A free-stall dairy system is commonly used when cows are being housed for an extended period. The system includes open stalls where dairy cows can rest separate from the herd. However, this can aid in the spread of infectious hoof diseases. In a free-stall environment, footbaths must be part of a routine.
Controlling the spread of infectious hoof diseases such as digital dermatitis (heel warts) requires applying topical antibacterials to the cow’s hooves. When regularly applied the topical will prevent painful lesions, a common symptom of hoof disease. Examples of antibacterials include formalin, copper sulfate, along with zinc compounds and other types of approved disinfectants.
Implementing a bovine foot bath will control disease spread but it’s also important that it is well-designed. Not only will this ensure its effectiveness but also keep the cost down. The antibacterial topical must be applied to the animal’s hooves as they walk through but it’s just as important to cost to ensure that too much is being used. Before the foot bath is constructed there are a few things you should know.
A bovine footbath should measure 3.1 to 3.7m in length (10 to 12ft.). 51 to 61 cm in width at the base (20 to 24in.) There should also be a step 25 cm in height (10in). The side walls should be sloped 0.9 m (3ft ) above the floor. The antibacterial solution should not be deeper than 10cm (4ft). The footbath should have a level floor. Dairy cows should be able to walk past the footbath when it’s not being used.
A final tip is to avoid using wash baths. It’s not a cost-effective solution for preventing the spread of infectious hoof disease.
Bovine Footbath Dimensions
Footbaths are used by dairy farmers around the world. There are some differences in size and design. Often this is due to the size of the herd, along with available materials and finances. However, one of the most commonly used designs measures 196cm long (77in) and 91cm wide (36in). The depth is 15cm (6in), just enough to cover the cow’s hooves. The footbath also holds 190 lt. (50gal.).
Even though this is the most commonly used dimension, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best. There is a problem with the overall design that could be costing you money, while also being ineffective at controlling the spread of hoof disease. When the footbath is 1.8m (6ft) in length or less, only one of the animal’s back hooves will be submerged in the solution twice. When both back hooves are immersed twice in the antibacterial topical the treatment is less effective. For the footbath to effectively stop the spread of disease both back hooves, along with the front two, must be submerged twice.
There are advantages and disadvantages to constructing a longer bovine footbath. The main downside is that you will be using more of the antibacterial solution, and this typically does cost more. However, it is more expensive to treat the sores that typically appear when an animal has hoof disease. In most cases, this also means that the entire herd will need to be treated to prevent the disease from spreading again. However, if the cost of using more of the solution is not financially possible you can make other changes to the dimensions that won’t affect its effectiveness.
By researching the placement of cows’ hooves over varying distances, our studies have shown that the best length for a footbath is at least 3 m (10ft) for double immersion of both back hooves. Bovine footbaths that are 3.7m (12 ft) long allow for one back hoof to be submerged three times. Since research has shown that when hooves are submerged at least twice in the solution the chances of disease spreading are significantly reduced.
To avoid having to use more of the solution in a longer footbath, while still ensuring its effectiveness, you will want to change the width along with a few other measurements.
As long as you keep the side walls gently sloped, cows can maneuver through narrower foot baths. Keeping the width to 51cm (20in) allows you to control the volume. You can use less of the solution while still ensuring its effectiveness. The entry can be widened to 91cm (36in) at the same height above the bath’s floor. Raising the step-in to 25cm (10in) does not impede the cow’s ability to safely enter the bath. It does ensure that more the solution is retained, while also forcing the cattle to take smaller steps. With smaller steps, the animal is placing its hooves in the solution more often.
We found with the 25cm step that bath would have a depth of 8 to 10cm (3 to 4in) and still have plenty of solution left for the last cow to fully submerge their hooves.
In simpler terms. it is possible to have a longer 3.7m (12ft) long foot bath that is 61cm (24in) wide, has a 25cm(10in) step, and is filled to 9cm(3.5in). This means that it holds 197lt (52gal) which is the same as a shorter and wider foot bath.
One important tip for a longer bovine foot bath is to have a drop panel – hinged – located on one side. There will always be the possibility that a cow could slip and fall. You will need a quick and easy way to help her get back on her feet. Cow manure can also be a problem when the herd is going through the footbath. Enclosing the sides to give the bath a tunnel-like feel will keep the animals moving and reduce the amount of waste you have to clean up.
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Where to Place the Footbath
Where the footbath is located is just as important as the design. You don’t want the footbath to be in the way. The goal is for the animals to be able to easily bypass it when it’s not being used. If you allow the cows to wander through it all of the time, you will be spending a lot of time keeping it clean and ready for the next use.
Footbaths also typically have either steel or concrete floors which makes them almost impossible to move once it is constructed. This reason alone makes it imperative that you have a plan laid out before you start building.
Parlor exit lanes are a common location but it also comes with problems. These lanes are commonly sloped and this can slow down the progression of cows through the bath. Cows will slow down, if not completely stop when there is a slope they need to navigate. Stalled cows not only slow down the time it takes to lead them through the bath, but it also gives the animals time to defecate. An ideal solution to this problem is to level the lane where you want to put the footbath. Adding a platform at the end of the bath, along with a down step will help keep the cattle moving at a steady pace.
You can also create a transfer lane. You will want the lane to be level, to keep the cows moving. By attaching gates at the ends of the lane, it can be open or shut depending on if it is being used. There is a downside to placing the transfer lane between the barn if you live in a colder climate. The floor can freeze if you did not include heating pipes in the design.
Regardless of where you decide to place the bovine foot bath, it should always have sloped sides. If the sides have a curb, instead of a gentle slope, you’ll find that some cows will choose to walk on the curb instead of through the bath. When this happens, there will still be hoof disease present in the barn.
Larger dairy herds are often milked with a robotic system. It is more efficient, though without proper planning placing a footbath can be problematic. The footbath cannot be in the way of the robots and you also don’t want the cows trampling through it whenever it’s time for milking.
There is a solution where both systems can function smoothly together. If the robotic milking system is on the side of the cattle pens, the footbath can be placed in the center lane. Cows will be able to easily navigate the bath when it’s in use and avoid it when it’s time to be milked. If the milking system is in the barn center, you might still have to use the transfer lane for both milking and the placement of the footbath. Very few barns are wide enough to allow for the center placement of two systems. In this case, you might have to accept the fact you will be cleaning the transfer lane more often than you initially intended.
Regardless of where you decided to place the footbath, you will need an area to mix the antibacterial solution. Chemicals are involved in the process and you do want to keep them away from the herd. An old bulk tank will work great and it’s also inexpensive. Once the solution is mixed, the ‘milk-pump’ can be used to transfer the solution to the footbath. You will probably need to add to the mixture after 150 to 350 cows have passed. With the pump, it can be easily done.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Wash Bath
Hoof disease can be a serious problem for dairy farmers. To help prevent the disease from spreading throughout the herd some people take the extra step of placing a wash bath at the entrance to the footbath. Along with trying to moisten the debris on the hoof so it is more easily removed in the footbath, it’s also believed that it helps the cows to defecate before entering the bath.
Neither of these reasons is accurate. You are only making additional cleanup work for yourself.
Dipping the cow’s hooves in water will get them wet but it won’t loosen or remove any debris. For a wash bath to be an effective start, you will need to use soap or even rock salt over an extended period. It also does not help keep foot baths free from manure. Research has shown the opposite. When foot and wash baths are combined there is typically more debris contaminating the antibacterial solution.
Along with the transfer of wash water to the foot bath, which in turn results in contamination, the strength of the antibacterial solution can be diluted. There are precise directions for mixing the chemical solutions and to much water will make it less effective. When the foot bath isn’t effective diseases start to spread throughout the barn.
It’s also important to think about where the wash water is going to go unless you have a large and deep manure lagoon. Over 12 months, the water will be stored and eventually used as fertilizer. However, if you have 1,000 head of dairy cows you would use 189lt (50 gals) of water 5 days a week. The solution also needs to be replaced every 200 cows. To determine the volume of water over a year the formula would be,
189 lt (50 gals) x 5 days x 5 replacement solution x 52 weeks = 246,052 liters (65,000 gals). Every year you will have to be able to store and spread this volume of wastewater. For many farmers, the volume is more than they can store and use making wash baths unnecessary and impractical.
Preventing hoof disease is a priority of every dairy farmer and the most effective method is with a long, narrow footbath. The antibacterial products used are equally important in preventing the spread and severity of the disease. At Hoof Solutions, our experienced team is ready to answer all of your questions concerning bovine foot baths. Along with being able to provide expert advice, we also have a line of effective products that will help keep your dairy herd healthy and disease-free.