April 23, 2014

Elyria
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Penfield Township dairy farm gets waterbeds to keep its cows happy

PENFIELD TWP. — If you want great milk, you need happy and healthy cows.

At Conrad’s Dairy Farm, that means pampering their milk producers with waterbeds.

After 10 months of use, dairymen Richard and David Conrad gave the waterbeds a thumbs-up during a visit Thursday to the farm on Indian Hollow Road.

More photos below.

“You make them happy, they’ll make you happy,” explained Richard Conrad.

During the visit on Thursday, the curious cows crowded around visitors, gently nuzzling coats and clothing.

Now and then, a cow would get up or down from the waterbeds, causing a telltale jiggle on a bed’s surface.

When the waterbeds were installed in March, the cows were a little skittish because they weren’t used to putting their hooves onto the thick rubber bladders that hold the water, according to the Conrads.

But the cows soon discovered that lying on the beds was pretty darn comfortable, the brothers said.

The brothers paid about $55,000 for Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds for their 240 cows and another $15,000 or so for the concrete bases in which the waterbeds rest.

On top of the waterbeds is a dusting of sawdust and lime for additional bedding comfort and cleanliness.

Richard Conrad thinks the waterbeds could pay for themselves in as little as three years because of an annual $6,000 savings in the cost of sawdust and a better price for their milk.

The farmers said the quality of the cows’ milk improved and the farm was able to lower its somatic cell count to about 100,000 cells per milliliter, compared with 150,000 to 200,000 cells per milliliter before the waterbeds were installed.

Somatic cells are white blood cells that increase in response to pathogenic bacteria.

The lower the count, the better, and the more stable the milk products produced from the milk.

The U.S. government requires a count of fewer than 750,000 cells per milliliter while the European standard is 400,000 cells per milliliter.

Using waterbeds for cows originated in Europe about 15 or 20 years ago and was brought to this country by Dean Throndsen of Wisconsin-based Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.

Throndsen and his wife, Audrey, patented the design of Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds in 2003 and have sold about 500,000 of the devices in 18 countries including New Zealand, India and China.

Throndsen said that getting up and down — or lying for long periods of time — can hurt the cow’s front knees and rear hocks — or ankles.

That’s where the waterbeds come in, because they provide a cushion.

Throndsen is proud of the two-chamber design that supports both the front and back of the animals, which can weigh 1,600 pounds or more.

“When she hits that pillow with her knees, it totally cushions them,” Throndsen said.

The decision to put in waterbeds at the Conrad farm was a good one, according to Richard and David Conrad, the fourth generation of farmers at the property.

Some people laugh, or even think someone is pulling their leg, when they hear the farm has installed waterbeds, David Conrad said.

“I think everybody had the same reaction you had when you first heard about it,” he said.

However, he said they come around when he explains how the beds help eliminate sores and promote better health.

“Without the cows comfortable and content, they’re not going to work for us and make us money,” David Conrad said. “The people in the dairy business are serious about what we do — we love our cows.”

With fans and sprinklers to cool the cows in the summer, Richard Conrad said his mom jokes that she “wants to come back as one of my dairy cows, because they’ve got it made.”

“There are a lot of people who can’t say they’ve slept on a waterbed,” he said.

Cow Q&A

Q: Won’t the cows pop or tear the waterbeds?

A: No. The company has a 10-year warranty on its beds in a dairy barn. The warranty is five years in a tie-stall barn. Every now and then a stone under a hoof might pop a bed, but company founder Dean Throndsen said there are about 500,000 of the beds in use and he can count monthly failures on one hand.

Q: Do the waterbeds have a top cover?

A: No. The waterbeds consist of a bladder system made from three layers of thick, vulcanized, virgin rubber reinforced with nylon threads. The top surface has a tread imprint for traction.

Q: Will the waterbeds freeze in the winter?

A: Farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Canada, Montana, and even Norway have reported no problems with freezing. A cow’s body warms the rubber and the water inside the bed with her body heat.

Q: How big are the beds?

A: The waterbeds are 72 inches head-to-tail and come in widths from 45 to 55 inches.

Q: How are they installed?

A: The waterbeds arrive from the factory in a roll. The installer unrolls the beds onto the concrete underlay, cutting the roll at the end of a row to fit, and anchors them into the concrete with aluminum and stainless steel anchors and strips. They’re then filled with about 14 gallons of water and clamped shut.

Q: Do farmers continue to put bedding on top of the waterbed?

A: About a fifth of the farmers using the waterbeds use no additional bedding, but some farmers continue to provide sawdust. As one farmer told Throndsen, “I go to bed every night with sheets.”

Q: Has there been any research done on the performance of the waterbeds?

A: A study by Dr. Wendy Fulwider and animal rights expert Dr. Temple Grandin, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, showed cows on waterbeds or sand beds had fewer lesions and better health. Additionally, a two year study on DCC Waterbeds is being conducted at the University of Kentucky-Lexington.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.