Dairy profitability is greatly affected by herd health and animal well-being. Providing proper care and housing throughout the dairy animal’s life significantly reduces metabolic and reproductive disorders and increases milk production. Management practices that address “how-to”, as well as judicious use of antibiotics are becoming increasingly important as producers strive to provide safe and wholesome food products. When it comes to health issues in dairy operations, lameness is the main concern along with mastitis and reproductive issues. Digital dermatitis (DD), commonly known as hairy heel warts or foot warts, is one of the most common foot diseases of the dairy cow and can be found in even well-managed dairy herds. Digital dermatitis has been reported on 70 percent of all United States (US) dairies and on 95 percent of large (500 plus cows) operations, according to the February 2009 Dairy Cattle Health and Management Practices in the US, United States Department of Agriculture/National Animal Health Monitoring System report.
There is limited data on the prevalence of digital dermatitis within the dairy heifer herd, however, we know it’s there. Often, heifer rearing facilities do not allow the ability to properly treat and manage digital dermatitis within the dairy replacement herd.
University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine research supports findings of negative impacts of digital dermatitis on health, milk production and reproductive performance during the first lactation of a heifer diagnosed with DD prior to calving. The cost of DD can range between $3 and $239, based on individual first-lactation milk yield per heifer. If more than 5 percent (ideally goal is to have less than 1%) of heifers have digital dermatitis lesions at calving, or shortly after calving, one must evaluate the heifer program for hairy heel wart onset and prevention in heifers.
In this recent Wisconsin Agriculturist article (as well as reprinted in the WI State Farmer and national Farm Progress magazines) Extension Dairy and Livestock Agent Tina Kohlman discusses how to determine the age of heifer at the time of disease onset and how to treat and control digital dermatitis within the heifer herd.