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Tackling digital dermatitis

Is digital dermatitis a problem on your farm? Routine foot bathing is the most practical method of control, but to be successful it must be carried out effectively, writes Christopher Breen of College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

Without regular foot bathing, the incidence of digital dermatitis will increase weekly during the winter.

Tackling digital dermatitis

Ideally, provide a double foot bath; a bath to wash feet, followed by a treatment bath. The wash bath is needed to remove manure which reduces the effectiveness of the chemical in the treatment bath.

Depending on the level of manure, cleanliness of cow’s feet and floor before entry, the pre-wash foot bath may need to be changed during milking.

If using a pre-wash bath there should ideally be one cow length between the pre-wash and treatment baths, along with good drainage to remove excess water.

If there is not enough space to fit in both baths, wash the cow’s feet with a hose before they leave the parlour on the way out to the footbath. When carrying this out, adjust the parlour hose to a softer spray to reduce the risk of a mastitis flare-up.

To allow time for good penetration of the chemical, the cow needs to take at least three strides through the treatment bath.

The bath must, therefore, be at least three metres long. Fill the bath to a depth of 10 cm to ensure the foot is covered up to the top of the hoof.

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Accurately measure the amount of chemical required. This includes topping up. Dilute mixes are not as effective and more concentrated mixes may damage cows’ feet leading to more incidence of lameness.

The frequency of treatment depends on the incidence of infection. The minimum regime should be to foot bath after four consecutive milkings each week to minimise digital dermatitis in dry cows. It is also important to continue foot bathing throughout the dry period.

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