Producers have tried various types of twine and tactics to avoid having to fight to remove frozen twine from round bales on a frigid day. It’s time consuming, frustrating and at time dangerous when you have cows pushing around the bales as you are trying to unpeel some frozen twine.
Dropping unwrapped bales to be grazed in the hayfield might be an option, but only when they will be used fairly soon after baling. When you bale fall or winter feed in July, Lorne Klein, a forage specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, recommends you use some type of wrapping to keep that hay sound.
The disadvantages of not wrapping bales at all are that wind can really wreak havoc with loose bales, they don’t shed rain, wildlife can easily get into them, and you won’t be able to move or store them if you need to, he explains.
Some producers wrap the bales as usual, leave them where they drop or place them out on the land to be bale grazed, then remove the twine late in the fall before it freezes onto the bales. The drawbacks are the same as not wrapping the bales at all, however, damage is usually less severe because of the shorter length of time between twine removal and consumption.
Feed wastage and fouling is an issue when grazing bales without twine. Cattle break them apart, get on top of the feed, and rummage through the bale eating the best without cleaning up the rest unless they have to. Snow drifting into partially eaten bales can make them inaccessible.
Many producers reduce feed wastage by using portable electric fences to limit access to an allotted number of bales every few days. Placing lightweight round bale feeders over the allotted bales is an additional measure to prevent feed wastage.
Klein highly discourages leaving plastic twine on bales during bale grazing. Plastic twine can be extremely difficult to pick up after grazing because it gets tangled in the leftover feed, he explains. Twine left laying on the ground is a potential hazard to the cattle in that it could get caught in their hooves or tangled around their legs and heads. Ingestion of the twine is another worry, though there has never been any formal research to determine whether or not plastic twine causes digestive problems.
Producers indicate that the problem of eartags getting caught in twine and pulling out of the ear doesn’t appear to be as much of an issue with bales wrapped with sisal twine and net wrap.
Short of leaving bales unwrapped or bale processing, using sisal twine is the only way to eliminate the chore of removing plastic twine or gathering up net wrap. Sisal twine degrades on its own, but the disadvantage is that it may degrade too quickly on the side of the bales next to damp ground. Again, this will make it difficult to move the bales if necessary.
The cost of sisal twine may or may not be a drawback, Klein adds. It costs
about twice as much per foot as plastic twine, therefore, the cost per bale depends on the number of wraps you put on each bale.
Though net wrap costs the most per bale, it appears to have some advantages when making and feeding the bales. There’s minimal leaf loss when wrapping the bale and it’s quick — one-and-a-half to two revolutions and the bale is wrapped.
Leaving net wrap on bales for bale grazing creates a ready-made bale feeder of sorts that may eliminate the need to control access with an electric wire. The bales can be left lying as they come out of the baler and grazed from each end. Some producers tip them onto the flat side, then slice the net once or twice from the top down about two feet on the bales they want the cattle to graze. Those who have tried bale grazing with net-wrapped bales say that gathering the net wrap is far easier than dealing with a mess of plastic twine after the bales have been eaten.
Mark Neuman of Frobisher, Sask. is a cow-calf producer and group plan adviser with the Upper Souris Agri-Environmental Group Plan. In the effort to improve efficiencies in his operation, he began using net-wrapped bales for bale grazing two winters ago. He says he doesn’t see anything at the moment that is a detriment to the cows and doesn’t foresee making any changes this winter.
He leaves the bales as is when they come out of the baler in the hayfield to be bale grazed and allots a month’s supply at a time for 140 pairs. Neuman’s experience is that once the cattle open up a net-wrapped bale, they continue to graze it before starting a new bale. He’s not aware that he has lost any eartags because of the net wrap.
It takes only 30 seconds or so to pick up the net wrap from each bale. He’ll gather it in the winter if he has time, but for the most part, he picks it up in the spring before there is any significant new growth. A real time saver was hiring the 4-H club. He appreciated a job well done and the club appreciated the money.
Word of caution
Whether using net wrap, plastic twine or sisal twine, Klein’s top tip for producers who are considering winter bale grazing for the first time is to work into it gradually.
“Don’t take your whole winter feed supply out there. Maybe try setting out enough to carry you through to January 1. See what you think and what the cows think until they get used to the new system,” he explains. “It’s easier to place more bales out for bale grazing than it is to try to bring the bales in from the field later in the winter.”
Klein and Travis Peardon, SMA livestock development specialist, pulled together resources from SMA and various other sources to author the booklet BALE GRAZING AND THE BALE GRAZING CALCULATOR. It is available online at www.agriculture.sk.ca,at SMA rural service centres, or by calling the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377, or 306-694-3727 for out-of-province callers.