My older brother once asked me if the mold growing on the outside of the bales resting in a haystack was a good thing. I thought for a moment; he had me confuddled. Mold? Then, it dawned on me he was referring to the colors he had witnessed as we drove by. The blue, red, green and white wrapping each bale like a present for Christmas morning.
The colors, indeed not mold, comprise a plastic material called net wrap. Net wrap looks like it sounds, a wrap encasing each hay bale which appears like a large, continuous fish net.
When a farmer sets out on a field to preserve the newly harvested crop with a large round baler, the machine’s final step is to tie the bale with either twine or net wrap. In any given summer, Doug may make alfalfa, oat, millet, triticale or prairie grass hay bales.
We prefer to use net wrap for a few reasons. First, net wrap does a noticeably better job than twine in preserving the bales. Doug spends hundreds of hours cutting fields, raking fields and baling fields. We then depend on those hay bales to be an ingredient in our rations and a priceless, nutritious feed for our cattle. If we commit to spending all the time and money to put up hay, then why wouldn’t we want that hay to last as long as possible and be as high of quality as possible?
The wrap also helps to keep precipitation from penetrating the bale. Otherwise, the saturated hay will deteriorate, mold will grow, and the nutrient content will falter. When handling and transporting the bales, the integrity of the bale stays intact. We have less storage losses especially being we store our bales outside. Using net wrap results in more efficient baling; a baler can close a bale with two to three rotations of net wrap versus 15-20 for twine.
A drawback? Cattle cannot digest net wrap; therefore, before feeding every bale, the net wrap must be removed. Expecting cattle to eat net wrap would be like asking you to eat your sandwich with the plastic wrap on the outside. Ingested net wrap in cattle will cause reduced feed intake and weight loss. If the volume consumed continues to rise, the animal will waste away.
We have been feeding thousands of bales all winter long as chopped hay in our ration, and before those bales can be chopped and fed, someone has to take the net wrap off each bale. Does the process take valuable time? Yes. Does the process save the cattle in our herd? Most definitely. And, as ranchers, keeping our animals healthy and thriving is the priority 365 days a year.