My Ag Pen Pal First Grade Class emailed me a question this morning. They are studying magnets. Somehow they came across a Cow Magnet in their search. They promptly decided that they should ask their Agriculture Pen Pal what a Cow Magnet is and what it does. I am excited that they thought to ask me such a challenging question! So I decided I would post my answer for you as well. This is my take on what a cow magnet is, and it’s used, please call a vet if you have questions about hardware and your animals.
HARDWARE DISEASE & COW MAGNETS
Mostly Dairy Cattle get Hardware Disease, but Beef Cattle can get it too. This is when the animal eats or ingests anything metal, such as fence staples, wire, etc. Often these metal items will tear or puncture the animal’s internal organs and cause a major infection. When this happens to a cow there are 3 options: call the vet and have him surgically remove the items from one of the cows stomachs; feed them a cow magnet and hope the cow passes the items through its 4 stomachs and intestines or maybe keep the metal items in one place reducing the chance of infection; euthanize the cow.
Why do the animals eat metal items? Animals that are fed mostly put up hay (bales) have an increased chance of getting hardware because whatever the baler picks up in the field goes into the bale. This is not intentional; often there are small pieces of wire that fall out of a pickup or staples that naturally pop out of a fence post when the weather changes; sometimes equipment breaks down and broken parts fall into the hay that we are unaware of.
So all this baled hay is fed to animals that are not able to be pastured for some reason or another. One these animals are the dairy cow. Dairy cows spend most of their lives in a dairy barn being milked and fed baled hay. This increases their chance of getting Hardware Disease.
I do not have dairy cows, but I have read that some dairy farmers have their calves ingest a magnet at branding or weaning time to reduce the animals chance of getting Hardware Disease. By giving them the magnet, they are hoping if it eats anything metal the items will be collected and stay in one place for the duration of life, so they don’t puncture the animals internal organs.
Our cattle herd is out to grass pasture 50-75% of the year and when they are not we feed them hay from our farm; so Hardware Disease is a very rare occurrence on our farm.