Cow footbaths: ease and frequency

How often should you footbath your cows, and how can you make it easier to incorporate footbathing into your normal routine? This page shows you how to make your footbath easy to use.

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How often should your cows pass through the footbath?

The correct frequency for footbathing depends on the extent of the problem:

  • Cleanliness of the feet
  • Percentage of the herd infected
  • Seriousness of the lesions

Current evidence suggests that a regimen of footbathing after four consecutive milkings every two weeks can be effective in preventing Digital Dermatitis (DD) in herds with a low prevalence of it. In high prevalence herds, you should footbath your cows every milking.

A more scientific way to decide how often to footbath your herd is to screen the whole herd before starting footbath use and repeat the screening again six to eight weeks later to measure the effect.

Remember if bathing isn’t done well, it won’t matter how often it is done, because it still won’t work!

Which animals are being footbathed?

Ensure that heifers and dry cows are also footbathed. These cows often have low grade DD, which can flare up after calving. Footbathing can keep it in check.

How easy is footbathing on your farm?

Your footbath should be simple to use in your normal routine, so it should be easy fill, easy to empty and easy to clean. It should also be easy for all groups of animals to access the bath. If you find footbathing a dirty and difficult chore, consider what you could do to improve it. Here are some points to bear in mind:

  • For milking cows, a permanent footbath in the parlour exit race is the most obvious choice, as this means cows will be used to walking through it, even when it’s not in use
  • Never put a footbath in the entrance to a shed or parlour, as it becomes a gravel trap, as well as affecting the cow flow of the whole herd
  • Wide footbaths are good for cow flow, but require a larger volume. A 1.5 m width allows two cows to pass through at the same time, but for larger herds you will need a width of at least 2 m
  • A good space in front of the footbath means it’s less likely to be a bottleneck, reducing stress on you and your cows
  • A well-positioned permanent single footbath might be good for all groups of cows, including dry cows and heifers, which can be walked through regularly
  • The floor of the bath should be on the same level as the approach and exit floor. Avoid footbaths that cows have to step down into, as they don’t like this
  • Cows prefer same level to stepping over a curb into a bath. Avoid slopes into or out of the bath. If a curb is necessary, use flat-topped curbs rather than rounded, as cows can see these more easily and better judge their foot position
  • Design drainage for easy cleaning. A hole and bung in the lowest corner works, but makes for slow rinsing out. You’ll clean more quickly if you have a 20-30 cm sluice gate in the lowest corner and sliding into inserted rubber slots
  • For baths positioned over slats or a channel, a 10–20 cm plug hole drain in the bottom works well. Build drainage points into a side extension at the lowest corner of the bath to protect plug bungs from being damaged by the cows’ feet
  • For rapid filling, consider a raised water tank (such as a 1,000 litre IBC container), particularly if water pressure is low
  • Generally, plastic troughs that need to be positioned each time they’re used, and that are emptied by tipping out, don’t make for easy footbathing. Cows often don’t like walking in plastic footbaths, particularly if the floor surface has ridges, and if they’re temporary, they interfere with the cows’ normal routine

Useful links

Cow footbaths: good cow flow and contact

Cow footbaths: maximising detergent effectiveness

Cow footbaths: chemical dilution rate

Cow footbaths: narrow and wide footbath designs