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Hardware disease in cattle

Cows that ingest sharp metal objects are at risk of developing hardware disease

Cattle aren't picky eaters, they'll even swallow small pieces of metal. Sharp objects aren't good for the abdomen.

Grant Dewell is a beef extension veterinarian at Iowa State University. He says there are four parts of a cow's stomach, and the collection basin so-to-speak is called the reticulum. Heavy objects that cattle ingest will settle there.

"If you get a piece of metal in that it will just kind of hang out in the reticulum area," says Dewell. "But then if it gets a piece of gravel or something like that behind it when the rumen contracts, it can actually push the sharp wire through the wall of the stomach and then we get the onset of what we call hardware disease."

A cow that develops hardware disease may develop an infection and have abdominal pain. They'll run a fever, become bloated, and lose weight. A veterinarian can give antibiotics, surgically remove the object, or may recommend slaughter.
 
Since you can't always control what cattle eat, many producers feed them a special magnet.

"The magnet will sit down in that reticulum and most cows will carry that magnet for the rest of their life," says Dewell. "A lot of times the wire will stick to the magnet, and so it will hold the sharp edges against the magnet and then it kind of prevents it from becoming a puncture wound."

Cattle magnets are round, a-couple-inches long, and can be found at feed stores.  But it's not fail-proof. Sometimes the ingested metal won't stick to the magnet.

Dewell says the best way to protect your animals is to make sure their feedstuffs are clean. Walk your pastures and hay fields and clean up all traces of metal scrap and debris. If you use an old tractor tire as a watering tank, cut or grind off any exposed wires in the rubber and remove them from the area.

Learn more about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of hardware disease in cattle

What exactly is a "cow magnet"? Click here and learn how they work to prevent hardware disease

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