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3 minute read

Why Isn’t Your Dairy Cattle Footbath Working?

Graphic showing keys to cattle footbath effectiveness
Dr. Daryl Kleinschmit

Lead Researcher – Dairy
Zinpro Corporation

Many dairy producers rely on footbath programs to help prevent and control chronic infectious foot diseases and claw lesions, such as digital dermatitis, in their herds. A footbath system is a simple way to quickly and effectively disinfect large numbers of cattle with a footbath solution, no matter the type of operation. But a footbath system that isn’t properly built and managed can actually do more harm than good. Maximizing the effectiveness of your footbath program hinges on three key factors:

  • Hygiene
  • Proper footbath design
  • Effective footbath management

Avoiding the following common mistakes can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a footbath, as well as help prevent cow hoof problems like hairy heel warts that cause claw lesions in dairy cattle. 

Improper length and/or width of cattle footbath

In general, experts recommend footbaths should be:

  • 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 meters) long to ensure each foot gets at least two immersions in footbath solution
  • 6 to 2 feet (0.5 to 0.6 meters) wide to keep cattle moving
  • Solution that is a minimum of 4 inches (10 cm) deep for proper immersion in footbath solution
  • Angled splash panels to contain the footbath solution and solid side walls to keep each cow moving

Icon realted to footbath maintenaceLack of maintenance

Solution that is allowed to get dirty or is not the correct composition or concentration can dramatically decrease its effectiveness. The common industry standard is to change the footbath solution after every 100 to 300 cows. However, frequency will vary depending upon cow cleanliness, type of disinfectant or chemical concentration used, size of the footbath, and weather conditions.

The solution is too strong

If this footbath solution is too strong, this increases costs without improving results and can also cause skin burn and irritation. Overuse of some chemicals can also create vapor harmful to both humans and animals. Always have proper ventilation and carefully follow chemical label instructions.

Temperature Icon

The solution gets too cold

Some chemicals commonly used in footbath solutions stop working at 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) or colder.

Image of a calendarInconsistency

Footbaths should be used on consecutive days each week. Foot and leg hygiene of the herd will help determine the number of days required. Dirtier cows require more frequent footbathing. Always have experienced employees or even the same person in charge of managing footbaths for consistent mixing and maintenance that maximize cost-effectiveness. On non-footbath days, keep hygiene in check with a soap bath (1 quart soap per 25 gallons of water; 1 liter of soap per 100 liters of water).  Cows should be able to bypass permanent footbaths on days when they are not being used.

Icon of a list of expectationsExpecting too much of the cattle footbath

Footbaths aren’t a silver bullet to prevent lameness due to infectious claw lesions in cows. Continue to follow best practices for your overall hoof health program including: regular hoof inspections, proper claw lesion identification, locomotion scoring, hoof trimming  and overall foot and leg hygiene to complement your footbath program.

For more information on effective footbath design and management on dairies, download the Creating & Managing an Effective Footbath brochure.

Zinpro also offers a First Step® Application for customer use which includes a footbath assessor. When used in conjunction with hygiene scoring, the First Step footbath assessor helps develop a footbath program for dairy operations. You can make adjustments based on First Step recommendations to create a footbath program that works to optimize your herd performance.