Nigel Cook recently reviewed current footbath practices used in dairy herds, questioned the mechanism by which footbaths function, and reviewed the available scientific literature for guidelines to assist in the creation of best practices for their use. Based on that review, a summary of his recommendations for footbath design and management is presented.
The University of Calgary Lameness Research Team has been hard at work studying the use and effectiveness of footbaths on Alberta dairies.
While there is progress to be made in proper usage, the good news is: Results confirm that footbaths are an effective tool in decreasing the prevalence of digital dermatitis (DD).
With digital dermatitis (DD) now being implicated in non-healing hoof lesions, its control is becoming more important than ever. Footbathing remains the key way of controlling DD infections on-farm, according to British veterinarian Sara Pedersen who says:
“Digital dermatitis is often described as ‘mastitis of the foot’, so foot bathing can be considered the equivalent to teat dipping in mastitis control. It can also help harden the hoof and make it less susceptible to penetrating injuries or shearing forces.”
The frequent claim that copper sulfate (CuSO4) is effective in controlling digital dermatitis (DD) is supported by little scientific evidence. Only one of seven articles evaluated in a recent study found a positive effect of CuSO4. In addition, most of these studies are relatively small, do not compare CuSO4 with no treatment (negative control), and, often, no clear positive effect of CuSO4 is demonstrated. Until better studies have been conducted, the efficacy of CuSO4 foot baths in controlling DD remains largely unproven.
Copper sulfate disposal from dairy farm footbaths can result in significant accumulation of copper in soil which may be detrimental to crop growth. Regulators in several US states have established maximum soil loading rates for copper.
The greater the manure contamination of the lower leg, the more frequently cows should be foot bathed. While some farms with excellent leg hygiene may use a footbath only once a week, others must footbath 5-7 days per week.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin conducted a study using a custom-designed footbath to test four different bath dimensions with two different step-in heights. Optimum dimensions to maximize foot immersions while limiting solution volume are recommended.