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Performance Trace Minerals Reduce Risk of Digital Dermatitis in Heifers, Improve Dairy Performance

4 minute read

Digital dermatitis, also referred to as “hairy heel warts,” produces painful lesions that can lead to lameness in cows, ultimately leading to decreased milk production and lowered cow reproduction performance.

A key to reducing digital dermatitis in lactating herds is to focus on the source which, often, is the heifers. Controlling digital dermatitis is one of the biggest challenges in raising replacement heifers. Digital dermatitis is often seen in heifers most commonly starting during puberty.

Controlling and preventing digital dermatitis in heifers is essential because once the disease is introduced to the herd, it spreads rapidly, and prevalence often shows a high percentage. Heifers that develop digital dermatitis in the growing phase are often given a “life sentence” due to the nature of the hoof disease and the difficulty of treating chronic lesions once they are established in the cows.

Trace minerals are essential for developing a strong immune system and reproductive tract, maintaining skin and claw integrity and boosting the cow’s ability to perform and resist diseases like digital dermatitis. When Availa® Plus is fed in conjunction with a specific digital dermatitis formula as part of a dairy heifer nutrition plan, trace mineral research has shown that Availa-Plus can help decrease the incidence of digital dermatitis and improve overall heifer wellness and performance.

Trace Minerals Minimize Effects of Digital Dermatitis

Feeding performance trace minerals as a part of dairy cow nutrition can decrease the prevalence of digital dermatitis and, ultimately, positively influence milk production and cow reproduction performance. Research shows that heifers fed performance trace minerals starting at six months pre-calving had improved milk production and cow reproduction performance compared to those that were fed inorganic trace minerals.

Heifers that had one or more incidences of digital dermatitis between breeding and calving had a 45.6 and 67 percent chance, respectively, of developing digital dermatitis during first lactation. Heifers that had no incidences of digital dermatitis had just a 13.7 percent chance. 

Trace Minerals Enhance Cow Reproduction in Heifers with Digital Dermatitis

There is a strong correlation between digital dermatitis and cow reproduction performance. Heifers with multiple incidences of digital dermatitis saw a first-service conception rate during the first lactation of just 29 percent while heifers that had no incidences of digital dermatitis had a 42 percent first-service conception rate in their first lactation. Cows with multiple incidences of digital dermatitis also had more days open, 157, compared to 132 for those that had no DD events.

Heifers that had incidences of digital dermatitis also had significantly lower milk production during first lactation. Animals with one incidence lost 439 pounds (199 kg) of milk while those with multiple incidences lost 738 pounds (335 kg). In addition to the ability of preventing DD events in heifers and independent of digital dermatitis infection, all heifers that were fed performance trace minerals produced an additional 423 pounds (192 kg) of milk than heifers fed inorganic trace minerals.

Digital Dermatitis Control Successful When Started Early

There are three important components to be considered when controlling digital dermatitis in replacement heifers:

  • Dairy operation management must enforce biosecurity principles to keep infected animals from entering the herd. Early and regular inspection of hooves on heifers and prompt treatment of any cow hoof problems will reduce the occurrence of chronic lesions, which become a source of further infection.
  • Maintaining a clean, dry environment and the use of well-designed footbaths as needed reduces stress on the skin to prevent infections. Additional manure removal and reduced crowding (stocking density) can often have very positive impacts on foot hygiene.
  • Nutrition plays a key role in preventing digital dermatitis during all growth phases. Incorporating performance trace minerals into the dairy heifer nutrition plan can be a part of an integrated prevention and control strategy that provides health benefits later in the cow’s productive life.