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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Debris in pastures potential health risk to cattle

STILLWATER, Okla. – Insulation and building debris from tornadoes can cause problems for cattle producers, difficulties that potentially could have a significant effect on animal health and time management costs.
Debris in pastures potential health risk to cattle

Cleaning up debris from pastures not only helps safeguard animal well-being, it protects the cattle producer's investment. (open source photo)

“Cattle will eat just about anything that looks interesting in the pasture,” said Dr. Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension veterinarian and food animal quality and health specialist. “Producers are going to have to pick up as much debris from their pastures as possible. Given the amount of small debris, this is going to be a pain-staking, labor-intensive process.”

Insulation can cause bloat, impaction and gastro-intestinal problems when consumed, including possible hemorrhaging of the rumen. Nails and other small pieces of metal can cause “hardware” disease, health problems associated with the consumption of metal.

“The most common source of hardware disease is baling wire or similar small objects that are consumed along with forage,” Whitworth said. “Our biggest concern after tornadoes is not only the cattle eating bits of metal directly, but that items will be picked up during the baling process and will be present when cattle are fed hay at some later date.”

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

Other problems sometimes associated with “hardware” disease are the shutting down of the rumen, depression, acute pain and decreased milk production.

“Cattle producers should consider using rumen magnets given the increased amount of metal debris in pastures after the tornadoes,” Whitworth said. “A rumen magnet will be a health-care investment well worth the money this year.”

Whitworth said local large-animal veterinarians have information on rumen magnets, including associated costs and availability.

“Insulation debris is more problematic, because of the small size,” Whitworth said. “Producers are unlikely to rid their pastures of every bit of insulation. If animals exhibit symptoms of insulation-related problems, producers should contact their local veterinarians immediately.”

Treatment of cattle suffering from insulation problems is symptomatic.

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

Nails and other sharp metal objects of various sizes also create a significant hazard to the feet and legs of animals.

“It is very common for these objects to cause puncture wounds and cuts in the feet and legs of livestock,” Whitworth said.

Often these metal objects have been carried by wind or washed into water holes, ponds or other areas accessible to livestock and a potential source of injury.

“It is prudent for livestock owners to keep this in mind when they have animals showing lameness,” Whitworth said. “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.”

Additional information about livestock-related storm recovery practices is available through all OSU Cooperative Extension county offices, usually listed under “County Government” in local directories.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and one of the three equal parts comprising the university’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.


Donald Stotts
DASNR News and Media Relations
Agricultural Communications Services
132 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4079
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078