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When our cows feed isn’t safe

My farmer and I were milking one morning when we noticed that one of our first lactation heifers didn’t have much milk. As a healthy, young animal that had only been in the herd around 3 months this caught our attention. We assessed some of her other symptoms and assumed that she had swallowed hardware. The name is legit – she probably ate metal.

Does my cow have Hardware Disease?

Hardware disease (bovine traumatic reticuloperitonitis) in dairy cattle, and sometimes seen in beef cattle, when a sharp metallic object is swallowed.  Cattle do not sort their feed by using their lips and do not fully chew their food so it is not surprising that they would swallow something foreign. Where would it even come from?

Photo used with permission from Lemajru Dairy,

This photo is from a local farmer who had a Chinese lantern land in their hay field and while they were mowing they noticed the foreign object and removed it. Had this not happened and the farmer mowed over the lantern it would have been chopped up with the cow feed. Containing small wires it would have been chopped (diced up) and put into feed storage for the cows to eat throughout the year. We feed our cows a TMR mix (total mix ration) that includes haylage, silage, mineral grains, etc; when this feed is all mixed together it can be very difficult to see a small foreign object like metal.


As a preventative there is a magnetic strip on the mixer to hopefully catch any metal before it lands in front of the cows. Unfortantly this magnet doesn’t catch everything and then a cow is likely to eat it.  The metal will then settle in the reticulum and can irritate or even penetrate the lining.

A cow magnet is a medical device to treat hardware disease, the size of the magnet is roughly 1/2″ x 3″ and stainless steel. It can also be given as a preventative to all heifers at one year of age, a common practice on some farms.  #101 was a healthy lactating cow when suddenly she DROPPED in milk; we noticed she was NOT chewing her cud and she would occasionally KICK at her side. Her record indicated she had never been given a magnet before so we chose to administer one orally.


How does a magnet work for treating Hardware Disease in cattle?

The magnet sits in the rumen and attracts metal objects and prevents them from becoming lodged in the animal’s tissue. In #101’s case — a day after she received the magnet we noticed that her eyes appeared brighter and her ears were perked up. Shortly after that she began eating again and chewing her cud. She came back into a healthy milk production and has had no further problems.

Good feed management is very important when preparing our cow feed. For the things farmers cannot always control we ask for help from the community, please don’t litter.  Throwing empty cans and plastic bags out the window or sending away Chinese lanterns and balloons can land in our fields and become a hazard to our animals.

Xo, Nicole
Caring for our cattle

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