QUESTION: Have there been any studies conducted on the effects of feeding cottonseed to "low fence" or "free range" whitetails? More specifically, how does cottonseed effect antler growth and a buck's ability to reproduce? -- Lonnie B.
ANSWER: I have to admit, being an easterner, I had never heard of feeding cottonseed to deer until I was on a hunt in west Texas several years ago. And, I was quite impressed with how attractive it was to the deer.
After doing a little more research, I learned that cottonseed has some desirable qualities as deer feed. It's less expensive than protein pellets, and non-target species, such as hogs and raccoons, don't eat it. That makes cottonseed even less costly than other types of feed. However, cottonseed does have some undesirable side effects.
According to Charles DeYoung of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, cottonseed contains a chemical called "gossypol" that can have detrimental effects on deer.
Their research showed "... male domestic ruminants fed high concentrations of cottonseed for extended periods have decreased reproductive ability."
Furthermore, results indicated that fallow deer that were fed cottonseed for an extended period of time experienced a reduction in antler growth.
DeYoung noted a common pattern of feeding is to begin January 1 and continue until spring green-up. Then, feeding resumes once the weather turns hot with cottonseed being kept available to deer until the end of September or October.
He writes, "Deer will usually quit eating the feed anyway in the early spring."