I never thought I’d see the day when a cow would be resting on a nicer bed than me.
Cow waterbeds were brought to the United States from the Netherlands back in 1998. Since then, they have become the bedding choice for thousands of farmers across the country. Waterbeds are different than all other types of bedding because they float the pressure points on a cow. In other words, parts of a cow which are frequently damaged when lying down are now cushioned.
But if you think this is only for cow comfort, think again—these mattresses are proven to increase milk production! The cushioning reduces the occurrence of swollen hocks (a cow’s ankles) which leads to limited mobility and lower milk production. And they help prevent mastitis—an infection of the cow’s udder—without antibiotics. That’s right. Farmers can increase their milk production and prevent mastitis without the use of artificial hormones and antibiotics, simply by improving the cow’s comfort.
All of these benefits are also seen when the cows spend most of their time out on pasture resting in the soft grass. But when the weather is bad, cows need a comfortable place to hang out until they can go back outside.
As you may guess, though, the cows think waterbeds are a little weird at their first encounter. They smell funny (like rubber) and the surface is different than anything they have ever stood on. However, cows are willing to give it a try if the beds are first covered in the type of bedding they are used to, such as straw, sand or wood shavings. The smell of their familiar bedding will draw them in. And once the cows are used to the beds, farmers say they rarely see a standing cow while they are in the barn—that means the cows are comfortable and happy.
At this time, we’re aware of only a few Organic Valley farmers who use cow waterbeds, but they’re pretty darn neat, and we’re hoping that as their popularity increases, the prices come down into the range of more small, family farms.