This has been a warm winter, I am thankful for the fact. This type of weather does energize one negative memory of a winter spent crossing the fence that separates temperatures above freezing and below freezing. The memory is about cutting frozen twine from hay and straw bales.
In the transition from fall to winter, you get some wet snow and enough sunshine to partially melt the snow. In a warm winter such as we are enjoying now, you get the same situation. This combination of wet snow, warm temperatures followed by freezing conditions creates ice. There is no time when I dislike ice more than when I have to cut frozen twines from hay bales.
The real answer to frozen twines is shelter. When I kept cattle through the winter, I eventually built a nice shed to keep the bales free from ice. Prior to the building, I fought the frozen twine war. I employed several weapons in this battle. For light ice, I had a piece of rebar to which a sharp sickle-bar section was welded. I could use the bar to drag the sickle section across the face of the bale which did a nice job of cutting through light ice and twines. Heavier ice demanded old-school, medieval tools such as the double-headed axe and also a junior axe which was easier to use is if I had knelt down to chop the lower twines. Sometimes, I would just use the loader tractor to “skin” the frozen layer of hay, then peel it off and leave it for bedding.
The problem with all of this icy hay was that there was terrible waste. Because a bales circumference decreases the closer you get to the center, it also follows that most of the bales’ bulk is contained within the first few outside inches of the roll. There is nothing like seeing green, leafy alfalfa encased in ice with pieces of twine attached to it and lying worthless on the ground.
I always tried to cut out the worst sections of the hay bale and save whatever I hay could be conserved. When you think of the cost to make a hay bale, it is worth taking the time. I would use my loader tractor to lift the bale into the air and then cut and chop frozen junk from the good food underneath. It really doesn’t make sense to leave the frozen part of the bale intact, either. If the cattle have to work to get through the frozen part, they lose valuable eating time. In my experience, it is a battle during the winter to keep weight on cattle and I would rather burn my own calories preparing them a proper meal than to have them waste their own acquired energy preparing their own.
I am writing this flanked by our staff of cats and buried under a blanket. If you are out there working hard for your cattle you have my respect. I know how hard it can be and I hope that if you don’t have a hay shed, you can get one soon because next to frozen cattle waterers, there is nothing worse than cutting, chopping and dicing-frozen twine.