Friday, January 27, 2012

Cow Magnets and Harry Potter

I've been keeping my eye out for new Mad Science possibilities for Vacation Bible School.  A few weeks ago I saw some magnets on the clearance shelf at Hobby Lobby, so I picked up the 2 packages they had on hand.  Then I stashed them and forgot about them.

Yesterday I found them and pulled 2 out.  These are small bar magnets, about 2" x 1/2", and are labeled N and S on the ends.  The back of the package says that they are alnico magnets.  Then the package mentions cow magnets and the prevention of Hardware Disease.

Cow magnets?  Curious minds want to know!

Apparently cows do not have discriminating lips and will swallow whatever gets into their mouths, including nails, staples, pieces of barbed-wire fencing ...  You get the idea.  Those little pieces of metal can do nasty things to cow insides.  But if stopped before they get too far into the cow's gastro-intestinal system, the metal pieces are relatively harmless.  Feed the magnets to the cows early in life and the magnets attract all that metallic debris and the cow lives longer and happier.  Makes perfect sense.

And then, I found this sentence on the Wikipedia page:
While the resultant mass of iron remains in the cow's rumen as a pseudobezoar (an intentionally introduced bezoar), it does not cause the severe problems of hardware disease.
A bezoar?  Like the one used by Harry Potter to save Ron's life after he drank the poisoned wine in Professor Slughorn's room?

Yes!  Just like that one!  (Well, it would be like that one if bezoars actually possessed the powers they were believed to have 1000 years ago, but that's beside the point.)  Again, from Wikipedia:
Bezoars were sought because they were believed to have the power of a universal antidote against any poison. It was believed that a drinking glass which contained a bezoar would neutralize any poison poured into it. The word "bezoar" comes from the Persian pâdzahr (پادزهر), which literally means "antidote".
So the magnet becomes a pseudobezoar (pseudo- because it was artificially introduced instead of growing there naturally) which essentially neutralizes the potentially fatal effects of the sharp metal objects ingested by the cow.

Wow.  You just never know what sort of informational journey a simple package of clearance magnets will take you on.

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