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Digital Dermatitis - from the inside out

Digital Dermatitis winter 2014

Digital Dermatitis - from the inside out

In 2010 survey work carried out by AFBI Hillsborough showed that 79% of Northern Ireland’s dairy herds counted digital dermatitis (DD) as a significant problem. A more recent review co-ordinated by Thompsons has highlighted that the incidence of DD is not reducing. Larger herd size and the trend towards confinement have both contributed to these statistics making DD a worldwide problem of epidemic proportions. Alongside the detrimental effect on animal welfare, DD has a significant effect on animal performance, in particular milk yield and fertility with recent estimates putting the cost of DD at £130/case -based on current milk prices.  

The causes of the disease are not fully understood, but research both locally and globally has shown that bacteria - present in the everyday dairy environment - target areas of poorer skin integrity. When this is combined with a moist, low oxygen environment such as the feet of housed dairy cows, infection can develop within days into an outbreak of DD. Currently the main tool in the fight against DD is regular foot-bathing addressing the problem with an “outside in” approach. While a topical approach is an important means of treatment it can be costly and time consuming with health and environmental risks associated with some of the products. Unless rigid protocols are adhered to with footbath management its impact on the disease can also be short-lived.  

In the winter of 2013 Thompsons decided to explore - on a practical basis - the scientific background available from mineral partner Zinpro. With skin integrity and immune function at the root of DD the objective was to create a trace mineral product which worked internally and assisted cows in their fight against the onset of the disease. The concept revolved around the knowledge that both skin quality and immune function can be improved with specific supplementation of certain trace minerals. Tech teams from both Thompsons and Zinpro worked together to formulate the “DD pack” and set up an on-farm trial to identify the benefits of the product.  

Six dairy farms were selected across the province with a total of 1500 cows in total being put on trial at beginning of 2014. Initial assessments were made of the DD incidence on each unit pre-trial commencement and the DD pack product was then fed to each herd for a total of four months with two further incidence assessments made at mid trial and the finish. All the herds involved in the trial were footbathed as part of normal management routine and this practice continued unchanged throughout the duration of the trial.       

The results after four months from the six farms have proven to be very significant and are shown below. The initial incidence rates which varied from the highest herds with 61% of cows showing an infectious lesion to the lowest at 32%.  Average reduction across the herd was 44% with some units dropping by a massive 60% and over.

The Thompsons DD pack, developed in association with Zinpro Performance Minerals is the first product within the U.K dairy industry to address the issue of digital dermatitis from internally within the cow. While it does not replace the need for well managed DD protocols on farm such as foot-bathing and slurry management, it does represent not only a new trace mineral product but also an entirely new approach to controlling and reducing DD on dairy farms. The Thompsons DD Pack is now available upon request in Thompsons’ blends plant for further information on the product and DD pack trial work please contact the Tech team on; 02890351321.  

Posted 06,11,14 by allison.

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