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Take a walk through footbath management

Richard Wallace Published on 26 September 2014

More than 3.8 million hooves from 959,100 dairy cows are making their imprint on Canadian dairy farms, according to recent Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada statistics. With that many cows in production, hoof health becomes an important factor in maintaining overall dairy wellness.

The Dairyland Initiative from the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine examines the impact housing environments have on dairy cow health and well-being. This includes the use of footbaths and their role on hoof health.

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According to Nigel Cook, DVM, clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and manager of the Dairyland Initiative, footbaths are used as a prevention management tool, not a method of treatment for hoof lesions.

Maintaining a clean and dry hoof environment and providing regular footbaths can be an effective hoof health management program. Let’s walk through some need-to-know footbath management points.

Location, location, location and dimensions for proper footbath set-up
When considering locations for footbath set-up on your dairy, Cook suggests situating the footbath in transfer lanes between the holding area and housing pens or in return lanes on either side of a parlour holding area.

Whether purchasing a footbath or constructing a concrete footbath, Cook recommends choosing a deep and long footbath with following dimensions:

  • 10 to 12 feet long
  • 24 inches wide
  • 10 inches of step-in height
  • One removable sidewall

  • Note that sidewalls should be sloped from a height of 3 feet above the floor of the bath to the upper edge of the bath, and the sides should be enclosed to create a tunnel.

Preventing footbath traffic jams
Promote better cow flow through footbaths by:

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  • Placing footbaths in a well-lit and ventilated area

  • Situating footbaths in exit lanes where they don’t disrupt the cow flow in barns and parlours

  • Using footbaths that are easy to clean and refill

  • Setting up footbaths on level, non-slip surfaces

A footbath protocol which incorporates these suggestions may help reduce organic matter build-up in and around the footbath.

Speaking of organic matter …
What is it about water that inspires cows to defecate? As you well know, it happens. And a dirty footbath provides no service and can even create hoof health challenges. Here’s how you can manage footbath cleanliness:

  • Check the colour.

  • Clean copper-based footbath solution should be blue-green in colour, not brown.

  • Use pH strips to check the pH of your footbath.

  • A clean footbath should have a pH between 1.5 and 4.5.

  • If pH is above 4.5, the footbath is no longer effective and must be changed.

  • Acidifiers can help maintain pH.

  • Keep track of the number of passes.

  • The current industry rule of thumb is 200 to 300 cow passes before footbaths need to be changed.

  • Some footbath products can help safely lower the pH of footbath water to ionize the copper in your footbath. More ionized copper allows for more available copper in your footbath. And that means a more efficient footbath.

  • Depending on organic load and environmental conditions, efficiently run footbaths can increase the number of cow passes.

  • You can calculate the average number of cow passes per bath by multiplying the volume of your bath by 7.5.

  • Monitor leg hygiene.

  • The more manure on cows’ legs, the quicker your footbaths will become dirty.

Lower footbath water pH
Fortunately, producers have options to reduce copper sulfate use, including pH adjusters that can safely lower the pH of footbath water to better ionize the copper.

More ionized copper allows for more available copper in your footbath, and that means a more efficient footbath that requires less copper sulfate on the farm and in the environment.

For producers looking to use less copper sulfate and save money – using less copper sulfate also means less to purchase – using a pH adjuster is a small change that can make a difference for their operation.

Work with your veterinarian to create a good hoof care program that includes well-managed footbaths on your operation. Your veterinarian can provide the best knowledge and has access to leading industry resources.  PD

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Richard Wallace is a veterinarian with more than 25 years of dairy production medicine experience in clinical practice, academia, extension and industry.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

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