The Foot

Pre-wash bath

If twin baths are used, with a wash bath prior to the main footbath, the wash bath should be located 1.5-2m in front to prevent carry-over and dilution of the active footbath solution in the second bath. It’s common for mild soap solutions to be used in a wash bath, to allow manure to be loosened and air to reach the inter digital space. Wash baths can be easily employed in the footbath regime but should not be used instead of chemical solutions as they do not disinfect. They do, however, mean that the foot bath solution has a better chance of getting to the desired location on the foot that needs treating.


Particular care should be taken when foot bathing in cold weather and it should never be done in freezing conditions as the solution will freeze, making the alley ways and footbath extremely hazardous for your animals. An increase of infectious hoof disease is often attributed to the difficulty of foot bathing in the severely cold months of winter.


Spraying in the parlour or in an automated system is another preventative measure that can be taken. Hooves should be cleaned prior to spraying so that the solution has a chance to penetrate into the infected area and using correct dosage instructions sprayed directly onto the rear of hooves/lesions. This method is often noted as more effective than foot bathing, as you have the opportunity to treat the hoof directly with a full strength solution that is not neutralised by manure or heavily soiled with bacteria. The dilution rate spraying is often different than that for a footbath, so always read the product dosage instructions.

Foot bathing

Various management tools are available to help reduce lameness and the losses resulting from it. as documented above. Infectious lameness, however, is particularly hard to combat. Prevention of infectious lameness is far better. cheaper. and more successful than treatment and foot bathing is recommended for the control and prevention of infectious hoof disease.

In outbreaks of disease, foot bathing is necessary to prevent animals from becoming chronically infected. But foot baths should always be used routinely as a measure to control infectious hoof diseases and not to cure them, just as teat dips are used daily to control mastitis. Foot baths are not a substitute for good hygiene management, but they do assist in the control of the environmental factors that make hoof management so complex.

Foot baths and solutions

Footbaths are most commonly used to prevent and control DD. The most widely used formulations including formalin solution (5-10 percent), zinc or copper sulphate and quaternary ammonium compounds, or other commercial multi-compound products, in various strengths. Veterinarians sometimes also prescribe antibiotics for use in foot baths, but antibiotic treatment is expensive; it involves a milk withdrawal period and it is thought that the bacteria that cause DI) can become immune to it, so it is generally advised to only use antibiotics minimally.

Some footbath solutions have drawbacks and should be used carefully. Formalin is banned in many countries as it is known to have carcinogenic properties and is very unpleasant to handle; use of this product is therefore not recommended. Heavy metals like copper and zinc salts are also rapidly becoming more tightly controlled due to potential damage both to animals (copper toxicity of ruminants) and the environment, as these substances build up and are completely non-biodegradable. To prevent hoof diseases effectively, while limiting the effect on the environment, biodegradable hoof care solutions are generally recommended.



The best location for a footbath is in the exit lane from the parlour or AMS, with enough space to prevent a build-up of cows. In an AMS. the best position is at least one cow length after the exit of the milking station in order to minimise exit times. Footbaths can also be placed between the feeding and resting area in these set-ups if well defined and separated by one-way gates. It is also possible to put a two-way separation gate at the exit of AMS. One way the cows can exit normally, the other way would take them through a foot bath. With this gate. the farmer can establish an automatic foot bathing routine for his cows and can keep it clean on the days its not used. Most baths are singular, walk-through style, but a wash bath can also be used in a twin footbath set-up.

Its important that footbaths are placed in a well lit area, alley ways are kept clean and dry and baths are either regularly cleaned or cows can go via another route when the baths are not in use. Cows often have to walk through an empty bath and, if manure is allowed to collect here, it will become a slurry pit and a reservoir for disease. An alternative option is a plastic or fibreglass footbath that can be lifted out of the way when not in use, or an automated footbath that is flushed out automatically at pre-set times during the day to eliminate manure. It is also important to ensure that the area has good drainage, otherwise manure, water and footbath solution may collect in puddles.

Footbaths should be at least two cow strides long, as every hoof should ideally enter the solution at least once. The solution should be deep enough to bathe the interdigital space (approxi­mately 12cm deep) and foot bathing should be carried out at frequent intervals depending on the level of infectious disease in the herd. Recording and documenting foot bathing ) can help to determine this level.