Including Cottonseed Meal in Organic Poultry Diets

eOrganic author:

Dr. Jacquie Jacob Ph.D., University of Kentucky

NOTE: Before using any feed ingredient make sure that the ingredient is organic, listed in your Organic System Plan, and approved by your certifier.


With each 100 pounds of fiber produced, cotton plants (Gossypium) produce about 155 pounds of cottonseed (National Cottonseed Products Association). Less than 5% of the cottonseed produced is saved for next year's crop. Whole cottonseed meal can be fed to ruminant animals (e.g. cattle, goats, and sheep). Oil can also be extracted from cottonseed. Before World War II, cottonseed oil was the major vegetable oil produced in the United States. Cottonseed meal is a byproduct of oil extraction that can be used in animal agriculture.

Care must be taken when purchasing cottonseed meal. Transgenic varieties have been developed that result in insecticidal cotton. No transgenic or genetically modified products can be used in organic poultry feed (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000).

 § 205.2 Terms defined.

Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.


Cottonseed meal has less crude protein, dietary energy, and available lysine content than the soybean meal used in conventional systems (Lordelo et al., 2004). In addition, cottonseed meal contains gossypol—an antinutritional agent. Gossypol can result in the formation of an iron-gossypol complex that gets deposited in the egg yolk. The result is a discoloration to the yolks that can vary from olive to dark brown, depending on the amount present and whether or not the iron-gossypol reaction occurs. This discoloration increases during egg storage (Schaible et al., 1934). As little as 0.1% residual gossypol in cottonseed meal is enough to cause the darkening of the yolk (Lordelo et al., 2004). Newer, glandless cottonseed meals have been developed that almost eliminate gossypol (Ryan et al., 1986). However, these varieties are not compatible with organic production because they were developed using genetic modification methods. Cottonseed meal also contains cyclopropenoid fatty acids that can result in a pink color to the albumen. The expander-solvent extraction procedure now used in the production of commercial cottonseed meal destroys the heat-sensitive cyclopropenoid fatty acids, but solvent extraction cannot be used in the production of organic cottonseed meal (USDA, 2000).

§ 205.270 Organic handling requirements.

(c) The handler of an organic handling operation must not use in or on agricultural products intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)),” or in or on any ingredients labeled as organic:

(1) Practices prohibited under paragraphs (e) and (f) of §205.105.

(2) A volatile synthetic solvent or other synthetic processing aid not allowed under §205.605: Except, that, nonorganic ingredients in products labeled “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” are not subject to this requirement.

Table 1. Nutrient content of solvent and mechanically extracted cottonseed meal (Batal and Dale, 2010)

Dry matter, % 90 91
Metabolizable energy, kcal/kg 1940 2100
Metabolizable energy, kcal/lb 880 955
Crude protein, % 41.1 41.1
Methionine,% 0.52 0.55
Cysteine, % 0.64 0.59
Lysine, % 1.65 1.52
Threonine, % 1.32 1.30
Tryptophan, % 0.47 0.50
Crude fat, % 1.5 3.9
Crude fiber, % 12.7 12.6
Ash, % 6.4 6.2
Calcium,% 0.17 0.17
Total phosphorus, % 1.00 0.97
Available phosphorus, % 0.32 0.32

Feeding Cottonseed Meal to Poultry


Research has shown that good quality cottonseed meal can replace soybean meal in broiler diets if the diets are formulated to a slightly higher protein level (Sterling et al., 2002). The assumption is that the cottonseed meal is not as digestible as soybean meal, so higher levels of protein are required to supply the same level of essential amino acids. It is important, therefore, to formulate diets based on digestible rather than total amino acid levels. Henry et al. (2001) found that cottonseed meal could successfully replace soybean meal in broiler diets if the diets were supplemented with lysine.

Broiler Breeder Pullets

During the rearing of broiler breeder pullets, it is necessary to restrict feed consumption to prevent meat and body fat deposition that can adversely affect the subsequent reproductive efficiency of the flock. The lower nutrient density of cottonseed meal makes it possible to formulate diets that reduce the severity of feed restriction required during the growing period. The use of cottonseed meal as the main protein source in the growing diets for broiler breeder pullets has been shown to improve flock body weight uniformity with no subsequent loss in laying performance (Lordelo et al., 2004).

Laying hens

Restricted use of cottonseed meal in the past was due to the gossypol found in the pigment glands of cottonseed. In laying hens, gossypol reduces feed intake and efficiency, and decreases egg production and body weight gain. Gossypol also adversely affects interior egg quality due to egg yolk discoloration (ranging from olive color to dark brown). In addition, cottonseed oil contains cyclopropenoid fatty acids, resulting in egg yolk mottling and pink albumen (Lordelo et al., 2004).

Induced molting of laying hens has been a common practice in the U.S. commercial egg industry to rejuvenate the reproductive tract for improved egg production and quality. In the past, typical molting programs involved a reduction in the hours of light for the hens, and a removal of feed until the hens lose 25% of their body weight. Alternatives to complete feed removal have been investigated. Cottonseed has been shown to have a possible role in the induction of molt in laying hens. Diets with 50% ground cottonseed have been shown to be equivalent in effectiveness in inducing a molt to that produced by complete feed withdrawal (Davis et al., 2002).

References and Citations

Published October 15, 2013

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.