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Footbaths improve dairy cow hoof health

Dairy Program: An average of 25% of cows in automated milking systems are lame.

March 23, 2023

3 Min Read
Dairy cows at feeder
BOOST HOOF HEALTH: A goal for herds in an automated milking system should be making footbath use a priority for animal health.Grigorenko/GETTY IMAGES

by Angie Ulness

Despite all the data points we have at our fingertips in automated milking systems, there are still areas where we can improve monitoring when it comes to animal health — particularly, hoof health.

A recent study reports the frequency of lameness in automated milking systems (AMS) is an average of 25%. Lame cows make fewer visits to the robot, have reduced milk yields and are at twice the risk of being on the fetch list.

Furthermore, only 70% of AMS herds offer access to a footbath, and only 25% of those herds run cows through at the recommended frequency of four times per week. In addition, poorly managed footbaths may actually increase foot health problems and the incidence of infectious claw lesions. Common reasons for footbath failure include poor design, weak chemical solutions and inconsistent use.

The goal for AMS herds is to keep footbath use as a priority for animal health. When designing a new facility, consider that cows can be selected to pass through the footbath as they exit the robots. A sort gate routes them to an alternative lane used only for those cows that need to be treated, while allowing the rest of the herd to exit through the main lane and return to their pen. This layout is called the tollbooth design. After milking, cows are directed down a rear exit lane, 41 inches wide, and from that lane, a two-way gate can sort them back to the pen or direct them through the footbath. With this layout, a single footbath can serve multiple robots.

In a retrofit design, perhaps put the footbath at the end of the pen, where cows need to pass to get back to the resting area. Try to avoid putting footbaths on crossover alleys, as most cows will avoid it all together.

Wherever the footbath is located, it is essential that a gate can divert cows into or around the footbath, rather than walk cows through a bath of manure each day it is not being filled. In addition, take into consideration cold climates and design the footbath with floor heating pipes so the area doesn’t freeze.

Many AMS dairies install automated footbaths that clean and refill after a designated number of cow passes. This is especially favorable to remove human error and time to perform this task.

Cattle footbath details

According to the Dairyland Initiative, footbaths should be level, 10 feet long, and 20 to 24 inches wide at the base so the rear feet receive at least two immersions while walking through the bath.

Additionally, the solution concentration should remain at its recommended percentage according to the product label and be maintained at the depth of 4 inches, so the dewclaws are submerged. No matter what chemical is used, it is important that the chemical transfers to the feet. Visit the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine’s Dairyland Initiative website to find the Footbath Dose Calculator.

We are facing times with thin margins. Lameness is a costly disease and can be reduced by running maintenance footbaths. Footbath passes can be accomplished without sacrificing cow flow by using the technology and gates to your benefit. Make footbath layout and location a priority when designing your facility. Simply run footbaths more to fetch cows less.

Ulness is the University of Wisconsin Extension dairy educator for Manitowoc County.

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