Livestock Extension


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The Research Corner: Where Does All the Net Wrap Go?

Heifer Eating Net Wrap
Heifer Eating Net Wrap
Photo by Carl Dahlen, NDSU
Project evaluates the fate of net wrap eaten by cattle. Research in Progress. Carl Dahlen, NDSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Recently, the NDSU Diagnostic Lab was asked to determine the cause of death of a replacement heifer that died under mysterious circumstances. The diagnosis of acute bloat leading to death is not uncommon, but the cause of death deserved further investigation.

The heifer’s rumen and reticulum (first two chambers of the stomach) contained large amounts of net wrap fiber that disrupted the digestive system, leading to the bloating death. This untimely death sparked our research question.

Whether producers remove net wrap or twine prior to feeding is an individual decision. A survey indicated that many feedlot operators do not remove twine or net wrap prior to grinding, whereas cow-calf operators were more likely to do so. But what happens to the net wrap the cattle eat as part of their ration? Our research group at NDSU decided to find the answer to that question, and the work in under way in two projects.

In the first project, we will place three types of net wrap, sisal twine, biodegradable plastic twine, and mixed-grass hay into small porous dacron bags and then into a rumen-cannulated steer (steer with a window into the first chamber of the stomach, the rumen) for various lengths of time. Through time, we know the hay will disappear as it is digested in the rumen, but we aren’t quite sure what will happen to the net wrap. 

Our hypothesis (or sceintific guess) is that very little net wrap will be digested. 

We will have the net wrap, twine and hay in bags in the rumen for a total of two weeks. After that, we will weigh the material and compare that with the weight at the start of the trial. Any reduction in weight means the steer is digesting some of the material.

The second project will compare different lengths of net wrap and their passage through the digestive tract of steers. A meat science class on campus will harvest 10 steers, or five on each of two harvest dates. To further utilize these steers, we will feed different lengths of net wrap pieces (2-, 4-, 8- and 16-inch lengths) to the steers during the last two weeks of the finishing period. 

When the steers are harvested, we will collect the contents of each section of the stomach (rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum) and look for pieces of net wrap. Also, we will collect samples of feces in the pen in which the steers are fed.

If we find net wrap pieces in the omasum, abomasum or feces, we can assume that some of the material is passing through the steer. We will look at the size of the pieces we recover from the digestive tract and determine whether either smaller or larger pieces are passing through the steers. 

With this information, we can report to producers what is happening inside the cattle after they have eaten it.

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