Cattle, Hardware Disease, and Lost Keys

My sister came by for a visit yesterday (yes, we wore masks and yes we social distanced). She told me later that evening that she dropped by Cracker Barrel on the way home from my house to pick up dinner for her and her husband. She decided to shop, while she waited for her food to be prepared. I mean, who, in their right mind, can go to a Cracker Barrel and not shop?

When it was time for her to leave, she couldn’t find her car keys. She searched her purse and pockets thoroughly. No keys. She looked in the car to see if she had left them in the ignition. No keys. She looked in the parking lot. No keys. She went back into the store and searched around all the areas she had been. No keys. She called her husband who brought her another set and she left. She said it put her in the worst mood for the rest of the evening, not knowing where those keys disappeared to. She couldn’t get her mind off of those darn keys all night.

I know how she felt. Have you ever lost something that was never found? I have. Several years ago, I lost a cell phone (it was a flip phone and not a smart phone). I remember where it was last used, and I was convinced it was in the house somewhere. We turned the house upside down and we never did find that phone. I searched outside and in my car. It still bugs me as to where that phone disappeared to.

When I was in college, I was taking Livestock Management (which turned out to be my most favorite course in college). Each student was assigned a calf (a very LARGE Holstein calf) to halter break. The livestock barn where the calves were housed, was just past a large field beyond my dorm and easily within walking distance. I went with a friend and classmate one day to work with our calves and since I wasn’t taking a purse, I just put my keys in my back pocket. My keys were on a HUGE black rectangular lucite key chain with the name “Gail” on it (these were popular in the 70s and 80s).

This was similar to the key chain I lost in college except mine was black and said “Gail”

I had my dorm room key, my house keys, keys to the veterinary clinic I worked at, and a set of car keys on this keychain. The section of the barn where the cows were kept, had a deep layer of muck in it, making it difficult to walk. We had boots on, but my friend and I found it quite a chore to walk in. Trying to wrangle down a cow in ankle-high muck to get a halter on it was exceedingly difficult and I seem to recall we fell a time or two.

When it was time to go, I couldn’t find my keys. They had obviously fallen out of my pocket. We looked all around the barn but they were nowhere to be found. I figured they were buried deep in the manure/muck. We looked outside and traced our path back to the dorm, keeping our eyes peeled in the grass for those keys. Nothing. The key chain was rather large and it wouldn’t have been difficult to spot.

I mentioned the lost keys to my Livestock Production professor. He told me later that he had taken a metal detector and combed the barn and while he found everything else under the sun, he never found my keys. It worried him so much that he even spent a second day searching the barn for those keys! I finally told him it was okay and not to worry about them. They were gone. He did worry. He was the nicest man.

Photo by Dan Hamill on

I was convinced that a cow ate that keychain. I still think that to this day. My professor said it was very possible. Cows will eat just about anything. I used to know a large animal vet who had a glass case in his clinic displaying everything he had ever removed surgically from cow stomachs and it was unbelievable and quite interesting to look at!

Cattle often eat nails, screws, barbed wire fencing, hay baling wire, pebbles and rocks. This ingestion of metal objects is called Hardware disease in cattle. The correct term is actually bovine traumatic reticuloperitonitis. It is more common in dairy cattle but can be seen in beef cattle too. Signs are usually depression, poor appetite, a reluctance to move, and painful defecation. Farmers often feed magnets to cattle to prevent Hardware disease. The metal objects will collect on the magnet which prevents damage to the stomach.

Years later, that livestock barn was torn down as they expanded the campus. I often wonder if someone found those keys when the barn came down. I doubt it. I still often wonder what became of those keys. I still say a cow ate them.


About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Animals, cattle, College, Memories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cattle, Hardware Disease, and Lost Keys

  1. Relax... says:

    LOL! I think you’re right!

  2. Wow! Not even a metal detector could find those keys. Too bad you couldn’t X-ray those calves. Ha! I never knew that cows would eat ANYTHING.
    It bugs me to no end when I lose something and I can’t find it. Especially when I KNOW it’s in the house somewhere. How do things, particularly large things, just disappear?

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