Pasture management extends to removing debris

Pasture-related "hardware disease" poses potential health risks to cattle.

June 8, 2020

3 Min Read
Oklahoma State hardware pasture.jpg
High winds often leave potentially dangerous materials in pastures.Photo by Todd Johnson, Oklahoma State University Agricultural Communications Services

Cattle will eat just about anything that looks interesting in the pasture, so producers need to pick up as much debris as possible following weather events with strong winds, Oklahoma State University experts said, adding that good land stewardship can be a painstaking, labor-intensive process.

Insulation and plastic bags, for example, can cause bloat, impaction and gastrointestinal problems when consumed, including possible hemorrhaging of the rumen, said Dr. Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State Extension veterinarian and food animal quality and health specialist.

“Nails and other small pieces of metal can cause what is often called hardware disease, health problems associated with the consumption of metal,” he said. “The most common source of hardware disease is baling wire or similar small objects that are consumed along with forage.”

Primary concerns are not only that the cattle will eat bits of metal directly but that items will be picked up during the baling process and be included with feed hay later.

Whitworth said a single piece of baling wire consumed with forage or hay will drop down into the reticulum, where it potentially can pierce the heart.

Other problems sometimes associated with hardware disease are rumen shutdown, depression, acute pain and decreased milk production, he said.

“Cattle producers may want to consider using rumen magnets, given the increased amount of metal debris potentially strewn across pastures after tornadoes or storms with sustained high winds,” added Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State Extension veterinarian and director of continuing education for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Rumen magnets attract and capture fine metal material before it damages an animal’s rumen and reticulum. Biggs said local large-animal veterinarians should have information on rumen magnets, including associated costs and availability.

Insulation and plastic debris can present a greater challenge because tiny pieces can be easily overlooked during cleanup. Any indigestible foreign material cattle eat can cause a blockage in the digestive system. If an animal eats enough small pieces of insulation during grazing or in hay or other feed, it could bind together to create a large mass that could block the digestive tract and cause serious -- or even fatal -- problems, the specialists said.

They recommended that producers collect and remove larger pieces of insulation and plastic and keep watch for animals exhibiting symptoms of related health problems. Signs may include irritation, vomiting, diarrhea or stomach discomfort. Producers should contact their local veterinarian immediately if such symptoms are present.

“The local veterinarian will treat on a case-by-case basis,” Biggs said. “This might mean using a treatment with laxatives, mineral oil, fluid therapy or, in appropriate cases, surgery.”

Nails and other sharp metal objects of various sizes also can result in puncture wounds and cuts in the feet and legs of livestock. Often, these metal objects have been carried by wind or washed into water holes, ponds or other areas. If an animal is lame for more than one or two days and the lameness continues to worsen, it should be examined by a veterinarian, Biggs and Whitworth said.

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