Robotic system: 1 DeLaval VMS™ box unit on Feed First with 3 Smart Gates™
Farm: Andrew & James Walsh, Co. Wexford, Ireland
Soil type: Heavy to medium-heavy
Weekly rainfall: 30 mm
Milking cows: 47
Grazing platform: N/A
Housing System: Feed First guided traffic
Recap of Week 13
- Barn Lighting
- Keeping camera lens clean
- 1.70 kg Ms/cow/day
Week 14 (22nd - 27th December)
Growth Rate N/A
Stocking Rate N/A
Demand/cow/ha 0kg DM/ha
Fed/day cons + 14kg FW fodder beet
SCC (‘000) 86
TBC (‘000) 3
On the farm Christmas season in full swing! Up until Christmas we were busy trying to get tasks done so that we could enjoy the festive season with minimal worry i.e. washing fodder beet, cleaning out houses etc. More cows were dried off this week and we had the first of the heifers calve down just before Christmas day! Weekly topic: Footbathing Cows in any system (robotic or conventional) tend to do a lot of movement and walking, especially when grazing. As a result their hooves need to be managed and maintained well as to avoid impairing the cow’s day-to-day movement. Lame cows and robots do not tend to mix as travel frequency is reduced meaning more work for the farmer fetching these lame cows. Also the more walking a lame cow does the slower she is to heal. A footbath is a crucial but yet small investment on dairy farms. Prevention of lameness will increase milk yield, improve fertility (more standing heat), improve cow welfare and reduce stress on the cow.
The objectives of a footbath are:
- Treat established infection
- Kill surface bacteria
- Harden the claws
- Harden skin around the claws
Digital Dermatitis or commonly known as Mortellaro, is a frequent cause of lameness in Irish dairy herds. Foot bathing is an essential part of preventing the spread of this infection, and for treating infected animals.
We use a 5% formalin footbath for an entire day once a fortnight. We situate a plastic footbath in the feed first smart selection gate (gate that leads to the robot) so that all of the cows will pass through it at least twice a day while grazing and 3-4 times while indoors.
Given the dramatic changes in weather this year from dry to wet, many of the cows hooves got soft by the time they were in late lactation. Stones then penetrated the hooves allowing infection to set in. There was a high number of lameness incidents in the late autumn, but with the introduction of the footbath a month later we went from five lame cows to only 1 lame cow!
The formalin killed the bacteria and prevented the spread of infection. The hooves were hardened meaning stones were no longer damaging them, so the bacteria had no entry point into the hoof.
A 5% copper sulphate solution can be used, and is effective but this may not be practical in some situations as the copper sulphate will corrode galvanised metal work, such as around our smart selection gates!
Key times to footbath
When grazing, the ideal time to start foot bathing is in the middle of summer to keep the hooves hardened for when the wet period comes after summer is over. Herds that footbath right through the summer have been shown to drastically decrease infection and lameness in the herd. It is often recommended to footbath once a week while the cows are housed indoors as there is a higher risk of infection and spread of the infection amongst the cows.
We have found though that once a fortnight is adequate for keeping lameness to a minimal, unless there is severe lameness in the herd. When designing a layout for the AMS, it is recommended to consider where to place a footbath in the optimum position as to not impede on cow flow.
Ideally cows should walk through the footbath prior to milking, before they return to the paddock. The disinfectant will have time to soak into the hooves while the cow waits to either enter the robot or while she is being milked. This will increase the effectiveness of the disinfectant.
Tip of the Week
As mentioned, lame cows do not work well with robots as they are not so keen to walk much while they have sore feet! Having a nearby paddock for lame cows can be a good idea to reduce the distance the cow has to walk in the day. What we find works well is using the closest grazing block to send any lame cows to. For instance block C is closer than block B so we will send lame cows to C rather than to B. This is another benefit of the 3-way grazing where there will usually be a spare paddock for these cows and fresh grass can be allocate to them.