An important component of any deer management program is ensuring the physical health of individual white-tailed deer as well as the overall deer herd. Individual deer health is important for maintaining body mass, promoting maximum antler growth in bucks, and optimal milk production in does.
Because the energy and protein requirements of deer have become more understood over the years, deer managers now focus much of their attention on meeting and even exceeding the food requirements of white-tailed deer. This can be done in either of two ways, either from native habitat or through supplemental food.
Feeding Cottonseed to Deer
Although protein pellets ranging from 16 to 20% protein are often offered in free-choice feeders, people often consider other sources of protein for diet supplementation. Several sources of “alternative” protein include crop seeds such as soybeans and whole cottonseed. However, cottonseed contains a compound known as gossypol, a toxic pigment the plant naturally produces and is believed to discourage consumption by animals.
Gossypol can reduce reproductive ability in some mammals when consumed at high rates. Fortunately, recent research in Texas has found that white-tailed deer are not negatively effected by whole cottonseed, even when it makes up a high percentage of a buck’s diet.
LSONEWS: “We’ve done a series of independent projects,” said David Hewitt, the institute’s Stuart W. Stedman Chair for White-tailed Deer research. “We had five bucks on a 40-percent whole cottonseed diet and five bucks on pellets and chopped alfalfa from June through September. We looked at body weight, semen samples, and blood. We did not see any negative effects the first year.
The bucks on 40-percent whole cottonseed did lose some weight while the other bucks (on pellets and alfalfa) did not. Again, there were no toxic effects on the sperm or red blood cells. The bucks maintained their weight while the control group bucks gained weight. The doe weights did not change.”
Cottonseed by the Numbers
At over 22 percent crude protein, cottonseed is a high-protein food alternative that is also rich in phosphorus, one of the most limited nutrients in native forages. Phosphorus is important for bodily growth as well as antler growth in bucks. In addition to white-tailed deer performing well on cottonseed, there are some other positives surrounding the feeding of whole cottonseed.
Non-target species, such as feral hogs, raccoons and other varmints do not eat whole cottonseed. These animals do not even have to be excluded from cottonseed feeders as they will not use it as part of their diet. This will help your bottom line by limiting consumption by animals other than your target species, whitetail deer.
Whole Cottonseed for Deer
Cottonseed is a solid choice as a supplement for whitetail because it’s high in protein and fat and does not easily degrade under moist conditions. In fact, you can simply place cottonseed out on the ground or in a free-choice feeder.
EasiFlo cottonseed has the same nutritional benefits as regular (fuzzy) whole cottonseed, but is starch-coated to improve handling. This new cottonseed flows freely and can easily be augered through traditional grain-handling equipment. This choice really does make feeding cottonseed for deer easy and increases the options for the deer manager and hunter.
Cottonseed for Bucks
Whole cottonseed as a supplemental food for deer is great choice for maintaining the physical health of a herd. It is especially effective for improving the body condition of bucks following the rut. Because cottonseed is high in protein and fat it allows post-rut bucks to put weight back on rapidly, meaning more energy is reserved for antler growth which is just a few months down the road.
Feeding cottonseed will increase deer body condition, help improve annual fawn production and allow for increased antler development in bucks, but as a feed it should not be considered a complete ration for white-tailed deer. It’s not a one-stop-shop, but whole cottonseed is a great supplement for whitetail.
Whole cottonseed lacks many of the micro- and macro-nutrients that protein pellets contain. And although cottonseed has many great qualities, its availability may be limited in your area. Remember, regardless of whether you decide to supplement a deer herd through protein pellets, crop seeds, or food plots, supplements are only intended to compliment native forage, particularly during periods of stress.