An unorthodox pairing: cows and waterbeds. Photo credit: Chris Stephens/The Plain Dealer

By: Michael Kaminsky

Remember when you were a kid and all you ever wanted from your parents was a trampoline or a waterbed? The cows of Conrad Farms, a dairy farm/livestock spa in Ohio, haven’t quite negotiated the trampoline, yet; but they have been lounging atop waterbeds for nearly a year now. Not a bad life for these Ohio cows. The waterbeds have not only produced a higher-quality milk, but have also promoted better overall health for the cows. This progressive investment in a floundering agricultural market isn’t just a head-turner, but rather a way to give back to the cows: the literal business at hand.

To begin with, where did the idea to pair cows with waterbeds even come from? The origins date back 15-20 years ago in Europe. Eventually Dean and Audrey Throndsen brought the newest craze in livestock living stateside, founding Advanced Comfort Technology, Inc. in 2003—a first generation international agriculture business, focusing on products that improve efficiencies in dairy farming. That same year the Throndsen’s patented the design of Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds™. Today, if you spot a cow sleeping on a waterbed, the chances are it’s an Advanced Comfort Technology Dual Chamber Cow Waterbed.

The waterbeds are slightly smaller than a full mattress. They hold 14 gallons of water concealed within the mattress’ tough rubber hide. The liquid then cushions the lounging cow, as the 1,500-pound animal essentially floats atop inches of water. By relaxing for a large portion of the day, both the cows’ quality of milk and life vastly improve.

Recently, the water-bedridden cows of Pittsfield, Ohio’s Conrad Dairy Farm have been getting plenty of press. They’ve been called pampered, coddled, and spoiled (dairy pun intended); but dairymen Richard and David Conrad only have glowing reviews to back up the waterbed method.

Richard Conrad explained the give and take process of the dairy farming industry as, “You make them happy, they’ll make you happy.” The give part of the process being the near $55,000 the Conrad brothers paid to install enough Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds for their 240 cows, in addition to another $15,000 for the concrete foundation the waterbeds rest on. The take is the cow’s milk, the product; of which the Conrad’s have reported has improved since the waterbeds’ installation.

The farm lowered its somatic cell count, an indicator of the quality of milk, to around 100,000 cells per milliliter, compared with 150,000 to 200,000 cells per milliliter pre-waterbeds. The amount of somatic cells increases with the amount of bacteria, so the lower the cell count, the cleaner, healthier, and less bacteria-ridden the milk.

The Conrad Dairy Farm will attest to the Advanced Comfort Technology’s effect on their livestock, but not every dairy farm owner to invest in waterbeds has had such glowing results.

Just over an hour east of the Conrad Dairy Farm resides Bill Timmons’ Auburn Township dairy farm. In 2008 Timmons installed nearly $40,000 worth of waterbeds. But misfortune struck Timmons’ ranch as bacteria from a bad batch of sawdust, used to coat and sanitize the beds, infected the entire herd, killing 10 cows. As a result, the farm’s milk production plummeted, squandering Timmons’ investment.

But through it all, Timmons remained optimistic of both his cows and their new, plush beds. “They know they’ve got it good, so they’ll pay us back,” he said. In 2008, when Timmons first began using the waterbeds, within two weeks the comfortable cows had produced 20% more milk.

Even world-renowned animal scientist and livestock consultant Temple Grandin supports the laid back lifestyle for the cows. Grandin’s research showed that the mattresses keep the cows healthy, limiting hock (ankle) swelling as well as knee and thigh scratches.

While the last person I recall owning a waterbed adorned it with matching Hot Wheels pillow cases and sheets, it’s nice to see them back in popular culture, while simultaneously benefiting creatures so deserving of a cushy life. With all that cows have provided the world, they totally deserve new, cool waterbeds.

Here’s to you, cows of the world. Take a load off.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi All! We changed the Facebook link. Below are comments that were posted on the old link.

    Veronika Rogers: Cows that are down too long crush their insides I cant access the article but water beds for cows is probably bad.

    Donna Turner: A small percentage of cows get to rest and people think they are spoiled? It’s a start, but they sure deserve more than just the ability to rest.

    Nikki Rando: How in the world could anyone call these cows “spoiled”? They have their calves taken away so we can bottle their milk, then when they stop producing milk, in most cases they are sent to slaughter for meat. So seriously – lets put this into perspective. A little comfort is the least these farmers can do (their milk production has went up 20%, so it is hardly a selfless act of kindness). People should be ashamed of themselves. :(((