How to Prevent Hardware Disease

hardware disease

Have you ever heard of Bovine Traumatic Reticuloperitonitis? What about it’s more common name, “Hardware Disease”? It is a serious issue that can cause severe and even fatal complications in cattle.

What is it?

Hardware Disease occurs when sharp objects, often made of metal, hidden in feed are eaten by the animal. Cattle usually don’t chew their food thoroughly. They chew the food enough to coat it with saliva for swallowing, which means it is easier for tramp metal or other objects to be swallowed. 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 is metal wire measuring 2-5”.

These items find their way into the stomach chamber called the reticulum. Muscle movement from digestion process can shift foreign objects that end up in the reticulum. These spasms have the capability to 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, and if a long enough object pierces the reticulum wall, there is a chance it could puncture the heart as well, leading to heart failure.

Pregnant heifers and cows have a higher chance of being affected by Hardware Disease due to the fact that their internal organs are shifted closer together and forward to create space for a calf to grow. This means the stomachs, heart, diaphragm and other organs are all very close, leading to a higher chance of a pierced object going through more organs to create serious damage. The birthing process can be violent and 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 fine or only have minor stomach issues with Hardware Disease. However, if the object breaks through the reticulum, 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, fluid could be in the surrounding area making breathing difficult. The jugular vein could also appear distended due to stress.

There are a few ways to test for Hardware Disease. The first is to do 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 would 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, but accurate tests are to have a radiography or ultrasound done on the animal to determine if there is foreign matter in their system.

How can you treat it?

Elevating the animal’s forelimbs can help to stop the 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 tramp metal from entering the cow in the first place so there is no chance to get Hardware Disease. 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 TMR ingredients out of the ration while being blended. The materials stay secured to the magnet 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

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