Dairying at the foot of the Welsh hills brings its own challenges, but Richard Pilkington has succeeded in establishing one of the most productive pedigree Holstein herds in the country.
Combining a successful commercial dairy enterprise with selling pedigree Holsteins and Friesian cows from highly regarded cow families necessitates exceptional attention to detail.
Mr Pilkington has not been afraid to seek the advice of others to find solutions to some of the issues he has faced.
Digital dermatitis (DD) was one such problem and despite implementing rigorous foot bathing and targeted foot trimming, rates within the herd remained at unacceptable levels.
Mr Pilkington says: “We were already footbathing five times a week through a 200-litre bath and then Huw McConochie of Zinpro came to see us and recommended making some changes to our footbath solution.
This included adding washing-up liquid together with a small measure of sodium bi-sulphate.
“The sodium bi-sulphate is a chemical used in swimming pools and it had the effect of reducing the pH so the chemical remains active for longer and improves the solubility of the copper sulphate.
The inclusion rate was only 1-2g per litre of solution but it had a big effect on the effectiveness of the solution.
"We needed to break the issue down into its component parts so we could address each one systematically"
“The washing up liquid was the cleaning agent and I was surprised at how effective it was when added to the solution.
It improves the interaction of the chemical with the skin but also over time helps to remove the manure from the heels,” Mr Pilkington explains.
Spending time locomotion scoring the cows and then examining their feet carefully was instrumental in reducing the incidence of the disease in the herd, according to Mr Pilkington.
“Each month we would locomotion score the cows and examine every cow for the presence of DD lesions.
Key to this was looking carefully at the heels of every cow daily in the parlour with an LED torch so any lesions could be picked up immediately.
“Over time, the number of cows affected began to reduce dramatically.
Once we had a list of just five or six cows which required attention, we could really get on top of it.”
Dr McConochie visited Mr Pilkington on a monthly basis to offer hands-on practical advice and support.
He says: “We needed to break the issue down into its component parts so we could address each one systematically.
We considered hoof horn quality and how the correct mineral balance is essential to promote healthy formation of the hoof to reduce the incidence of lesions, which in turn, predisposes a cow to other problems.
“We provided a specific mineral formula, Availa-4, which contains the required organic trace minerals and this was included in the ration for the milking herd and the dry cows.
“When I first began working with Richard, the DD rate within the herd was approaching half of the animals but over time we reduced it to significantly and now there are only occasional cases.
“Controlling the disease requires the implementation of a number of different measures and a concentrated effort over a period of time,” Dr McConochie says.
Mr Pilkington agrees, pointing to the changes in management he has made to combat DD:
“We have always been very rigorous about scraping and changing the cubicle beds at least three times a day.
We continue to locomotion score very regularly and we are now more proactive about foot trimming.”
Ensuring dry cows and heifers are included in the treatment protocols is important, Mr Mc Cononchie says, because otherwise they will act as a reservoir for the disease.
“This can be more difficult, particularly when planning how dry cows and heifers can be foot bathed regularly.
It is vital they are examined frequently so any infectious lesions can be treated as otherwise they will cause a snowball effect as the disease spreads.”
Mr Pilkington is now confident the disease has been largely eradicated after implemeting strict examination procedures which are now standard practice for all his cows.
He says: “Investing in a cow comfort crush allows our trained staff to examine the feet properly and being able to trim them and remove lesions effectively has made all the difference.
It is rather like a jigsaw puzzle; it is about the feed and the minerals, the housing and the management – they all play a role in maintaining foot health.”
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