Around this time last year there was a spate of vet call outs to cows with leg injuries caused by wire. Break feeding over winter increases the risk of this type of injury happening and some of the results are not pretty. We have seen cows and heifers with swelling, lameness and infection due to wire getting wrapped around the leg just above the fetlock, or caught up between the toes. Worse than this, if the animal struggles excessively and/or is left unnoticed for a period of time, severe injury to the blood supply, nerve supply and tendons can occur, in the worst cases necessitating euthanasia.
Though not all wire injuries are avoidable, the following precautions may reduce the risk of one happening and the potential waste of a valuable animal:
1) Make sure the power supply to the break fence is reliable and double check for shorts.
2) Use tape rather than live strand. Live strand tends to be more injurious if a cow does get caught, as it is very abrasive and cuts into the tissue much like embryotomy (“piano”) wire. It is also harder to see than tape fencing.
3) Don’t leave the cows waiting too long for that next break, as there is always an inquisitive cow willing to test out the power supply, or one that learns to push over standards. Two small breaks a day (not 1 large) should be standard procedure.
4) Check for and remove any loose wire or fencing material lying in the mud as this is another common cause of wire injuries.
If, despite best intentions, an animal does get tangled in the wire, speedy removal of the wire will hopefully prevent permanent damage to the blood or nerve supply. If the animal is caught up and distressed, a vet may be required to administer sedation in order to untangle the animal safely. Veterinary assessment will also provide the appropriate treatment for injuries of the nerve or tendon, which may require splinting, bandaging anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatment.
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