2 December 2019

 

Routine footbathing and improved slurry management has allowed a Pembrokeshire beef farmer to significantly reduce the incidence of digital dermatitis in his suckler herd.

Richard Dalton established his Stabiliser herd five years ago but had struggled to control lameness resulting from digital dermatitis, a disease which is understood to be present on more than 95% of UK farms.

This hindered the efficiency of Mr Dalton’s 115-cow beef enterprise as animals took longer to finish - lame cattle have reduced weight gains and add to the cost of production due to increased labour, feed and pen space requirements.

“Our vet bills were very high and we were using more antibiotics than we would like to have done. We had to cull stock because we didn’t want to rebreed from the affected animals,’’ Mr Dalton recalled.

Through Farming Connect’s Focus Farm programme, he worked with his vet and specialist cattle foot health vet Sara Pedersen to create an integrated herd health plan and to roll out a series of measures to reduce the disease reservoir, to prevent future cases occurring.

Sarah Hughes, of Farming Connect, said there are three key take-home messages from the project.

“Get the disease out of the herd by treating the infection, keep it out by not buying in infected cattle and don't let it take hold again by good management protocols,’’ she said.

Infected cattle are very contagious and act as reservoirs of infection within the herd. Farmers are encouraged to control the disease either by culling or by robust lesion control in order to manage sources of re-infection. 

Ms Pedersen recommends treating all lesions at the same time to reduce infection levels in the herd and environment.

 

Best practice treatment of active digital dermatitis

  1. Lift affected foot in crush
  2. Wash lesion with clean water (including interdigital space)
  3. Dry lesion gently using clean paper/swab
  4. Spray with a licensed topical antibiotic
  5. Leave to dry for 30 seconds
  6. Spray again and lower foot – no need to bandage
  7. Return to clean, dry yard
  8. Record cow as treated and visibly mark to ensure follow-up treatments
  9. Treat for 3-4 days

 

A footbath was installed at Trapps Farm, three metres long to enable hooves to be sufficiently immersed in the solution of copper sulphate; animals were footbathed daily to deal with the initial level of infection and are now walked through the bath twice a week.

Ms Pedersen told farmers attending a recent Farming Connect open day at Trapps Farm that treating affected animals on an individual level was the initial priority.

“They are the biggest reservoir of infection in the herd so by treating them all we could ensure we reduced the risk to uninfected animals,’’ she explained.

“Footbathing is really important because it prevents new infections and also the recurrence of old dormant lesions.’’

Footbathing must be done regularly, not just when there is an outbreak of digital dermatitis.

Once infected animals are treated, the focus needs to be on stopping new cases from occurring in those animals and preventing recurrence in dormant chronic lesions.

Biosecurity is key – this includes not bringing new carriers into the herd and preventing the spread of digital dermatitis among different groups of cattle on the farm.

Farmers are advised to avoid buying cattle with digital dermatitis lesions and to footbath all cattle as they arrive on farm.

Slurry management is important because not only is slurry capable of spreading digital dermatitis from one animal to another but it also causes damage to the skin and this allows the bacteria to take hold.

The acidity of slurry irritates the skin, making it less effective as a physical barrier and therefore allowing infection to enter the foot.

“We don’t have issues with digital dermatitis when the cattle are at grass but once they are in the yard we used to get problems,’’ said Mr Dalton.

“Thanks to our project work with Farming Connect we now have control measures in place and know the steps we must take to prevent infection.’’

By making the changes, he is optimistic that controlling digital dermatitis in the long term is achievable.

 

Best practice treatment of active digital dermatitis

  • Lift affected foot in crush
  • Wash lesion with clean water, including interdigital space
  • Dry lesion gently using clean paper/swab
  • Spray with licensed topical antibiotic e.g. Engemycin
  • Leave to dry for 30 seconds
  • Spray again and lower the foot – no need to bandage
  • Return to clean, dry yard
  • Record cow as treated and visibly mark to ensure follow-up treatments.  Treat for 3-4 days

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