Just as proven teat dips help control contagious mastitis, an effective footbath program can help control and prevent (not treat) the spread of infectious claw lesions on the dairy.

By cleaning and disinfecting the foot and interdigital space (region between the toes of the cow’s foot), footbaths help prevent the development of infectious lesions including: digital dermatitis (hairy heel warts), foot rot, interdigital dermatitis and heel erosion.

Several factors should be considered when evaluating the effectiveness of your footbath program:

• type of solution used
• how frequently the solution is changed
• footbath dimensions
• footbath placement

In addition, it is important to know the level of antimicrobial activity in the solution and how much interaction takes place between the solution, foot and interdigital space. Remember, antimicrobial activity is dependent upon factors such as temperature, concentration of active ingredients and soil load (organic matter).


Changing the solution
It is recommended that footbath solutions be changed every 150 to 200 cows to maximize effectiveness of treatment solution. If group sizes are less than 150 to 200 cows, producers should alter times when footbath solutions are changed, so that cows in each group periodically have access to fresh solutions.

It should be noted that limited research exists regarding the optimal time to change footbath solutions. Currently, it is not known if the optimal interval is dependent upon time, number of cow passes or both. The optimal interval may also vary from dairy to dairy, depending upon cleanliness of cows, footbath size and footbath solution.

Footbath size
Effective footbaths allow each foot of the cow to receive at least two “dunks” in the solution.

To facilitate this, footbaths should be a minimum of 8 feet long and 3 feet wide; however, the width may be reduced to 2 to 2.5 feet wide if the sidewalls on the footbath are 18 inches or higher. Footbaths should be filled with a minimum of 4 to 6 inches of solution to ensure that the solution comes in contact with the skin of the interdigital space.

Using a pre-bath
If feet are not clean prior to entering the footbath, producers should consider using a pre-bath in conjunction with a treatment bath. The pre-bath filled with either water or a soap and water mixture (1 quart dishwashing soap plus 24.75 gallons of water) should be located a minimum of 6 to 8 feet in front of the treatment bath. This encourages cows to defecate prior to entering the treatment bath. In addition, separating the treatment and pre-bath by 4 to 6 feet results in only minimal contamination of the treatment bath with the pre-bath solution. It is recommended that pre-bath solutions be changed as frequently, if not more frequently, than solutions in the treatment footbath.

Other considerations
Footbaths can be an effective tool to help prevent and control infectious claw lesions when properly sized, changed at regular intervals and filled with effective solutions. Claw lesion records should be kept on the dairy to help evaluate the efficacy of the footbath program. These records also provide valuable information for assessing the overall efficacy of other management protocols (frequent cleaning of pens and lots, good nutrition, good claw trimming program and good biosecurity) used to reduce lameness on the dairy. PD