Focus now on foot condition to reduce lameness in dairy herds

Dairy farmers should focus now on improving dairy cow foot condition to reduce lameness and cut treatment costs in their dairy herds over the housing period this winter.

"Now is the time to review footcare strategy," says Jo Speed, DairyCo extension officer and lameness adviser. "Many farmers housed cattle for part of the summer due to wet weather, however, following a dry spell, most herds were turned out again, and enjoyed an extended grazing period due to dry underfoot conditions and the availability of quality pastures.

"Usually cattle coming in for the winter have good, clean, sturdy feet. Some herds will have suffered from digital dermatitis during the wet spell, and additionally may now be dealing with the consequences of extended grazing facing foot damage. This may be excessive wear on the hoof, white line damage or solar ulcers as a result of an impact or trauma earlier in the grazing season.  Producers need to think now about getting feet in the best condition possible for winter housing.

Digital dermatitis is a real problem for the majority of herds across the UK, and currently the only way to tackle this disease is to prevent and treat.  Research suggests that vaccines have no proven efficacy, and the only effective way to manage lesions is to treat via regular foot bathing. At Liverpool, ongoing research has not identified an infection reservoir other than the lesion itself, this will have implications for farm management recommendations, when the final results are published.

"It is easy to pick out the cows who are extremely lame, but it is the cows who are slightly lame, which have uneven steps and uneven weight bearing/ gait, who may not be noticed until they are the lame cow at the back of the herd. These are the cows which are likely to benefit from routine trimming, and also may benefit from treatment. The DairyCo mobility score which ranges from 0 to 3, (score 3 being a very lame cow) allows you to identify the cows with scores 2 or 3 and schedule treatments. The key point is not just to identify these cows early, but to make sure they are subsequently examined and treated if required. This allows problems such as bruising and stone damage for example to be trimmed out before it becomes a problem.

"In order to tackle lesions such as digital dermatitis, footbathing is an essential part of any dairy cow foot care system and it needs to be done regularly and consistently to be effective," says Jo.  "Making a footbathing procedure easy to set up, operate and clean out encourages frequent use. There are many treatments to use, but the cost of the treatment and its efficacy in treating your individual needs should be the priority. Farmers should also bear in mind the ease of use of the treatment (some products are unpleasant to handle), and choose a product which suits them and their system. (We could put some guidelines/ table in from the footbathing booklet re: length of bath, depth of solution, and also mention the table in there to work out concentration of solution etc).

"Any farmers without permanent footbathing facilities should bear in mind that the setting up and cleaning out of a temporary footbath should take no longer than 10 minutes.  This encourages busy staff to footbath regularly.  Filling arrangements must be quick and a water hose or tap directly into the bath saves time.  If possible chemicals should be stored safely immediately adjacent to the treatment bath."

Jo continues: "Ideally cows' feet should be pre-washed before entering the treatment solution either by using a hose or prewash footbath.  This significantly reduces contamination of the footbath by dunging.

"Footbath solutions are only effective if the correct concentrations are used.  Too weak and the infection will survive, too strong and it can cause adverse reactions and chemical burns (see recs or add table?). 

"The system must be safe for cattle to use without injury.  The race must be wide enough for even the most pregnant cow to pass through comfortably and to prevent cows from avoiding the solution by straddling the bath.  It's surprising what lengths some cows will go to avoid the footbath!

"Outdoor footbaths may freeze and become slippery in frosty conditions.  In this instance all access floors to and from the footbaths must be well-maintained, without potholes and have non-slip surfaces with no tight turns, steps or steep ramps," Joanne concludes.

To order your free copy of the DairyCo's Effective footbathing of dairy cows booklet call 02476 478695.