In the Upper Midwest, stored forages bound with net wrap or twine are predominate winter feedstuffs on livestock operations. A concern often expressed by producers, is if binding material needs to be removed prior to feeding bales, as consumption and possible accumulation might have a negative impact on the performance and health of animals. The goal of a needs assessment conducted this past December by SDSU Extension was to evaluate producer preference for forage binding materials, feeding methods and impact of binding material on livestock performance. This survey was conducted online with QuestionPro Survey Software and distributed via University websites, social media, email lists, and news releases.
The needs assessment was completed by 548 respondents: primarily beef cow/calf producers (80%), as well as beef feedlot producers (5%), dairy producers (2.5%) and sheep producers (2%). Preferred method for binding forage was net wrap (67%) vs twine (26%) for most respondents, with 6% alternating between the two based on forage purpose (crop or livestock).
With several ways to feed bound forages to livestock, removal varied based on feeding method.
- 54% remove net wrap or twine before feeding whole bales (in bale feeder or on the ground)
- 11% removed prior to grinding/ processing bales
- 24% do not remove net wrap or twine prior to feeding whole bales or processing bales
- 11% sometimes remove binding material before feeding bales to livestock
By assessing forage binding material preferences and likelihood of removing these prior to feeding, incidence of consumption and possible accumulation might be determined. When binding materials were not removed prior to feeding, 46% of respondents have observed livestock eating binding materials that remain on the ground. Even when forages are processed with binding materials still in place, long strands of plastic material can be found and when consumed by livestock can accumulate in the rumen. Long-term feeding of forages without prior removal of binding material can cause rumen accumulation and pose challenges to livestock health. Symptoms of net wrap impaction reported by livestock producers include reduced feed intake and depressed performance. Annual average death loss on cow/calf operations is 2%. If a greater occurrence is observed, contact your local veterinarian to conduct postmortem exams upon mortalities and examine animals for binding material accumulation in the G.I. tract. Forty-one respondents found net wrap/ twine accumulation during a postmortem exam and 30% of respondents believe binding materials may be a leading cause of death on their farms and ranches.
Based on the results of this needs assessment, there is documented negative impacts of livestock consuming forage binding materials (net wrap and twine) on livestock health and performance. The obvious solution to eliminate this issue is to remove all binding prior to feeding bound forages to livestock. Yet, the constraints of increased labor and feed waste are realistic obstacles that livestock producers face when making the decision to remove binding. While there are sisal and solar biodegradable binding options, a digestible net wrap/ twine product would be of interest to 86% of respondents if it was cost effective, of equal strength to conventional binding and environmentally stable. Overall, 58% of respondents are interested in learning the best management practices for feeding bound forages to livestock.
With haying season coming soon, take time to consider alternatives in binding materials and how to minimize binding accumulation by potentially decreasing the number of wraps per bale, using a smaller screen size when grinding hay, or hiring extra labor to remove binding prior to feeding/ processing hay.
SDSU Extension will continue to pursue research on management practices that may reduce negative impacts of binding consumption on livestock health and performance. Programming will be designed to assist livestock producers in understanding the long-term impacts of binding ingestion and accumulation.
If you have comments, questions, or concerns on this needs assessment or would like to attend a future program, please contact Taylor Grussing.