Niehaus says surgical retrieval of metal usually involves an incision in the cow’s left flank, using the rumen as a window to gain access to the reticulum.

“We do standing surgery (similar to a C-section), and pull the rumen next to the skin so we can suture it there. This forms a seal so there’s no chance of getting rumen fluid into the abdominal cavity,” he explains.

“Anything in the reticulum or embedded in its wall theoretically should be retrievable, though this can be challenging. Even if you can reach the reticulum, the honeycomb-shaped pockets in the walls can trap and hide a small object. For instance, the head of a nail, with the rest of the nail already poked through, may be hard to feel,” Niehaus says.

If a magnet is present, he pulls it out. “There may be metal pieces stuck to it.  When I’m done with surgery, if the magnet I’ve taken out and cleaned is still good, I drop it back into the reticulum. If there was no magnet, I put one in,” he says.

Recovery by cows following surgery varies. “If the infection isn’t too severe or widespread, a cow has a good chance. We get the wire or nail out and put her on broad-spectrum antibiotic. But if she has severe peritonitis, with lots of abdominal contamination, she won’t do well. And, if there’s pericarditis (inflammation or infection around the heart), prognosis is poor,” Niehaus says. “This is definitely a disease where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”