While wrap and netting can help extend the life of baled forages, it has potentially drawbacks for livestock producers.
While some producers see no need to remove net wrap before feeding hay, according to the University of Missouri Extension, net wrap is generally made from recycled HDPE plastics, like empty milk jugs. It is not made to be biodegradable or digestible, nor are some bale twines.
Cattle usually eat the hay or straw and leave the twine and wrap, but cattle have occasionally become fatally impacted after ingesting twine or net wrap.
“In my former life, I surgically put in rumen cannula in cattle for research, and it was amazing how many of those, once we get into the rumen, that we found huge balls of twine and netting,” Dr. Randall Wiedmeier, a University of Missouri Livestock specialist, said. “That just takes up room in the cow’s stomach that it can’t fill with feed, plus if some of that gets by the rumen and gets down into the true stomach (the abomasum) it can plug up the sphincter and the animal can die from impaction. It can be very, very dangerous.”
Wiedmeier added that discarded netting can also become wrapped around a calf’s neck or entangled around the legs and feet of animals.
Some ranchers put bales through a hay chopper or processor, which may cut the wrap into small enough pieces to pass through cows’ digestive tracts. The blades need to be kept clean and sharp, however, or they may not chop the wrap adequately. If blades are dull or the net wrap gets wound around them, sometimes the processor just shoots the wrap out in one big piece.
A study at the University of North Dakota, found that net wrap floating free in the rumen would come up with the other material while the animal burps, chews its cud, etc., then gets chewed more and churned or pulled around during digestion. After harvest, the cattle were opened and net wrap was found throughout the rumen, even in cattle not given access to net wrap 14 days prior to harvest.
Removing wrap from bales reduces hazards to livestock, but producers are then left with the discarded wrap, which is not recyclable and should not be burned because of toxic smoke.
“Until there is a solution found and we can get it recycled, we are just going to have to keep it stored until there is a solution to the problem. Burning it is what a lot of people do, but that’s really not the right way to do it; and just throwing it in the landfill isn’t the right way. I think the only real solution is to find a way to recycle it. It’s just like our plastic water bottles, but they have found a way to recycle those so that they can be used and not build up; the same thing is going to have to be done for that net wrap. You can’t blame farmers because that stuff and build up fairly rapidly if you are feeding 20 bales a week or something like that.
“It’s a problem that is going to have to be take care of through recycling. It’s also not a very good promotion for farmers and ranchers laying out there. It really doesn’t make us look too good to the public with it laying out in pastures or along side of the roadway.”


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