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Building Barriers to Infection

An unexplained reduction in feed efficiency can leave producers questioning ‘what’s gone wrong’? Thompsons’ technical specialist, Mary-Jane Robinson has a look into one of the big poachers of profitability at this time year.

When cows are fit and healthy, they will partition a significant proportion of nutrient resources to stimulate the production of milk. However, when the immune system needs help to fight off potential infection, nutrients will be partitioned away from milk production and potential profitability. There are many factors which can be responsible for this happening, but between January and March the conditions are ideal for the rapid spread of Digital Dermatitis (DD) to occur. Housed cows and slurry levels all exacerbate the occurrence of DD, which can be found on any farm irrespective of whether they run a high or low input system, with the result always being the reduction in overall feed efficiency and ultimately profit. Research by Nigel Cook has suggested that DD could cost producers £190 per case, which includes direct costs for treatment and the indirect costs when performance and fertility are affected. DD requires an open approach to its treatment as several methods may be required to ensure it is gotten under control within the herd.

Identify and Act

Dopfer et all in 1997 identified five stages of DD, which highlights that the problem has not changed in over twenty years, but the solution on how producers manage it have. The five M0 – M4 stages can be determined by lesion size, colour and whether its acute or chronic, with M4 being the worst scenario to have. M4 can be identified by thickening and proliferation of the skin i.e. hairy warts which serve as a reservoir of infection that when conditions are favourable again, become the source of a new outbreak. Research has shown that the weakening of the skin barrier due to irritation and excessive moisture, combined with bacteria such as Treponema species can cause DD. 

Performance Partnership

Skin integrity is known to play a crucial role as it serves as a pathogen barrier, but as the epidermis of the skin becomes weakened and damaged by physical or chemical trauma the end result is DD. Research has shown that skin integrity and immune function can be enhanced by manipulating the total level of trace minerals being fed. Over the last 10 years, the partnership with Zinpro and Thompsons technical team has brought the development of a specific mineral ‘top up’ pack as part of an overall approach in reducing DD and boosting the animal’s immune status. In the initial study incorporating six farms and 1500 cows with supplementation over a four-month period, the Thompsons local study saw an average reduction across the 6 herds of 44%, with some units dropping as much as 60%. 

Prevent and Cure

Currently the main tool in the fight against DD is management and hygiene measures. Running closed herds and taking bio-secure measures, which prevent infected animals from entering the herd, is one option to keep on top of the disease, however not realistic from a practical point of view. Other management factors such as combatting risk factors such as abrasive walking surfaces and regular hoof trimming can address horn formation and identify DD lesions early and with treatment, can hopefully prevent the lesion from becoming chronic. 

The most common prevention is regular foot-bathing of cow’s feet in a variety of treatments. Maximising the effectiveness of a footbath programme is dependent on getting a few things right; hygiene, footbath design, frequency of use, chemical concentration and the number of cow passes prior to change. 

When a DD outbreak occurs topically treating cows’ feet will be a necessity, foot bathing solely will not address the problem. The use of trace minerals such as zinc, copper and manganese, which when fed in a readily bioavailable form at the correct rate, have been proven to be advantageous not only in reducing DD but reducing the severity of other claw lesions such as solar ulcers and white line disease.

Manging these hidden costs at farm level requires a multifactorial approach to ensure we can reap the benefits of ensuring nutrient partitioning goes to driving milk production as opposed to fighting some underlying herd health issues within the herd.

For more information on how you can improve the performance of your herd, contact your local Thompsons representative or the office on 028 9035 1321.


Posted 13,02,20 by allison.

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