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3 things to know about automated footbaths

Dale Baker for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 February 2019

The best action plans for hoof health and digital dermatitis prevention call for consistent footbaths, and dairy farmers have the choice between manually filling and draining the bath or using an automated system to deliver protection.

Automated footbaths can be programmed to fill themselves with the appropriate concentrated liquids, thus removing the need for employees to take on that task. Before investing in one of these systems, dairy farmers should consider how this technology will impact several factors related to worker safety, chemical use and management on their operation.

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1. Worker safety

Automatic footbaths come with different features, but all of them have the added safety feature of reduced chemical handling. The most basic of systems will just pump in the proper amount of additive, while workers still must add water and mix it into a solution. Other systems will properly mix the ingredients into a solution and fill the bath without additional manual effort. Some advanced systems will even top off the footbath after a certain amount of cow passes, while others will automatically flush out the bath and replenish it with a fresh batch of solution.

2. Chemical use

Most automated footbath systems allow the dairy farmer to pick from a wide array of liquid chemical additives. Be aware, however, that not all automated systems may work with a current solution being used to run manual baths on the dairy. Some may only be compatible with certain chemicals, so a change may be required. Do some homework to see what automatic footbath type best suits the needs of the farm. Dealers should be able to help provide information as to what options are available that will fit within the farm’s budget and needs.

In some instances, dealers may offer a free system with the purchase of a certain product. However, that free system might only be compatible with a specific product. Due diligence is required to see what additives will work with each system before getting pigeonholed into a product. If a dairy’s preferred additive is a dry or powder product, an additional monetary investment may need to be made into a mixer that can flow into the system. If the mixing system purchased won’t allow that, a dairy farmer may have to invest in a new additive compatible with the system.

After a system is procured, have the dealer or manufacturer technician properly install and program the machine. Once it is set up and running, it will fill the footbath with the proper and precise amount of additive every time. There is no need to worry about adding too much or too little, as it is properly programmed based on the chemical label instructions. Just push a button or have it set on a timer, and the machine takes care of the rest.

3. Management

A properly programmed automated footbath system can provide ease of mind in knowing that your herd is getting consistent and proper hoof health care. Conversely, manually filling a footbath brings on the risk of human error. Often, we see different people running footbaths using inconsistent approaches. When varying people are giving footbaths on different days, mistakes can and will be made. Even if the same person does the footbath routine, human error can and does occur.

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Keep in mind, however, that managing an automated system requires regular monitoring of the footbath and herd hoof health to ensure proper function. It is extremely important to mix the accurate water-to-concentrate ratio in order to provide an effective and safe footbath. Having an overly concentrated or diluted solution could be dangerous. If the solution is too strong, it could potentially damage hooves, whereas if the solution is overly dilute, the footbath will not be strong enough to treat the herd.

Systems must also be monitored for malfunctions and improper programming. Red flags include running out of additive too quickly, symptoms of chemical burn on the cows or a digital dermatitis outbreak. This makes it even more important to have the dealer or technician install the system and run routine maintenance to ensure proper machine function.

At the end of the day, the dairy farmer needs to make the choice that is best financially and for the needs of their herd. If investing in a footbath, make sure it is professionally installed and properly train all employees how to use it. It will greatly benefit your farm as they save time, money and are overall safer to operate. If deciding to remain manual, it is recommended to have a full-time staffer lead the program and train others on the proper mixtures and replenishing practices so the footbath program is as consistent as possible. If a preventative care plan isn’t closely followed, there is greater risk of an outbreak.  end mark

Dale Baker is a hoof care technical expert at AgroChem. Email Dale Baker.

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