Waterbeds for cows
Cow comfort in the name of higher dairy production is making big waves these days. One of the latest ideas to reach northern climes is the waterbed for dairy cows. Wayne Vettleson of Wayra Dairy Farm in northwestern Minnesota is willing to give t...
Cow comfort in the name of higher dairy production is making big waves these days. One of the latest ideas to reach northern climes is the waterbed for dairy cows. Wayne Vettleson of Wayra Dairy Farm in northwestern Minnesota is willing to give them a try in his new 80-stall barn.
"Originally, when we built these barns, the theory was, get as many stalls into as small an area as possible, and they'll do fine," he says. "Now they're finding out that that isn't true."
Vettleson is a believer when it comes to cow comfort. Waterbed use in cold winter environments has been limited until recently, but Vettleson has been told the cows will keep the water warm enough without adding any sort of anti-freeze agents. He did anyhow, just to be certain, since there's not a lot of experience with cow waterbeds to draw on, this far north.
"They've been farther south for a few years, but they're still fairly new," he says.
He wanted to set up his new barn with cow comfort in mind, but doesn't like sand bedding. He has used it before in his other barns and found it causes too many problems with his manure systems.
"The sand settles out and fills up everything," he says. "If you're set up for it, that's fine, but we're not."
He's an experimenter
Admitting to a keenness for experimenting, he's looked into the research and is convinced the $6,000 investment will pay off through happier cows.
"They're way more productive," Vettleson says. "The biggest thing you can do for a cow is keep her as comfortable as possible. That's where you're going to get the most milk."
The new barn is the most expensive building on the farm, he says. He is insulating the ceiling so it's a little warmer, and they're putting waterbeds in all 80 free stalls.
"Other than sand bedding, waterbeds are probably the most comfortable laying space that you can have for cows," he says.
The floor of each of the four twenty-stall rows is made up of one very long, thick, black rubber bladder, filled with water. Inside, each stall's bladder is divided from the others and into two slow-flowing compartments.
"Water can flow back and forth between each other, but it's not just a bag that, when they lay on it, it will move around," Vettleson says.
The high center of each stall's bladder also allows urine and milk to run away from the cow.
Waterbeds for dairy cows may seem a like fringe science, but they did perform well in a study published in the July 2007 Journal of Dairy Science. The study compared 38 farms with rubber-filled mattresses, 27 with sand bedding and 29 with waterbeds. They scored cows for cleanliness and for lesions or swelling on their front and rear legs.
According to the report, 72 percent of the cows bedded on rubber mattresses had hairless spots on their hocks, and 17 percent had swollen lesions. Hock damage was rare in sand-bedded cows, where just 25 percent had hairless spots and less than 3 percent had swollen hocks. Cows on waterbeds had less than half the lesions of those on mattresses and only 3 percent had swollen hocks. Knee injuries were uncommon, occurring most often in sand-bedded cows using very course recycled sand. Those on waterbeds had the second-highest occurrence.
Information: (866) 524-6575 or www.waterbedsforcows.com .