Pasture and Forage Minute: Water Costs for Grazing Cattle, Twine in Feed

Cattle eating hay during winter
There are many factors to consider when deciding who should bear the cost of water for cattle grazing cornstalks — Nebraska Extension's NebGuide EC821 can help producers and landowners calculate the costs and come to an equitable solution. See below for more.

Pasture and Forage Minute: Water Costs for Grazing Cattle, Twine in Feed

Cost of Water for Cattle Grazing on Cornstalks

By Shannon Sand

Recently I have been asked about how much the cost of accessing water for grazing cattle on cornstalks should be. This is difficult to answer because of factors such as distance from the field, who is going to pay for pipes to go from the well to the cattle, and maintenance costs, just to name a few.

The easiest option would be to use either USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) or Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) rates. For example, ERS estimates off-farm per acre surface water to cost between $10-$85 dollars (which when $85/acre is converted it’s $0.00026/gallon); groundwater between $7-$69 and on-farm surface water between $0-$15. This range is due to many factors such as distance to water source, materials, etc.

For producers or landowners interested in pricing water for animals grazing cornstalks, who bears the cost will be important. Some questions to ask are: Does the cattle producer pay the cost for materials, supplies and labor or does the landowner? Also, maintenance? No one wants a busted pipe in winter, but it does happen.

The time of the year can also factor in determining water costs, as dry cattle in cold weather drink on average one gallon per 100 weight, and twice that in summer; and lactating cows require almost twice as much water compared to dry cows. All these factors can make a lot of difference when determining the cost of water.

UNL has an extension circular on water development costs for grazing livestock to help with calculations. In the end, it is up to the producer and landowner to come up with an equitable solution.

Remove 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.

To lighten the workload when 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. 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. And 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.

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