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Hardware Isn’t The Only Hazard

There has been much written about hardware disease and the problems metal causes with internal infection in cattle sometimes affecting the heart, but there other foreign objects such as twine and wire which can also affect the health of our cattle. Prevention seems obvious — not allowing cattle access to these items (sometimes easier said than done) — but if it does happen there are some treatment options.


With modern haying practices, twine is a by-product we have to live with. Removing as much as possible prevents it getting wrapped around shafts and damaging machinery bearings. The old sisal twine would eventually break down and rot but the plastic twine will remain for your lifetime.

Most commonly, twine wrapping around the legs and hooves of cattle is where real damage can result. Struggling only tightens it up and when subsequent swelling ensues the twine starts to cut into the tissue. If some time has elapsed the twine becomes embedded such that it is hard to see. The cutting-in causes severe lameness and can damage the vital internal structures such as the tendons, ligaments and joints.

If you see a circumferential line around the foot or leg it is most likely a foreign object such as twine wrapped around.

It is imperative this be cut away and removed. If no vital structures have been damaged, treat the local infection with a drug such as penicillin and recovery should be uneventful. A permanent scarred and swollen area will result but often the cow remains sound. If vital internal structures have been damaged prognosis is very poor and often culling may be necessary.

I have also seen similar conditions develop with the very thin electrical fencing wire wrap around and cut in just as badly as twine. The very thick twines from the 600- lb. to 1,000 lb. square bales usually will not cut in but because they are so strong the free end can become entangled rendering the animal immobile. Animals have starved to death or died of thirst from becoming entrapped this way. Old cows with long toes are even more likely to get wrapped up in twine as the curled up toes act as hooks and twine easily becomes entwined (pun) around the foot.


Twine can also be ingested. A small amount will simply form a tight ball which just rolls around in the rumen. I have taken several of these out of dairy cows over the years. I was doing exploratory surgery for other reasons and found the large twine ball as an incidental finding. I still removed it but the cow had been doing quite well in spite of the liter sized twine ball.

If further ingestion of twine occurs plugging of the rumen can occur. This is particularly important in young calves that are curious and will chew on whatever they find. The rumen on young calves is not fully developed so doesn’t have the capacity to take on a large ball of twine. The twine is pretty much indestructible so will roll around in the rumen for the animal’s entire life. We have done autopsies on calves starving from too much twine taking up the majority of the ruminal space impairing digestion.

When dehorning especially cows and bulls, producers often tie twine around the horn bases to minimize bleeding. This is fine provided the twines are cut off in a few days. Otherwise they will cut in causing the same sort of mess we see when wrapped around the feet. A better way when dehorning is cauterizing the large blood vessels. This takes no more time and the cattle don’t have to be brought into the head chute when they are now shy to remove the twines.


Any time a persistent draining tract occurs one must check and explore the area thoroughly. Many times a broken tree limb or piece of wood has become impaled there. Dead poplar branches become very hard and sharp they flip up when cattle, horses or bison are running through the woods. Branches can lodge in unlikely locations like up the sheath in a steer, imbedded deep in the thigh or inguinal area, and over the back behind the eye. These are all locations I have removed wood from cattle.

Depending on location, the area will have to be flushed and medicated. In the case of the eye the whole eye had to be removed as it had been perforated as well. Often we need to sedate the animal in order to explore the draining tract with a probe. The clunk clunk sound when we run into the wood is unmistakable.

Horses, because of their strong leg muscles when kicking back, are also prone to impaling themselves with branches. The sticks often break off below the surface which is why on first observation a cut which drains is all that is seen. The clue there is there the draining persists even after the animal has been medicated. The wood acts like a huge sliver and the body is trying to reject it.


Try and not allow cattle into old junkyards. Batteries are an absolute no no because of lead poisoning, but other metal equipment all are hazards for injury. The most unusual case I had over the years was a cow which stepped right into a camping cook pot. It was the exact size to push tightly onto the foot and not come off. It was cutting into the foot so we had to tranquilize the cow with a dart gun and cut the pot off.

Cattle are very curious so will often explore these old garbage sites so it is best to fence them off or not allow cattle into the area. If acquiring new land or renting a new pasture it is best to walk drive or ride your way around scouting for these hazard points.

I recently read an article where a producer’s calf had even strangulated itself in used, rolled up barbwire. I am sure we all have left even a few coils of old wire hanging over corner posts, at some point.

If you do that at least leave the open area of the loop hanging over the ditch side of the fence so cattle can’t gain access to it. This is also true of high tensile wire. Any loose pieces should also be picked up as it can cause very bad cuts and will have a noose effect if wrapped around the legs.

RoyLewisisapracticinglargeanimal veterinarianattheWestlockVeterinaryCenter, northofEdmonton,AB.Hismaininterestsare bovinereproductionandherdhealth

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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