushers for cottonseed, has intensified the rivalry among feed, food and fuel interests vying for a share of the cottonseed supply. Yet, many dairy producers, especially those on the West Coast, appear undeterred by climbing prices.

"There is a new threshold for what producers are willing to pay for this feed ingredient," notes Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing, Cotton Incorporated. "The ceiling used to be $200 per ton, but we're nearing $300 per ton in many markets. We haven't seen people backing away from cottonseed, even at these prices; they're still buying it and feeding it to their cows."

"For many progressive producers, cottonseed is so paramount, they'll build the rest of the ration around it," he continues. "If prices are high, they may reduce usage of cottonseed, but they try not to take it out entirely. There's some minimum level they want to feed."

Dr. Carl Old, an independent nutritionist in Le Grand, Calif., says cottonseed is still cost-effective in the big picture: "Feed prices are about 50 percent higher now than they were when milk was half the price. At $20-per-undredweight milk, $240-300 per ton of cottonseed is still a pretty good buy. You just can't replace whole fuzzy cottonseed in a ration."

Old, who consults for about 20 large dairies in California and New Mexico, says cottonseed is critical for increasing butterfat. "We haven't reduced cottonseed in a single ration. Especially in the Western United States, where a lot of milk is going into cheese production, higher butterfat is the goal.

"There is a misconception that milk protein is the biggest factor affecting cheese yield, but in reality, the butterfat has the greater impact on cheese yield," he continues.

Dr. Paul Chandler, a regular Dairyline radio contributor, adds that while removing a proven component like cottonseed from the ration isn't advised, producers may want to "use judiciously."

"Current economics probably don't justify general feeding of whole fuzzy cottonseed across the entire herd," he says. "However, for dairy cows with extremely high levels of production and those under the stresses of transition, cottonseed should remain a top priority."

Wedegaertner notes that cottonseed supplies will continue to be tight through early 2008, but that higher-than-expected cotton yields this fall is "good news." On November 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast domestic cottonseed production to reach 6.54 million tons in 2007, up 252,000 tons from the October estimate of 6.29 million tons.

"Increased corn and soybean plantings cannibalized a good deal of cotton acreage, but higher yields are helping make up lost ground, thanks to ideal growing conditions in Texas," he says.

Cottonseed is an excellent and economical source of fiber, protein and energy. Typical rations include up to 15 percent cottonseed on a dry matter basis. For more information on cottonseed, including reports on market conditions, feeding information and a list of suppliers, visit www.cottoninc.com.

Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton. The Program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton.