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Risk Increased For Hardware Disease, Blackleg

Tornadoes can blow storm debris into pastures, and flooding stirs up the soilborne bacterium causing blackleg.

Livestock owners need to scan their pastures for storm debris that could prove fatal to their cattle, goats and horses, said Tom Troxel, associate department head of 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,” Troxel said. “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. “Sometimes, in fields that have old, rusting fences or bailing wire, 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 into the abdominal cavity, causing infections and scarring.

Symptoms may include:

“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 may not defecate 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% in untreated cases to 80%-90% 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 soilborne bacterium infection, and any disturbance to the soil, such as a flood, may increase the exposure of the bacterium to the cattle,” Troxel 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 and 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 to vaccinate all calves and also vaccinate the cows to ensure good maternal transfer for the next calf.

For more information visit, or, or contact your county extension agent.

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Editor’s Note: This article is by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension.


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