Pasture and Forage Minute: Hay Feeding Concerns

Cattle eating hay

Pasture and Forage Minute: Hay Feeding Concerns

Removing Net Wrap and Twine

By Jerry Volesky

Is twine or net wrap good feed? Obviously not, but it can cause health problems if animals eat too much of it. 

Feeding hay is work. To lighten the workload of feeding hay, we often take shortcuts and leave some twine or net wrap on the bales. And whether we want them to or not, animals eat some of that twine.

There is the potential for twine to accumulate in the rumen of cattle and cause obstruction. Research at North Dakota State University has confirmed this risk and provided further information on what happens to twine when cattle eat it.

In a series of experiments, the North Dakota research first showed that neither plastic net wrap nor biodegradable twine get digested by rumen microbes. The old-fashioned sisal twine, however, does get digested, although quite a bit more slowly than hay.

In another study, net wrap was included in the ration fed to steers for an extended period of time. Then, 14 days before the steers were harvested, the net wrap was removed from the feed to learn if the net wrap eaten earlier might get cleared out of the rumen and digestive system. Turns out, it was still in the rumen even after 14 days. 

So, what should you do? First, remember that it doesn’t appear to be a health concern very often. Cows obviously are more at risk than feedlot animals. So, it might be wise to remove as much twine — especially plastic twine — as can be removed easily from bales before feeding. Twine in ground hay may be less of a problem since more of it is likely to pass completely through the animal.

Think about how shortcuts and work-reducing actions you take this winter might affect your animals. Then act accordingly.  

Deciphering a Hay Test — Protein and Energy

By Ben Beckman

All hay is not created equal. Two major values we often judge hay quality on are protein and energy, both of which vary from year to year and between crops. So how do we use these values when deciding what and how much hay to feed?

Protein values in hay tests are typically reported as percent Crude Protein (CP). This measures the nitrogen portion of the hay. Not only is this protein important for rumen microbes, but it is also important for animal maintenance and growth.

When looking at hay energy values, one common measure often used is TDN or Total Digestible Nutrients. TDN is the sum of the digestible fiber, protein, lipid and carbohydrate components of a feedstuff.

Knowing TDN is useful especially for diets that are primarily forage. Without consideration, diets may be lacking energy as much or more than crude protein. Low energy diet can be as impactful to animal condition and performance as those lacking in protein.   

Being familiar with how animal requirements for protein and energy change between animal class and with demands like pregnancy or lactation can help with decisions about how hay is fed. Keep in mind that in addition to these base demands, environmental conditions like temperature can impact animal needs in the short-term as well. With this knowledge, we can feed lower quality hay to dry cows and save high quality hay for pairs at peak lactation or growing animals. This not only ensures animals are properly fed but can also help control feed costs.

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