Top tips for controlling Digital Dermatitis in cattle

Digital Dermatitis is a serious problem on many dairy herds, and an increasing number of beef herds. If a high proportion of the herd is affected it can have a severe impact on yields and fertility. It’s not easy, but it is definitely possible to keep it under control.

Digital Dermatitis

First – if you don’t have Digi on your farm – if you’ve never seen lesions like the one on the picture – keep it out! Don’t buy in cattle, and ensure that all foot trimming equipment is cleaned and disinfected before coming onto your farm.

Once it’s on your farm, it’s unlikely you’ll eliminate it, but you can control it. Think of it like controlling cell counts – you have to keep at it:

Hygiene is important – keep feet as clean as possible. Run automatic scrapers as frequently as possible, ensure ventilation and drainage is good, and keep any straw yards dry and well bedded.

Foot bathing is essential. What goes into the footbath is less important than how it’s done:

Ensure it’s deep enough to cover the hoof completely

Check the volume of the footbath, and calculate the correct concentration:

A 200 litre footbath will need 6 litres of formalin or 6kg of copper sulphate to make a 3% solution.

Around 200 cows is generally the most you should put through a footbath before changing it, though that depends on the size and how clean the feet are.

Frequency is the key to success – if there’s a lot of Digi about, you’ll have to footbath more frequently. Many farms footbath 5 days a week; farms with less of a problem may get away with twice a week.

Make it easy! Set up a system that becomes part of the normal routine.

Antibiotic footbaths are effective, but shouldn’t be used routinely. Digi can be kept under control by regular footbathing with formalin, copper sulphate, or other proprietary products (if using formalin, make sure you’re not breathing in the fumes when milking – it’s nasty stuff). If Digi is allowed to get out of control, an antibiotic footbath may be needed to get it back under control, before starting a regular programme of routine footbathing. Antibiotic footbaths are off-licence, and a potential risk for antibiotic resistance, so we should avoid using them where possible (they’re also expensive!).

If you’re seeing Digi amongst your cows, speak to a vet about the best way to get on top of it on your farm.