Eliminating hoof problems - prevention is the key

Gloria Hafemeister


Leigh DeGroot and Kevin Kronebusch designed their original enclosed footbath on a napkin while having lunch together fifteen years ago.  This system lets cows see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A footbath design that has helped prevent foot problems in numerous herds started as a drawing on a napkin in a restaurant.

About 15 years ago two friends, Kevin Kronebusch and Leigh DeGroot, met for lunch and were discussing hoof care and methods of preventing foot problems in herds.

The two have been working on and fine-tuning foot-bath designs ever since. Their designs are based on experience in the dairy industry and hoof-trimming business and on documented university research.

Research by Dr. Nigel Cook of the University of Wisconsin confirms what Kronebusch and DeGroot say. Dr. Cook has suggested that a deeper and longer bath requires less solution and covers all four of the cow’s hooves as they walk through with no way to side-step or avoid stepping in the treated solution.

Footbath protocols are an integral component of infectious hoof disease control in free stall systems. Topical application of antibacterials such as copper sulfate, formalin, zinc compounds, and other disinfectants have been shown to aid the control of foot rot and digital dermatitis (heel warts). The footbath is a simple mechanism for treating large numbers of cattle quickly and efficiently.

Footbaths have come a long way since they were first introduced in dairy facilities. Earlier footbaths were simply flat trays that cows walked through on their way back to the freestall barn after milking. Often cows side-stepped the tray, and didn’t get all four hooves in the solution. Usually solution spilled up over the shallow sides as cows sloshed through.

Lengthening the footbaths to make sure every hoof passed through the solution helped but that required more solution and that can get expensive. Researchers then recommended placing the footbath in an area where curious cows could not stop midway and look around, blocking the flow of traffic.

Modern design

Kronehusch and DeGroot’s first design 15 years ago was a long narrow plastic footbath but in the years since they have continued to modify it to the current design that has now been adopted by many dairy producers around the state.

They call their system “Tunnel Dipper,” a name that was modified from their original “Tunnel Bath.”

“The name Tunnel Bath was a bit misleading,” says Kronebusch. “All we want to do is get the solution on the cow’s feet in a quick dip that they can’t avoid.”

They make their footbaths in ten or twelve foot lengths. The molded concrete slopes at the sides to make it wide enough for a cow’s body to pass through but narrow at the base so it doesn’t require so much solution.

To go through it cows step over a curb, sloped so any manure that might be on her foot will fall out before she enters. The curb on the way out slopes to the inside so solution drips off into the bath.

“With this system each hoof gets four dunks on the way through,” Kronebusch says. “By stepping over the higher curb she steps into the solution right away. If the curb is low her first step is two-feet into the bath and she won’t get as many steps before leaving.”

The whole thing is enclosed with a heavy duty plastic and stainless steel frame that prevents the cows from stopping and looking around.

“The sidewalls reduce distraction of outside movement,” he says.“The light at the end of the tunnel keeps the curious cows moving.”

DeGroot, a hoof trimmer with about 20 years experience, helped design the system and made the form for the earlier designs in his shop at Rosendale. The two played around with details on the design until finally deciding on the system they now promote.

“If a 12 foot bath would have straight sides it would take 120 gallons of product,” DeGroot says.  “Because the tunnel narrows down in the bottom this takes only 40 gallons.”

He adds, “Any splash that happens in this system stays inside and none is lost.”

He also points out that if a footbath is too wide, cows will try to turn inside and the narrow baths keep them moving forward.

“This system is portable and can be set in place but it must be level,” Kronebusch says.  “The problem in some older barns is the floors are sloped and they build a footbath that is not level.”

Over the years they also experimented with materials that would not deteriorate from the chemicals and water. They found that a pre-cast base coated with epoxy seals the concrete and prevents corrosion. A drain below the floor level makes it easy to change the solution.

Kronehusch says, “A solution will generally be good for 150-200 cows before it needs to be changed but that depends on how clean the hooves are.  With county-fair clean hooves you could run 1000 cows through before it would require changing.”

Their Tunnel Dippers are in place in barns in fifteen states in the U.S. and in Canada. They are also used in heifer facilities.

Heifers, too

DeGroot says, “In my experience trimming hooves I have seen the importance of starting hoof maintenance with heifers. It helps prevent warts and prevention is so much better than waiting until they develop problems.”

Along with their footbath the two also recommend a product that ionizes the copper and holds it in solution.

They say copper is still the best choice for use in footbaths and it performs well in all weather conditions.

Kronebusch says, “This product ‘excites’ the copper, lowers the pH and lets the copper sulphate do its work on the bacteria.”

Earlier concerns about copper from footbaths building up in soil where manure is spread have not proven to be an issue.

DeGroot points out, “A bag of copper sulfate is only 25% copper. Only a very small percentage of copper actually gets into the manure. By using a product that stretches the use of the copper and using a footbath that eliminates splashing outside the bath,  even less gets into it.”

The two call their business ZeroLameness, something many dairy producers, and even some researchers, say is impossible.

DeGroot says as a hoof trimmer he has seen the results and he believes that zero-lameness is a goal that can be achieved on farms, beginning with prevention in heifers and carrying on throughout a cow’s productive life.