At this time of the year, it can be difficult to stay on top of lameness issues and foot bathing in your herd because with breeding, grassland management and second-cut fertiliser application, there is a lot of work going on.

However, during the breeding season especially, it is crucial to limit any lameness problems as it could hinder a cow’s chances of going back in calf.

Lameness will affect a cow’s behaviour as she will show less signs of oestrus making it difficult to detect her heat.

This may disrupt your breeding plan – with lower submission rates, delayed ovarian cyclicity, reduced conception rates, increased calving interval and higher chance of ovarian cysts forming.

A single case of lameness could potentially cost €350 – from loss in production, to reduced fertility, to the cost of treating and culling.

Prevention through grazing infrastructure is the best practice, however, foot bathing is a key part of the prevention and control of infectious lameness-causing diseases.

Foot bathing

Foot bathing is particularly important to manage digital dermatitis, also known as mortellaro’s disease, which is a painful and infectious.

This disease can spread rapidly through a herd and and can disrupt a herd’s lameness status.

A Teagasc study took place place in 2023, which identified that 44% of farmers reported having digital dermatitis issues on their farm and yet only 31% had a regular foot bathing.

Foot bathing will allow for a disinfectant solution to be applied to each cow’s hooves at milking time, killing infectious agents and improving hoof hygiene.

Foot bathing could prove to be a waste of time if it is done incorrectly, or worse still, it may actually contribute to the spread of the disease, thus emphasising the importance of correctly doing it.

Ensuring results

It is essential to make sure that there is good cow flow through the foot bath and ideally, the foot bath should be close to the exit of the milking parlour.

The foot bath should be level with the ground with no steps up or down to further ensure that there is a good cow flow and that the cows are not damaging their feet going into the bath.

To allow for further ease, the bath should be wide enough – a minimum of 700-800mm wide and 3m in length will be adequate for a herd of up to 250 cows.

For herds of over 250 cows, a foot bath should be at least 2m wide to allow for two cows to pass through simultaneously, allowing for better cow flow.

The length of your foot bath is crucial as an adequate size (2.5-3m) will allow for each foot to be sufficiently immersed in the solution, as per guidance from Animal Health Ireland (AHI).

In order for this to be effective, your solution depth should be 100-125mm with the volume of solution equating to 1L/cow, meaning in a 120-cow herd, you will need 120L of solution to do the whole herd at once.

It is important to change your solution regularly. The 1L of solution should be used and changed after one cow goes through.

By multiplying the length by the width by the depth of the solution, measured in metres, will give you the volume of your foot bath in cubic metres and by knowing this information you can get the right concentrations.

You should consult your vet to get the most appropriate solution for your herd. Formalin, copper sulphate, or other commercial products containing peracetic or organic acids are all options.

The frequency with which cows need to be foot bathed depends on how common or severe the disease is within your herd.

Herd’s where digital dermatitis (DD) is a major problem should be foot bathed after every milking until the disease is under control.

It’s important to not substitute good management practices with foot bathing – a foot bathing programme will not solve a DD problem if your yard and facilities are not in good order.