Lameness & Foot-Bathing 


lame cow

Lameness is becoming a more and more common problem in the modern beef and dairy herd. As stocking densities increase and cows are kept in-doors longer and longer due to the poor weather, lameness problems increase. There are many infectious causes of lameness in cattle and regular foot-bathing can aid in the treatment and control of most of these.

Some common Foot Lesion Causing Lameness

Digital Dermatitis

Laminitis with characteristic rings around toes
Cow laminitis

Interdigital Hyperplasia
iterdigital hyoer

Interdigital Dermatitis
interdig derm

Solar Ulcer

Subsolar Abcesses 

Foot bathing

Foot-bathing as a preventative measure, as well as for treating certain foot conditions has become a valued means of controlling potential contagious hoof problems (like digital dermatitis and foul-in-the-foot) before they pose a particular problem to the welfare and productivity of a herd/flock. This method is most regularly used on dairy farms, where cattle mobility experts recognised their value in reducing lameness. 

However, for effective results from regular foot-bathing, it requires some degree of management, and not simply walking the herd through a contaminated foot bath as they exit the parlour: 

If your cattle suffer from some of the following problems, there may be a problem with your foot bathing routine:

  • Outbreaks of digital dermatitis (DD) or foul-in-the-foot (FITF)
  • Lameness outbreaks straight after foot-bathing
  • Lameness due to DD
  • Superfoul
  • Severe or chronic DD
  • Cows weight-shifting and shaking feet (particularly after going through the footbath)
  • Growths between the claws
  • Burned skin around the feet or udder
  • Poor cow flow
  • Cows jumping through the bath 
Essentials when footbathing:

1. Bath dimensions:

  • Depth should be enough to cover the heels (>3 inches, 80mm) and deeper the better (up to 6 inches, 150mm).
  • Wide enough – preferably wide enough to allow one cow to pass another.
  • Long enough – 2 sections each 8foot (2.4m) long to allow 3-4 steps.

2. Correct concentration of footbath at the start and the end:

  • Work out the volume of the bath and the right amount of agent you need
  • Dung will dilute any solution so that the last cows are not treated effectively. Under typical conditions, a 200 litre bath of formalin will treat 200 cows. Best policy is to empty and refill once the number of cows bathed exceeds the volume of bath. Some agents evaporate or bind with slurry, so refilling after 24-48 hours is also recommended. Refill if you think it looks severely contaminated.

3. Are the feet clean?
Foot bathing is more effective if the feet are cleaned by:

  • Washing with powerhose (important for antibiotic treatments)
  • Footbathing daily
  • Straw yards
  • Being out at pasture

4. Slurry (and straw) deactivates disinfectants. Therefore, maintain an effective footbath you should:

  • Completely clean the bath of slurry before starting
  • Make bathing a daily routine
  • Make good cow flow – minimise the stress for cows
  • Do not run sore footed cows through strong formalin – its sore on them
  • Use a pre-wash bath – cows defaecate in this and preserve the second bath
  • Do not use straw in baths (except when encouraging good cow flow at the start of a programme)

5. Is cow flow good?

  • Put bath on normal exit route for cows
  • Place the bath at a distance from the parlour (so cows can queue, especially if the bath is single cow width)
  • Make bathing a part of the daily routine for cows
  • Use solid baths that don’t bang or clatter
  • Make the bottom comfortable to walk on – no sharp ridges

6. Allowing treatments to work
Cows need to walk out onto a clean, dry yard for 20 minutes to allow agents to work on feet. This is hampered by:

  • Walking into unscraped yards or muddy tracks/gateways
  • Walking out onto pasture or straw yards
  • Deep pools of water or slurry in yards

7. Miscellaneous problems need to be identified and corrected:

  • Spread of infection at foot bathing due to dirty conditions around the foot bath
  • Foot bath a hassle to fill – make sure a hose reaches the bath
  • Foot bath a hassle to drain – have a plug to pull out a sidewall drain, and make the drain 4inches diameter
  • Fumes in the parlour – make sure the bath is located away from the parlour pit if you’re using formalin, and do not allow cows to walk through a foot bath immediately prior to milking
  • Cold weather – dissolve copper sulphate salts with warm water
  • Rain water – make sure rain water doesn’t flood the bath (fix drains and gutters, refill regularly in very wet weather)

Type of treatment

Please consult your vet about specific regimes, withdrawal times, precautions and dose rates

Antibiotic – useful for strategic treatments such as Linco-spectin or Tetracycline

Disinfectant – useful for routine prevention such as Copper sulphate, Zinc sulphate and Formalin

Possible improvements checklist:

  • Accurately knowing the number of, and monitoring lame cows
  • Being consistent for a long enough period with your chosen footbath routine to evaluate its effectiveness
  • Inspecting the feet of all stock brought onto the farm and treating accordingly
  • Paying attention to treating dry cows and youngstock
  • Treating acute cases topically, in addition to footbathing
  • Ensuring that cubicles are very comfortable and that all access passages are clean and in good repair
  • Returning cows to a clean standing/lying area
  • Including a pre-wash bath
  • Putting in a longer, more effective footbath
  • Measuring treatment depth after the last cow has passed through
  • Minimising spillage
  • Improving drainage to allow easy cleaning of the footbaths
  • Keep cows cleaner by good slurry management