Wednesday, December 8, 2021
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Tackle lameness before it hits your bottom line

by Dr Nick J Bell, MA VetMB PhD PG cert Vet. Ed. FHEA DipECAW BM(AWSEL) MRCVS, and George Shaw, MPharm MPSNI

LAMENESS is one of the most common debilitating health issues for dairy cattle.

According to Cattle Health and Welfare Group Report 2020, the disease having the biggest economic impact for dairy cattle was lameness, with an overwhelming 36 per cent of survey respondents specifying lameness as the industry’s biggest health and welfare issue.

Research studies show the prevalence of lameness in UK dairy cattle has remained high over the past decade, with Randall et al reporting in 2017 that lameness prevalence ranged from 7.3%-60.6% (30.1 per cent average), clearly indicating that some dairy farms manage to control lameness better than others through improved prevention, detection and treatment.

Several factors are associated with lameness in dairy cows, including genetics, the environment and management.

Management can be particularly important with low body condition score (BCS) and previous lameness events being major risk factors.

There are four types or causes that lead to most dairy lameness issues: digital dermatitis, sole bruising, sole ulcers, and white line disease.

Digital dermatitis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called treponemes, spiral-shaped microorganism found on most dairies around the world.

Classical signs of this painful disease include raw, red, oval shaped lesions typically found on the back of the cow’s heel but they can appear as a range of warty or scabby lesions on the skin of the foot.

Often lots of interdigital growths is what is seen first. Outbreaks happen mostly when animals are in consistently wet and dirty conditions.

Digital dermatitis has significant economic impacts on the dairy with an estimated cost per case of approximately £80 and often affecting around 40 per cent of cows in the herd. This does not include lifetime effects such as development of other lesions and necrotic hoof lesions either, as these are yet to be fully defined by the industry.

While there is no method of eradicating this lameness causing disease, digital dermatitis can certainly be managed if you know what to look for.

Prioritise feet hygiene:

To prevent digital dermatitis from occurring in the first place, the focus should be on hoof hygiene.

The whole herd goal of preventing digital dermatitis is to create clean, dry feet. This means it is important to look for manure pooling in walkways where animals are constantly standing and to use a proper footbath system.

When utilising footbaths, it is important to aim for an appropriate contact time with a well-constructed and well-positioned footbath, with a proven footbath product for the solution in it.

Footbaths are prevention, which is better than cure.

Once an animal is infected with digital dermatitis, she will carry the disease with her for the rest of her life.

One way to manage this is through proper footbath use and identifying active lesions for timely treatment.

The goal is not to focus solely on treatment but to prevent new infections by disinfecting feet, ideally every day if not every milking.

Cows with active lesions can be identified and promptly treated to reduce the pain and send the lesion in a healing state that does not infect other healthy feet.

Footbathing also appears to help keep uninfected cows free from infection if done properly at the right concentration of product.

Using the footbath will require some tinkering and adjustment at various times throughout the winter period, and indeed the whole year.

It is almost like treating the footbath like a dial, where at certain times you will need to increase or decrease the footbath solution concentration and frequency of use to match the level of digital dermatitis in the herd.

Therefore monitoring and management of digital dermatitis on a continual (weekly) basis will make it cost effective.

Alternatives to copper and formalin:

Without doubt copper and formalin are the two most traditionally used footbath agents but each have drawbacks associated with them in terms of safety and legalisation.

Formalin chemically cauterises digital dermatitis wounds to help healing but general industry opinion is that it is not beneficial for acute active stage lesions.

Importantly, it is classified as a probable (class 1b) carcinogen and should be handled in accordance with national legislation. Under UK law this means persons should be trained and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Copper sulfate under EU biocide law is not permitted to be used in footbath solutions for animal use as it is an environmental hazard. Also copper can be quickly inactivated by footbath contaminants like manure and urine, meaning it has a low cow pass capacity for 150 or less unless you use an acidifying agent.

Hoofsure Endurance range:

Dr Nick Bell states that Hoofsure Endurance is “the only product I’ve ever trialled that has performed as well as formalin at preventing new lesions, and I’ve trialled a lot of products”.

Hoofsure Endurance is well placed to help dairy farms get on top of and control lameness. It is a proprietary footbath solution with over 40 trials across three continents.

Notable research shows it is up to 44 peer cent more effective than formalin and copper sulfate with proven antibacterial activity.

Also Hoofsure Endurance will allow up to 500 cow passes through a 200 litre footbath, making it a very cost-effective solution!

Hoofsure range also includes Konquest hoof gel and Combat hoof spray for individual hoof application.

Customer feedback:

“I had struggled with Digital Dermatitis on my farm and had tried many other products to control it however nothing seemed to control the problem effectively. By using Hoofsure Endurance I’m saving money and the cows are in better form which means I’m in better form.”

“I have seen a huge benefit from Hoofsure Endurance. The cases of Digital Dermatitis have reduced a lot, intake is better, and my cows overall are more content.”

“Over this summer we had cut back our footbath control measures, and Digital Dermatitis gradually got worse. I had used Hoofsure Endurance before at a standard rate but hadn’t used any other treatments along with it. This time when used at the stronger rate and combined with spot spraying and Konquest gel, I have been very pleased with the results. I am also using it in the heifer and dry cow groups”.

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