Best Treatment for Digital Dermatitis

Posted by Graham Crocker on

There is no doubt about it: farmers are being hit in all sectors whether it is arable, pigs, sheep or dairy.

My dear old mother used to say “You do dairy cows son and you will always be assured of a sensible cash flow”.  How times have changed.

Dairy farmers must look at any opportunity to cut out unnecessary spending.  For far too long foot bathing for digital dermatitis (also known as hairy heel warts, strawberry foot or Mortellaro disease) has gone under the radar and farmers have not appreciated the cost savings that can be made from moving away from this old system.

To understand the alternatives, it is necessary to understand the disease.

The bacteria which causes Digi belongs to a very clever family of bacteria called Treponemes which is a spirate bacteria and hides under the skin.  Most farmers already know that Digital Dermatitis (DD) is classed from M0 to M4 with M2 being the sore strawberry like lesion.  The peculiarity of this disease can be seen from the diagram below. Dynamics of Digital Dermatitis | Dairy Hoof Care | Lameness in Cows

DD throws the rule book out.  As can be seen from the arrows in the diagram, it can jump or re-invent itself very quickly; going from what appears to be healed or healing at M4 back to a severe case at M2 in a single jump and virtually overnight. 

So often vets and consultants are heard to recommend how big, long and deep footbaths have got to be. The plain truth is they never have been and never will be very cost effective or even very good at curing DD. The moment frequent foot bathing is stopped in the late winter DD will become a nightmare on most farms.

So what are the choices?

Since copper sulphate has been made illegal to use in footbaths, farmers only have 3 alternatives to use:-

  1. A waste product like Formalin;
  2. A specifically manufactured product;
  3. Prescribed antibiotics.

Formalin looks extremely cost effective because it is so cheap per can.  With the dilution of at least 5%, the size of foot baths and the frequency of needing to footbath with this product, costs can run away with themselves. All too often Formalin has to be supported with individual treatments, vet prescribed antibiotics like Linco-spectum and CTC sprays.  One other big problem with Formalin which no one seems to mention is the risk of it getting into the food chain via splashing on the teats as the cow passes through the foot bath.  Formaldehyde which is a member of the Aldehyde family, is very difficult, if not impossible, to completely get off the cow’s teats.  As well as being known as a carcinogen, surely all this equates to a risk which is just too costly for the dairy industry?

There will never be a VMD registered manufactured product that will treat DD in the foot bath because the necessary cure rate would never be achieved.  Also, costs can be prohibitive especially with the current price of milk.

It is only a matter of time before a milk producer is brought to task by a milk buyer or farm medicines inspector as it is so simple to tie farm medicine books and milk tickets.   Linco-spectum in a footbath leaves farmers too vulnerable via traceability through farm assurance schemes if the necessary milk withholding period is not conformed with and adhered to as prescribed by the vets.  

The only obvious place where cows stand on clean concrete for any length of time is in the milking parlour.  This has to be the ideal place to apply a product so it can effectively tackle DD with sufficient concentration and contact time.

The Quill Hoof Spray System was developed for the milking parlour so that Hoof-fit Spray Liquid could be applied quickly, easily and directly onto the cow’s skin where the DD lies. It will always work out far cheaper and better than foot bathing; the obvious saving is directly on the formalin and vet/hoof trimmer bills and indirectly by improved cow motivation scores.  We know to combat DD, Hoof-fit Spray Liquid should cost no more than 50p per cow per month.  This cannot be bettered. 

Hoof-fit Spray Liquid contains chelated copper and chelated zinc in exactly the same ratio of copper and zinc as in the Hoof-fit Gel, a product registered and recognised by the VMD and the industry as the only antibiotic free cure on the market.  It is the chelated copper and the chelated zinc where the secret lies and the effective cure rate of DD is achieved.

Quill Productions offers a money back guarantee on the Hoof-Spray System equipment which costs initially in the region of £550, depending on the size of the parlour and the farmer’s preferred method of application (drop coil or drag line).

Quill Hoof-Spray Systems have been installed by farmers and used successfully all over the UK.

We have many testimonials of farmers who cannot believe the amount of time and money this system has saved them.  One such instance was in the West Country.

A distraught farmer recently telephoned me in desperation because his well known milk buyer was going to stop collecting his herd’s milk as DD was creating a serious welfare issue and he had had a previous warning over the lameness situation.  I called the milk buyer, on his behalf, and asked for four or five days grace for the farmer who was awaiting delivery of a Hoof Spray System which he had just purchased to sort the problem out.   I told the buyer that the farmer would quickly see an improvement.  The buyer agreed to continue collecting the milk in the meantime, pending results.  I had a call from the farmer a few days later to pick a bone with me…his cows had galloped into milking for the first time in years and had broken through his baler twine…Needless to say the farmer (and the cows) were delighted.  When the buyer came back to the unit a fortnight later he couldn’t believe that he was looking at the same herd.   That farmer is still using the spray to keep DD at bay and under control to almost the point of eradication.

Another sceptical farmer from the Welsh border had read about and seen the System on our website and eventually purchased a system.  He rang up about 10 days later and went on and on about how the system had saved him so much time separating out cows for the foot trimmer to treat for DD. He said “I’m so made up, you just won’t believe it Graham”.  I said that I do know because when I was milking I had the same problem. 

**Please note that the above article was first published in Scottish Farming in February 2016


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