UACES Facebook Livestock owners need to be alert for ‘hardware disease’
skip to main content

Livestock owners need to be alert for ‘hardware disease’

Fast facts

  • Livestock owners should scout fields for post-storm debris to prevent ‘hardware disease’
  • Blackleg a threat to cattle following flooding

(505 words)

LITTLE ROCK – Livestock owners need to scan their pastures for storm debris that could prove fatal to their cattle, goats and horses, said Tom Troxel, associate head, animal science, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

After the storm has passed, the effects of tornadic winds and floods remain for grazing animals.

“Tornadoes and other storm events with strong winds and flooding can spread debris over a large area,” said Tom Troxel, associate head-animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “This sets the stage for grazing animals to be affected by ‘hardware disease.”

Cattle, sheep, goat and horse owners should take extra time and caution to inspect hay meadows and pastures for debris especially metal objects.

“Cattle grazing may not notice debris such as wood splinters, metal shards or construction items such as screws and nails,” Troxel said. “And sometimes, in fields that have old, rusting fences or bailing wire or where grazing occurs near construction foreign objects wind up bailed in hay.”

Internal injuries

Items such as nails or wire snippets, go directly into the cow’s digestive tract. Contractions that move food along can cause nails and other items to puncture the walls of the digestive tract.

Perforations can cause partially digested foods and bacteria to leak in to the abdominal cavity causing infections and scarring.

Symptoms are may include:

  • Decrease in fecal output,
  • Mild rise in rectal temperature
  • Heart rate may be normal or slightly elevated, and respiration is usually shallow and rapid.

“Initially, animals will arch their backs, show an anxious expression or be reluctant to move, using an uneasy, careful gait,” Troxel said. “Forced sudden movements as well as defecating, urinating, lying down, getting up, and stepping over barriers may be accompanied by groaning.”

In chronic cases, the animal may not want to eat and it isn't defecating in its usual volume. In certain animals, milk production remains low. If you see any symptoms related to hardware disease, be sure to contact your veterinarian. Treatment of the typical case seen early in its course may be surgical or medical. Either approach improves the chances of recovery from approximately 60 percent in untreated cases to 80-90 percent in treated cases.


In addition to sweeping potentially dangerous items into fields and pastures, flooding can also increase the danger of blackleg, a fatal disease caused by the Clostridium chauvoei bacterium.

“Blackleg is a soil-borne bacterium infection and any disturbance to the soil such as a flood may increase the exposure of the bacterium to the cattle,” he said. “Blackleg is seasonal with most cases occurring in the warm months of the year - which is coming up. Excavation of soil or soil disturbance is also a concern.”

Blackleg symptoms include: lameness, depression, fever but most of the time sudden death – meaning treatment is useless. However, blackleg vaccine is one of the cheapest vaccines to purchase for cattle.  It is recommended vaccinating all calves and also vaccinating the cows to ensure good maternal transfer for the next calf. 

For more information about forage production, visit extension's Web site,, or contact your county extension agent.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

By The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

Related Links