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Feet Health; Digital Dermatitis in Heifers

Feet Health; Digital Dermatitis in Heifers
By Alasdair Taylor 5 months ago

Digital Dermatitis (DD) is a highly infectious disease, with associated costs due to loss of production, ranging from £75 - £81 per case (N.Bell), so minimising its effects are a no brainer, especially as DD can be under diagnosed in many herds.

Once there is DD in your herd there is no way of getting rid of it but the effects can be minimised; new infections can be stopped. Although you may not see a lot of lesions, once animals undergo a period of stress, or are exposed to conditions which compromise the skin barrier, the DD bacteria called ‘treponemes’ corkscrew their way through the skin where they will remain.

Anaerobic, wet, damp conditions, like slurry, will challenge the skin surrounding the hoof which is where the treponemes flourish and can make their entry. (Gomez,2018).

Most farms do a good job of keeping on top of breakouts with routines involving religious foot bathing or topical treatments; which can help prevent outbreaks and flare ups in active lesions.

A more robust way to tackle dd is looking at what we can do to prevent the initial infection and the severity of any lesions that break out.

Providing the correct nutrition and trace minerals can help improve immunity and strengthen the skin of the coronary band where infection usually occurs.

Zinc is one of the key trace elements required to promote a healthy skin barrier and encourage growth and repair.


  • Forms part of the immune system in the skin to prevent entry of bacteria
  • Stimulate the healing process when wounds occur
  • Ensure skin and other keratinised tissues are strong and durable

High iron levels in grass can reduce the ability of zinc to be absorbed by the body.

Using protected zinc products as part of a fully mineralised ration has been shown to significantly reduce the incidents of dd, particularly when fed to animals before they become exposed to environments where you know you have dd.

Feet Health; Digital Dermatitis in Heifers

Trial work has shown that animals fed a specific dd formula, alongside other trace minerals, not only saw a big reduction in dd but also an increase in: dry matter intakes; feed efficiency; and a first lactation milk yield.

Growth and dry matter intake

Improving the integrity of the skin barrier will help to prevent and minimise the incidents of dd. Correct mineral supplementation will help reduce the financial costs associated with outbreaks. If the skin barrier can be improved before it becomes exposed to challenging conditions, or areas where there is a high rate of dd, this will help you will have a much better chance to reducing the negative effect it can have on your herd.


Alasdair Taylor

Dairy Specialist

m: 07766 30212

e: alasdair.taylor@wynnstay.co.uk