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The benefits of whole-herd footbathing

Anthony Marsh for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 October 2021

Digital dermatitis (DD) is a major cattle disease priority, and lameness is the top syndrome impacting cattle production and welfare, according to a recent Ruminant Health and Welfare grassroots survey.

This response is not surprising given the infection’s presence in the majority of the United Kingdom (UK) dairy herds and an increasing number of beef herds.



Add to the fact lameness levels within the UK average dairy herd are reported to be running at approximately 30%, and it begs the question: How do we strive to achieve zero lameness? Most farms of any size and type would agree that goal is nearly impossible, but figures of less than 5% can and are being achieved.

The benefits of routine footbathing dry cows and heifers, as well as twice daily the milking herd, was reflected in a recent survey in which 92.5% of farmers reported a reduction in DD following the installation of an automatic footbath. Visiting the farms reporting the lowest levels of lameness uncovered a common theme – routine footbathing the whole herd.

Several farms have shared their successes with whole-herd footbathing, such as Grosvenor Farms in Cheshire, UK, where they installed two automatic footbath systems at the milking parlour exit as well as the same system for youngstock. They footbath heifers twice a week from 12 months old and the dry cows once a week. Herd lameness currently amounts to less than 4% with fewer than 1% DD.


The same approach was echoed on Thomasson Farms, also based in Cheshire, UK, where their milking herds are footbathed through an automatic footbath twice daily, and heifers from 7 months old and dry cows are routinely footbathed once or twice a week. They’ve reported a huge benefit from adopting this routine, and issues only arise when the footbath cycle is broken.


Further, according to producer Harry Roper from Preston, UK, DD incidence is being maintained at less than 1% in the 400-cow herd, with less than 3% of the herd culled for lameness. The farm runs a high-input, high-output pedigree Holstein herd currently averaging 12,200 litres on 3X milking and with a 378-day calving index. Every heifer over 12 months old, together with all the far-off dry cows, are footbathed four times a week – using an automatic footbath placed next to the old milking parlour – which takes them only two hours per week. Routine hoof trimming is also carried out with every cow before she reaches 150 days into lactation and again before going dry. Less than 1% of the cows enter the milking herd with DD, and they maintain that level throughout lactation.

The health and welfare of the transition group of cows and heifers entering the herd is fast becoming the focus of attention – and rightly so. How healthy a cow is when she enters the herd is crucial to how quickly she settles in, how quickly she reaches target production, then how soon she gets back in calf while avoiding other health issues.

Routine footbathing is a simple solution to an avoidable lameness problem for all to adopt. Therefore, is zero lameness possible? These farms set the benchmark for good practice with consistent results of less than 1%. end mark

PHOTOS: A whole-herd footbathing approach has been found to reduce the incidence of digital dermatitis. Courtesy photos.

Anthony Marsh
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