Livestock producers who take the time to remove net wrap from round bales or at least pick it up after the hay has been eaten potentially may save themselves management problems later.

Round bales, overwhelmingly the most popular form of hay bale fed to cattle, come in different sizes but they all have to be bound by some form of string or net wrap. Net wrap increases baling efficiency and also increases water-shedding ability, resulting in less spoilage and outdoor storage losses.

“Removing the net wrap before feeding is time consuming so many producers choose to leave the wrapping on when feeding or grinding,” said Wes Lee, McLain County Extension director and agricultural educator. “If plastic net wrap is not removed prior to feeding whole bales or grinding, there is a potential risk for cattle to ingest the net wrap along with the forage.”

Many necropsies have shown accumulations of plastic wrap in rumens of beef cattle. A 2014 study by North Dakota State University looked at net wrap digestibility compared to sisal twine. After 14 days of incubation in rumen-cannulated steers, 70 percent of sisal twine disappeared while literally 0 percent of the net wrap was degraded.

“Since net wrap does not appear to digest in the rumen, it can accumulate and may have implications on production efficiency and animal health if the digestive system is compromised,” Lee said.

Obviously, the more cattle are exposed to net wrap, the more opportunity they have to ingest it and therefore accumulate in their rumen. Ground bales with net wrap probably pose less of an issue than consuming intact net wrap but health problems could still arise.

“Removal of net wrap before feeding is the best approach,” Lee said. “A sharp pocketknife or box cutter and a few minutes of time are worth the risk of future health problems.”

Lee added producers who choose to risk not removing the net wrap prior to feeding should, at the very least, pick it up and throw it away after the bale is gone.

“Cattle get bored and may eat net wrap if it is lying around,” he said. “Taking the time to pick up net wrap in and around bale feeders is a simple way to reduce the chances of ingestion.”

Producers who suspect their cattle are having health issues from ingesting foreign materials should contact their large-animal veterinarian immediately.