Have you ever heard of Bovine Traumatic Reticuloperitonitis? What about the more common name, “Hardware Disease”?
What is it?
Hardware Disease occurs when sharp objects (often metal) found in feed are eaten by a cow. Cattle do not have top front teeth, so their food is chewed just enough to be swallowed. Foreign objects are often unnoticed while eating, and only become an issue after the fact. Studies show between 55-75% of cattle slaughtered in the Eastern US had some form of hardware in their system. The most commonly consumed item was metal wire measuring 2-5”.
Foreign objects find their way into the stomach chamber called the reticulum. Muscle movement from the digestion process can shift items and potentially cause a sharp object to pierce through the reticulum wall, causing a pain and infection in the affected animal. The heart of a cow is located near this area. A long enough object can pierce the reticulum wall and puncture the heart, leading to heart failure.
Pregnant heifers and cows have a higher chance of being affected by Hardware Disease because their internal organs are shifted closer together and forward to create space for a calf to grow. This leads to a higher chance of a pierced object going through more organs to create serious damage. The violent birthing process of pushing can create extra tension in the body making it easier for an object to break through the reticulum.
How can you tell if an animal might be affected?
Some animals can be subclinical or have minor stomach issues with Hardware Disease. However, if the reticulum is pierced, infection and serious illness will occur. Undigested feed in manure, poor appetite, and lack of energy are early symptoms of Hardware disease. Showing signs of pain, walking slowly, and a drop in milk production are also indicators of issues. If the heart was damaged, breathing will become difficult due to fluid the surrounding area.
There are a few ways to test for Hardware Disease. The first is a withers test. Simply pinch the cow’s withers. Healthy cows will sink down due to the irritation. However, a cow that has Hardware Disease will likely arch up because that is less painful than sinking down. Another test to try is the grunt test. This involves pressing upward on the sternum. If the cow makes a grunting noise from pain, it is likely they have Hardware Disease.
More expensive, accurate tests include radiography or ultrasound to determine if there is foreign matter in their system.
How can you treat it?
Elevating the animal’s forelimbs can help to stop hardware moving forward into the reticulum. However, this is a slow process. Antibiotics should be given if there is a possibility of infection in the animal. Surgery to remove the items is another option. If the animal is deemed valuable enough, the cost of surgery may be worth it.
An inexpensive way to lessen ingested metal from hurting the cow is to use rumen magnets. These magnets are given to the cow and sit in their reticulum, attracting metal objects and securing them. It is possible these magnets can help to prevent metal from piercing the reticulum wall.
However, the best method is PREVENTION. Stop ferrous metal from entering the cow in the first place. Patz Corporation’s Patented Tub Mounted Magnet provides peace of mind by removing metal from the TMR before it leaves the mixer. The magnet is able to pull metal objects hidden in feed ingredients while being blended. The materials stay secured to the magnet with our 2-step retention design throughout the entire mixing process.
Moseley, Bonnard. “Hardware Disease of Cattle.” University of Missouri Extension
Otieno, Kevine. “Hardware Disease in Cattle: Healthy Cows Eat Magnets.” Dairy Technologist
Thomas, Heather Smith. “Prevention is the Best Strategy in Hardware Disease.” Beef Magazine