How will you make hay this year?

Taylor Grussing
SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist

With plenty of spring moisture, hay season will be here before you know it. Have you considered the type of binding material you will use to put up hay this year? Usually binding is dictated by the type and kind of baler that you own or use. However, many balers have capabilities for both twine and net wrap and the decision of which one to use should be based on forage type, feeding and selling plans, or even storage location (indoors or outdoors).

Binding methods

With advancements in technology, forage binding methods have grown to include a variety of options including twine, net wrap, and plastic wrapping. Twine has traditionally been the type of binding most commonly used. Types include plastic, sisal, and polypropylene to name a few. If you have been using plastic twine, it’s likely you’re still finding it in your cattle lots where round bales were fed for years, stuck in the dirt, never decomposing. Sisal twine became popular due to the degradability of its fiber. Yet, depending on the year, sisal twine could begin degrading before producers were able to get bales moved from the field, leaving behind a trail of hay and increased waste. Newer varieties such as solar-degradable twine have increased storage life but will eventually decompose at a later time. Regardless of the type of twine selected, it takes 20-30 turns to wrap a bale and cost about $0.50 a bale. While the price of twine is cost effective, is the time spent wrapping bales with twine enough to offset a more expensive and efficient product?

With the introduction of net wrap in the late 1990’s, many operators chose to switch to net wrap balers or equipped their twine balers with net wrap capabilities. Net wrap has many advantages over twine binding such as increased baling efficiency, water shedding ability and forage and transportation integrity (Shinners, et al., 2002). With only 2 to 3 turns required to wrap a bale with net wrap, University of Wisconsin-Madison found producers can harvest 32% more bales per hour with net wrap vs. twine, which can save operators time and labor during harvest. Some disadvantages of net wrap are the cost (about $1 to $1.50 a bale) and in the Upper Midwest where snow and frigid temperatures are common, net wrap can be very difficult to remove prior to feeding in the winter. Furthermore, time saved at harvest may be insignificant if more time is spent removing net wrap during winter feeding.

Storage losses

Choice of bale binding should also be based on where forage will be stored. As mentioned earlier, net wrap increases water shedding ability outdoors resulting in less spoilage. Outdoor storage losses comparing net wrap to twine results were 7.3% vs. 11.3% dry matter loss, respectively (Shinners et al., 2002).

Livestock considerations

It was never advised that producers feed binding material to livestock when feeding whole or ground hay bales. However, producers are always trying to make the most out of every hour and removing binding prior to grinding bales has been overlooked by many. While there is not a large number of livestock fatalities reported due to ingestion of binding, it is not digestible. NDSU (Klein and Dahlen, 2014) conducted a study to determine digestibility of binding utilizing five types of baling material (sisal, biodegradable plastic twine, and three types of net wrap) and found that after a 14 day rumen incubation period all net wrap and biodegradable plastic twine remained intact and were not degradable in the rumen. In addition, Montana State University conducted a trial feeding to cows ground forage with binding for seven months and found that a large portion of binding was retained within the digestive tract and could potentially cause problems over time (2017). Taking time to remove binding can improve animal performance and disposing of it correctly will decrease waste build up in the environment.


Producer preference and equipment usually determines which type of forage binding material is used each year. Ultimately, economics should be a major driver in the decision as well. Keeping track of time, labor, and equipment expenses, as well as storage losses is needed to determine which binding method is most cost effective. Although 1 – 5% decrease in wasted hay might seem like small savings, it’s often the little things that add up in the long run especially in this challenging cattle cycle.