Lameness can be a major health concern on many dairy farms. Not only is this an animal welfare issue, but various reports indicate that each case of lameness can cost $90 to $300.
One cause of lameness is digital dermatitis (DD), more commonly known as hairy heel warts. This infectious disease is caused by bacteria and most commonly affects the rear feet. Once a cow is infected with DD, it cannot be cured.
A field study was conducted by University of Wisconsin-Extension (UW-Extension) agriculture agents to determine the prevalence of various stages of DD on eastern Wisconsin dairy operations. They found that 18.9 percent of the 11,817 cows analyzed had M2 (acute, active) or M4 (chronic, nonactive) lesions. In the August 25, 2017 Hoard’s Dairyman article How good herds fight digital dermatitis, UW-Extension Kewaunee County Agriculture Agent Aerica Bjurstrom highlights the management practices used by those farms which had a low (5 percent or less) prevalence).
Managing DD is not easy, but certain practices can limit its impact on your herd. Farms in this study were able to control DD successfully through rigorous footbath management, excellent foot and leg hygiene, tight biosecurity, and regular hoof trimming schedules. For more information regarding hoof health and/or animal well-being, visit UW-Extension Animal Well-being and Herd Health.