By Dr Nick J. Bell MA VetMB PhD PG cert vet and George Shaw, MPharm MPSNI

Lameness is a challenge, but digital dermatitis is very easily controlled and prevented.

With 30% of cows affected at any one time and probably almost 100% over a lifetime, there is huge opportunity to improve and gain better foot health.

Prioritise feet hygiene

To prevent digital dermatitis from occurring in the first place, the focus should be on foot hygiene. The whole herd goal of preventing digital dermatitis is to create clean, dry feet. This means it is important to look for manure pooling in walkways where animals are constantly standing and to use a proper footbath system. When utilising footbaths, it is important to aim for an appropriate contact time with a well-constructed and well-positioned footbath, with a proven footbath product in it.

Foot baths are prevention, which is better than cure

Once an animal is infected with digital dermatitis, she will carry the disease with her for the rest of her life. One way to manage this is through proper footbath use and identifying active lesions for timely treatment. The goal is not to focus solely on treatment but to prevent new infections by disinfecting feet, ideally every day if not every milking.

Cows with active lesions can be identified and promptly treated to reduce the pain and send the lesion to a healing state that does not infect other healthy feet. Footbathing also appears to help keep infected cows free from infection if done properly at the right concentration of product.

Using the footbath will require some tinkering and adjustment at various times throughout the winter period, and indeed the whole year. It is almost like treating the footbath like a dial, where at certain times you will need to increase or decrease the footbath solution concentration and frequency of use to match the level of digital dermatitis in the herd. Therefore monitoring and management of digital dermatitis on a continual (weekly) basis will make it cost effective.

Footbath management

Some tips for best management practices for footbaths so it lends itself to being less of a chore and more a routine job:

1. Use a well-designed footbath with adjacent mixing facilities. Long enough for 2-3 feet immersions so ideally around 3metres long and 0.6metres wide

2. Provide a footbath at least every other day and adjust based on outcome to achieve a minimum frequency to maintain control

3. Use an antibacterial with evidence of efficacy against digital dermatitis and other infectious lesions

4. Use the solution as long as it is effective e.g. 150 up to 500 cow passes for a standard 250litre bath

5. Footbath all cow and heifer groups

Alternatives to copper and formalin

Without doubt copper and formalin are the two most traditionally used footbath agents but each have drawbacks associated with them in terms of safety and legalisation.

Formalin chemically cauterises digital dermatitis wounds to help healing but general industry opinion is that it is not beneficial for acute active stage lesions. Importantly, it is classified as a probable (class 1b) carcinogen and should be handled in accordance with national legislation. Under UK law this means persons should be trained and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Copper sulphate under EU biocide law is not permitted to be used in footbath solutions for animal use as it is an environmental hazard. Also copper can be quickly inactivated by footbath contaminants like manure and urine, meaning it has a low cow pass capacity for 150 or less unless you use an acidifying agent.

Hoofsure Endurance range

Dr Nick Bell states that Hoofsure Endurance is: “the only product I’ve ever trialled that has performed as well as formalin at preventing new lesions, and I’ve trialled a lot of products”.

Hoofsure Endurance is well placed to help dairy farms get on top of and control lameness. It is a proprietary footbath solution with more than 40 trials across three continents. Notable research shows it is up to 44% more effective than formalin and copper sulphate with proven antibacterial activity*. Also Hoofsure Endurance will allow up to 500 cow passes through a 200litre footbath making it a very cost-effective solution. Hoofsure range also includes Konquest hoof gel and Combat hoof spray for individual hoof application.

Co-written by Dr Nick J. Bell MA VetMB PhD PG cert Vet. Ed. FHEA DipECAW BM(AWSEL) MRCVS and George Shaw, MPharm MPSNI.

*References available on request