Magnets can save cows’ lives

  • A cow magnet is swallowed by a cow to help prevent hardware disease. Courtesy of Carole Soule

For the Monitor
Published: 10/27/2017 1:11:08 PM

How can a magnet save a cow’s life? Here’s how: While our cattle were grazing in a leased pasture in Gilmanton, the farm owner replaced the barn roof by tearing off the existing roof and tossing shingles and nails next to the barn, which is also the pasture. The owner cleaned up but may have missed a nail or two. Stepping on a nail is bad, but a bigger concern is that the cattle might eat a nail and get “hardware” disease.

Several years ago, I’m pretty sure one of my calves died when she ate some metal. Without an autopsy, I’ll never know for sure. When the cow arches her back, moves reluctantly or slowly and groans when lying down and getting up, hardware disease might be the culprit. In dairy cows, there is often a decrease in milk production.

The cure is a magnet. A magnet is swallowed by the cow and attracts stray metal, keeping the metal in the cow’s stomach. If the object leaves the stomach, it can pierce the reticulum and cause inflammation or death. This is not just any magnet, but a special “cow magnet” that is administered with a special tool called a “balling gun.” One magnet can work for the life of the cow and, if she is processed for beef, the magnet can be recovered and re-used after her death.

I fenced off the area where the “hardware” might be hiding and I’ll check hooves for stray nails when the cattle return home. But meanwhile, I hope my cattle are smarter than the average cow and don’t eat any hardware. Just to be safe, I’m going to give them each a magnet. I wonder if I’ll be able to post reminders on them like I do on my refrigerator? Now that would be a sight.

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at

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