New Hoof Washers Reduce Digital Dermatitis

DENMARK - A scientist from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, at the University of Aarhus has reduced the problems with digital dermatitis in cattle considerably with a new patent pending automatic hoof washer.
calendar icon 14 January 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

Between 20 and 30 per cent of all Danish dairy cows are affected by the serious contagious skin disease digital dermatitis.

The disease, which affects the skin adjacent to the hooves, leads to reduced animal welfare and economic losses for the dairy farmer. Cows with digital dermatitis yield less milk. In addition, cows with digital dermatitis require extra care and lead to extra costs due to medical and other treatments.

However, a research project in the Department of Animal Health and Bioscience at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences has produced promising results with a method in which the hooves of the cows are washed, typically after the cow has been milked.

"We have developed a new, automatic hoof washer that gives the cow a 41 per cent greater chance of being cured of digital dermatitis," explains senior scientist Peter T. Thomsen, who has worked on the project since 2007 in collaboration with the Danish Cattle Federation, Aqua-Cleaner, DeLaval and the Danish Cattle Research Centre.

He points out that the hoof washer is merely an aid to control digital dermatitis and will move things in the right direction, but is not the end-all-be-all to the problem.

"We will be able to reduce problems by using the hoof washer but it is not a miraculous cure that totally eliminates digital dermatitis, he emphasises and points out that it is important that farmers continue treating diseased animals and continue taking preventive measures."

Peter T. Thomsen explains that the positive results of reducing digital dermatitis stem from tests on eight dairy farms with different kinds of milking systems over a period of six months. The hoof washer consists of a box through which the cows pass and have their hooves sprayed with water from four nozzles.

"What is so special about the system is that the cows can pass through it quickly with only minimal disturbances of cow traffic. That is an important point in the daily routine for both the cows and the herdsman," says Peter T. Thomsen.

When the animals pass through the system their hooves are washed with clean water and a small amount of soap. The farmer does not need to bother much with the system once it has been installed.

"The hoof washer is practically maintenance-free. Water usage is very low because only two litres are used per cow," says Peter T. Thomsen.

The research project was supported by a grant under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries (Innovation Law).

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