This month we have a question from a TLBAA member in New Mexico :
We have had our Longhorns for about a year now and would like to know more about magnets and the signs and symptoms of Hardware Disease. I actually have several questions:
1. How does Hardware Disease present itself clinically? Some signs that a cow may have Hardware Disease are a lack of appetite, an unwillingness to walk or walking very slowly with an arched back signifying pain in the abdomen, kicking at it's sides with the rear feet and if the hardware has punctured the heart sac and infection has formed, there may be swelling (edema) in the brisket area. The animal may be depressed, have a fever and labored breathing.
2. At what age should the magnet be administered to calves? A good age is about 6 months old or when you wean the calf.
3. Are there any risks or contraindications to magnets? The only risk is if the magnet is not given correctly and ends up in the animal's lung instead of the stomach.
4. If you're not certain if an animal already has a magnet, can you hurt it or cause any problems by administering another magnet? No.
5. Is one kind of magnet better than another? No, all magnets are not alike and some work better than others due to the quality of the magnet. Check with your veterinarian to find out which type [or brand] of magnet he recommends. As far as the size of the magnet to use - studies have found that the most effective magnets are 3 inches long by ½ inch in diameter. Magnets are available through mail order supply catalogs, feed stores and some veterinary clinics .
6. Is there a special technique to administering the magnet? Most magnets are 3 1/2 inches or smaller and resemble a bolus (a large pill) so they can be administered using a balling gun. If you are unfamiliar with the physiology of a cow's throat or not certain about the procedure, ask your veterinarian to administer the magnets to your cattle.
7. Is the same magnet good for the life of the animal? Yes.
Note : Bovine Traumatic Gastritis is the clinical name for Hardware Disease. The injury to the stomach is caused when an animal ingests a sharp metallic object and it penetrates the wall of the reticulum (second stomach). This can lead to chronic or acute inflammation and oftentimes infection.
Most cattle that consume small metal objects can live their entire lifetime with these particles in their rumen without any occurrence of gastric problems. But if an object punctures the stomach wall and enters into a lung or the heart, infection sets in and that may cause the death of the animal if treatment is not effective.
The most common substances swallowed by cattle are wire and nails although larger objects like hinges, metal straps and machinery parts have been discovered in the rumen of animals diagnosed with Hardware Disease.
Since cattle are not too selective when grazing, they easily pick up metallic objects along with grass. These objects pass into the rumen where they end up in the reticulum. All heavy and coarse materials collect in the reticulum to be ground up into finer particles before passing back into the rumen. As the muscles in this “honeycomb stomach” contract back and forth, hardware is sometimes forced through the reticulum wall and end up in the heart or diaphragm.
The use of magnets has proven to be beneficial in preventing Hardware Disease since the metallic objects attach to the magnet and are kept from moving around in the reticulum.
Dairy cattle have a much higher incidence of contracting Hardware Disease since they are fed a diet high in chopped feed and silage and metal particles are often found in prepared feeds.
When cattle are diagnosed with Hardware Disease there are several possible outcomes depending on the amount of hardware in the reticulum and whether or not there is an infection. Surgery is sometimes necessary, antibiotics and sulfa drugs are prescribed and/or magnets may be administered. Treatment should be given by a licensed veterinarian only.
Of course the prevention of Hardware Disease is easier on everyone. Use a metal detector or check along fence lines during and after a fence building project to pick up any discarded fence staples, T-post clips and short pieces of wire. Fencing off junk piles and surveying pastures for any sharp metallic pieces that are small enough for a cow or calf to swallow is also good idea. Administering a magnet to each animal over the age of 6 months is very helpful in preventing Hardware Disease.
**This article is the property of Gail Kocian and the Texas Longhorn Trails and cannot be copied without our express permission.