20th March 2023

Protect your livestock from hidden dangers in silage

Do you have metal in your silage?

Metal shards in silage could harm your cattle. Read more about how to protect your livestock from these hidden dangers.

Tyres have traditionally been used to secure silage sheets, prevent spoilage due to water or pest damage and ensure anaerobic conditions during ensiling. However, there are reports suggesting that fatalities from the ingestion of metal foreign bodies are prevalent.

Up to 20% of cattle could have ingested metal

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), estimates that between 7-20% of cattle have ingested metal foreign bodies with 0.29% of the French cattle population dying annually due to injuries caused by ingesting metal pieces.

Signs that your cattle have ingested metal

Clinical signs of traumatic reticulitis, where a sharp object has pierced through the rumen,

  • sudden, complete loss of appetite
  • dramatic reduction in milk yield
  • arched back
  • unwillingness to move
  • abdominal pain
  • shallow breathing

Occasionally, sharp objects, like nails or wire, can go through the rumen and into the pericardial sac surrounding the heart, called pericarditis. There may be none of the signs of traumatic reticulitis but for a few days or weeks, affected cows will show a reduced appetite, weight loss, reduced milk yield. They will also appear depressed and walk slowly with large amounts of fluid under the brisket.
Both conditions can only be confirmed by either ultrasound or via surgery. The conditions will not clear up by themselves. Prompt surgery is vital to avoid culling in animals with traumatic reticulitis, although most farmers would choose to cull an animal with pericarditis as the surgery is not often successful.

A vet’s advice on avoiding cows ingesting metal

Will Gatwick, of LLM Farm Vets, highlights the importance of using a safe metal-free alternative to tyres to protect your silage this year.

He is keen to stress that even farms who take reasonable precautions should not be complacent.

“Tyres are made from a mixture of natural and synthetic rubbers, metal wire and other compounds. As the tyres break down, heavy metals, microplastics and shards of steel can leak out of them and into the environment,” he says.

“Last year, I carried out a post-mortem examination on a heifer that was 6 months in calf. The cause of death was a tiny piece of metal which had pierced through the rumen wall and caused an infection which extended into the chest cavity.

“The farm had a magnet on the mixer wagon to help remove metal objects and doses every heifer with a magnet prior to calving, but this example demonstrates that any animals that are being fed silage are at risk.

“Magnets can be given to cattle over 350kg and it is best practice to carry this out as early as possible. The most common source of wires is the tyres used to weigh down silage covers,” he adds.

Galebreaker’s Sila-bags are a good alternative to tyres

Made from super-strong woven polyethylene, filled with gravel and attached by hooks, Galebreaker’s Sila-bags stay put even on steep slopes and make an ideal alternative to traditional tyres. When used with Sila-Cover 300, they provide effective protection from the elements.

See the full range of silage covers from Galebreaker