Status of Alberta dairy hoof health and how footbaths can help us improve it

By Dr. Karin Orsel, Emilie Belage {The original article entitled, WHAT CANADIAN COWS ARE TELLING US ABOUT FOOTBATHS by Karen Orsel appeared in the Blog Dairy Hoof Health

The University of Calgary Lameness Research Team has been hard at work studying the use and effectiveness of footbaths on Alberta dairies. While there is progress to be made in proper usage, the good news is results indicate footbaths are an effective tool in decreasing the prevalence of digital dermatitis (DD).

The Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project collected data of 158 dairy farms. A total of over 40,000 cows were presented to the hoof-trimmer, and they found approximately 50% of cows had a claw lesion. Digital dermatitis (43%) was the most common, followed by non-infectious causes like sole ulcer (17%) and white line disease (15%).

The cause of most infectious claw lesions (DD, interdigital dermatitis, foot rot, heel horn erosions) is often multifactorial, but hygiene is very important to prevent these types of lesions. Footbaths play a very important role in control and prevention of infectious hoof diseases.

The research team evaluated some critical aspects of a functional footbath: dimensions, refreshing and refilling of solutions, and product(s) used. They found most footbaths in Alberta fell short of the recommended dimensions: often too short, too wide and not deep enough. However, they found most provided enough coverage to dunk the entire cow’s foot (more than 10 cm of coverage). Most Alberta dairies were using footbaths more than twice a week and product was refreshed after every 200 cows, according to recommendations. As for products used, copper sulphate was most commonly used on dairies as their main protocol, but some used formalin or a combination of both products.

This research team also investigated how implementing a standardized footbath protocol affected the prevalence of DD infections. The farms that used an intensive copper sulfate footbath protocol had less cows with active lesions and saw an improvement of present DD lesion stages, compared to farms with less specific and less frequent protocols regardless of product used.

“The optimal frequency of footbath use to maintain low DD occurrence, appears to be more than twice per week, regardless of which product is used”, says the main investigator on the team.

This research shows when footbaths are well designed and carefully used, the prevalence of active DD lesions considerably decreases.

 More research is underway to discover which footbath products successfully balance the health of the animals, humans and environment. The University of Calgary, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, is also studying in the lab how footbath solutions impact bacteria that cause foot lesions like digital dermatitis.

The University of Calgary Lameness Research Team includes Dr. Herman Barkema, Ed Pajor, Gordon Atkins, Laura Solano, Casey Jacobs, Emily Morabito and Charlotte Pickel.

For more results and resources from the Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project, visit

Key findings from studying footpaths:

  • Footbaths are an important component of claw health management.
  • Footbath location should allow undisrupted cow flow, and preferably allow passage of young-stock, dry cows and new additions to the herd.
  • Footbaths should have proper dimensions (3 to 3.7 m long, 0.5 to 0.6 m wide, with a 28 cm step-in height).
  •  Not all products available are equally effective.
  • Adequate frequency of use, and product concentration are essential.
  • Contamination of the footbath by manure reduces the effectiveness.
  • In low temperatures, the solution is less effective (especially formalin).

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