Alternative Feed Options: Cottonseed, Hulls, Rice Straw, Canola Hay, Brewer Grain (1/3)

All this week on Table Talk we are discussing alternative feed options for ruminants.

In these dry times, grain and hay prices are at soaring highs and stockpiles are becoming exhausted. As there remains a continued need to feed stock on hand, we thought it might be worthwhile to investigate if there are other opportunities out there for producers to consider.

This first post will outline alternative feed options for producers. Our second post will focus on more novel feed opportunities, and our final post for the week will concentrate on what we all need to be aware of when sourcing and using alternative feeds.

Cottonseed byproducts

Whole cottonseed, cottonseed hulls, cottonseed meal and gin trash are all options to consider as an alternative feed source.


Tara Felix of Pennsylvania State University stated:

Whole cottonseed can come delinted or “fuzzy”. Fuzzy cottonseed has been touted by some as a near perfect supplement for cattle (Blezinger, 1999) because it contains the meat and oil from the seed, as well as some additional fiber from the fuzzy lint that covers the seed.

White cottonseed is a high energy feedstuff with high protein levels, palatable, and easy handled, transported and stored. Cottonseed typically contains 15-21% CP and 17% fat, however the composition can be affected by conditions during growing and harvesting. For whole cottonseed, the approximate composition is:

  • dry matter: 90 to 93%
  • digestibility: 80%
  • energy: 12 – 14 MJ ME/kg
  • crude protein: 19 to 24%
  • oil: 15 to 18%
  • calcium: 0.15 %
  • phosphorus: 0.75%

In regards to the other byproducts:

  • Cotton hulls contain very little protein
  • Cotton meal is a byproduct of lint and cottonseed oil. Meal is a popular source of protein for cattle feeders at 36 to 41% protein. The State Government of Victoria notes that energy levels are somewhat lower than those found in some other protein supplements such as coconut meal, soybean meal and linseed meal.
  • Gin trash can be used as a cattle feed and is best recommended for cows in the last trimester, due to its poor digestibility and limited nutrient supply. It can provide an economic feed for cows without putting too much fat on them; however, it may not be palatable when first fed.

Storage levels are currently unknown. For key tips on feeding cottonseed from a veterinarian, refer to this recent article in The Land. Andrew Biddle, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services district veterinarian, states in the article:

“Young calves and lambs should not be fed white cottonseed as their rumens are still developing.”

NSW Department of Primary Industries does not recommend the use of cottonseed at more than 30% of the total dry matter intake, even in severe drought. It should always be feed with roughage.


Feeding rates for different classes of cattle (NSW Department of Industries)

Feeding rates for different classes of sheep (Queensland Government)

Stay tuned for our third post for more tips on feeding out.

Almond Hull

Dairy Australia note that almond hull is a good forage extender and has medium effective fibre value when fed whole. They also note it is:

  • A reasonable energy source with very good palatability.
  • Low in protein.
  • Available whole and milled. Whole almond hulls have a higher effective fibre value but a lower bulk density

State Government of Victoria state that almond hull products products vary considerably due to varietal differences and harvesting procedures.

Soft almond hull, having about 10 per cent fibre, is a good feed and has about 85 per cent of the energy value of barley grain. However, some supplies of almond hulls are contaminated with sticks, dirt, hard shells and other foreign materials at harvest time.

They note:

  • When mixed with other ingredients in commercial concentrate mixes, almond hulls usually are restricted to 20 per cent or less in order to maintain high nutrient levels and palatability of the concentrate mix.
  • In complete feedlot rations, almond hulls are limited to about 30 per cent or less.
Dairy Australia

Brewers Grains

Brewer’s grains are the byproducts of different grains, predominantly barley for the beer industry, and they can be a good source of protein and energy. There is inherent variability from source to source and storage and handling can be difficult. Brewer’s grains contain 26 to 29% CP and 6 to 10% fat (DMB). However, reports of up to 12% fat, or greater, have been cited (Pennsylvania State University)

Although the brewing process makes the protein less soluble it could be valuable in rations and it can be fed both wet and dry. State Government of Victoria note that:

  • In the dry form they have about 80 per cent of the energy value of barley grain (the energy value varies depending on the brewery and additives used in the brewing process).
  • They are not as palatable in the dried form as the original grain and usually are included as 25 per cent or less of a dairy concentrate mix, and 1 – 20 per cent in feedlot rations.

Canola Hay

In areas where frost damage occurred, there may be canola hay and silage available. Lengthy withholding periods will apply.

It is recommended:

  • Vendor declarations must be sought from feed suppliers in these situations to manage risk
  • Canola hay that has not been aggressively conditioned may have sharp stalk ends and these can pose a problem to animals by piercing the rumen.
  • There have been reported instances of nitrate poisoning from canola products and it is recommended that canola hay or silage is not fed as a sole ration or to starving animals.

Rice Straw

Dairy Australia note the following about rice straw:

  • A poor nutritional quality forage, but high effective fibre value.
  • sole purpose in the diet is to help stimulate chewing and saliva production, and maintain a fibre mat in the rumen
  • Low in energy and protein.
  • High in silica and low in lignin compared to other straws.
  • Beware palatability and intake issues.

State Government of Victoria note the following in regards to rice hay and rice hulls:

  • Rice Hay
    • generally a good, palatable roughage of equivalent feed value to cereal hays
    • known to contain significant levels of silica and oxalate, both of which may cause problems to livestock
    • if fed as the roughage in a hay and grain diet, it is suggested that 1.5 per cent limestone and 0.5 per cent salt be fed to correct the calcium: phosphorus balance and levels in the ration.
    • can contain a range of weeds, such as umbrella sedge, barnyard grass, starfruit and wild millet.
  • Rice Hulls
    • have practically no feed value but can be useful as bedding material for livestock.
    • very high in crude fibre and silica and the fibre is largely indigestible.
    • However, up to 15 per cent of unground rice hulls can be included as a roughage source in drought rations being fed to livestock.

Treating straw with urea

When straw is relatively cheap and widely available there has been some success in adding urea to improve the nutritional value. This can improve the protein level significantly (e.g. 2 -14 per cent) but is likely to be low in energy and will require supplementation with grain or other high energy ration (State Government of Victoria). Recommendations include:

  • To treat 1 tonne of straw, dissolve 50 kg of urea fertiliser in 850 litres of water and spray the solution onto the straw.
  • The straw needs to be contained airtight (covered in plastic) and left 7 – 10 days in summer (longer in winter).
  • Animals will take a while to adapt and caution must be exercised to avoid urea toxicity.


Molasses, although low in protein, are a good source of energy. It can be a very cheap source of energy, however it can be difficult to handle, store and mix. It is noted that the energy value of cane molasses decreases rapidly when it is increased from 10 – 30 per cent of the total ration (State Government of Victoria). In feedlot rations, up to 15 per cent is an acceptable level.

Both molasses and urea can be added to poor quality straw to improve palatability and protein levels.

The Queensland Government noted the following rations for sheep:

  • Older stock maintenance: An 8% protein meal/molasses mix (25kg meal: 200L of molasses) is suitable for maintenance of older stock
  • Weaners and poor stock: A 16% protein meal/molasses mix (50kg meal: 200L molasses) is suitable for weaners and poor stock.
  • You can add 1.5% urea (thoroughly dissolved) to the mix to improve the protein content and still keep it relatively safe (5 kg: 200L of molasses).

Additional sources of alternative feeds include:

Forages/Fibrous Coproducts

  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Canola forage (grazed, hayed, silage)
  • Canola straw
  • Cattails
  • Cover Crops
  • Millet Hay
  • Mint Hay or silage
  • Mustard Hay or silage
  • Safflower Hay
  • Slough Hay
  • Small grain Hay
  • Sorghum (Forage)
  • Soybean Hay
  • Sunflower Silage

Straws, Residues and Fibrous Coproducts

  • Ammoniated straw
  • Buckwheat hay, hulls or straw
  • Cereal straw
  • Chaff (small grain)
  • Chickpea residue
  • Corn stover (harvested)
  • Corn cobs
  • Corn residue (grazed)
  • Field pea residue and regrowth
  • Flax straw
  • Lentil straw
  • Millet straw
  • Oat hulls
  • Soybean residue
  • Sunflower residue
  • Sunflower hulls

Roots, Tubers and Associated Coproducts

  • Beets: pulp, tops, top silage, tailings
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Potato waste
  • Onions
  • Turnips

Grains, Grain Coproducts and Screenings

  • Barley malting coproducts
  • Bread and bakery coproducts
  • Buckwheat
  • Chickpeads
  • Distillers Grains plus Solubles
  • Emmer and Spelt
  • Faba Beans
  • Field Peas
  • Grain Millet
  • Grain sorghum
  • Lentils
  • Lupins
  • Rye
  • Screenings: Corn, Field Pea, Grain, Sunflower, Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Tritcale
  • Wild Oats

Oilseeds and oilseed coproducts

  • Camelina and camelina meal
  • Canola and canola meal
  • Flax
  • Linseed meal
  • Mustard bran
  • Safflower and safflower meal
  • Soybeans, soybean hulls
  • Sunflower meal and seeds

To learn about any of these, head here. We will be discussing some of the more novel feedstuffs in our next blog.

State Government of Victoria