The dangers of "hardware disease" in your herd

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    Kieran O'Mahony's picture

    Can cows get an LDA or an RDA (Left or Right Displaced Abdomen) before calving? 

    I was asked this question by a worried farmer recently. The cow causing his concern was about a month from calving. She was lethargic and walking very slowly into the crush. Her temperature was raised, her rumen wasn’t moving, and her heart rate was high.

    She was similar in all respects to an LDA or RDA cow, except that there wasn’t a telltale “ping” on her flank when I listened with my stethoscope.

    She did have unique symptoms of another condition. When I pinched her withers  she reacted dramatically by crouching as if to escape from my squeeze. She had what is often referred to as “Hardware Disease”! 

    She had most likely ingested something sharp and this had pierced the wall of her stomach. The farmer confirmed that a tyre from the silage pit had inadvertently ended up in the diet feeder some days previously.

     When items like wire, nails, etc. are ingested they tend to sink to the bottom of the Reticulum, the forward-most stomach in the cow. All that separates this stomach from the heart is a thin sliver of muscle called the diaphragm, and in severe cases they develop infections around the heart. The problem usually arises close to calving or at calving when there is extra pressure for space in the cow’s abdomen. The sharp object is pushed forward through the reticular wall and the leakage sets up a localised infection.

    In the old days of cow byres treatment of these cows involved tying them up with their front legs raised on a platform. This allowed for gravity to aid in keeping the sharp item away from the heart.

    Nowadays in uncomplicated cases we pass a magnet bolus to bind the offending item. In more severe cases an operation to remove the object might be beneficial. Strong antibiotics are also required to fight the infection.

    The good news is that if caught early, most of these cows will make a full recovery.