A happy cow is a productive cow.
This is the premise behind the University of Georgia's research project, which I first heard about on CNN last week. (Being unable to ignore a cow story, I knew I had a ready-made entry topic.)
Clean, comfortable bedding is a basic requirement. Hay and straw, popular bedding earlier in the century, are impractical for big dairies, because they are expensive and hard to keep clean. Besides waterbeds, the researchers are testing sand, a traditional bedding material that requires a lot of upkeep because it scatters easily. They're also evaluating sand spread over mats made from recycled tire treads.
The researchers think that they will make the cows happy by giving them waterbed mats upon which to repose. Actually, they have several different kinds of mats strewn about for the cows to take their pick. Bedding needs to be comfortable for the cow (whatever that entails), clean, so that they don't get infections, and of course cost-effective.
So far the cows' choice is the sand. It seems they were spooked at first by the ripping of the water-mats. I guess a nervous cow isn't a happy productive cow.
One might think, from reading these articles, that this is a new idea.
A web search revealed an article in the CNN archives nearly THREE YEARS ago, wherein a British farmer claims to have invented the concept.
It was the rising cost of straw sent Alan Bristow scratching around for bedding alternatives.
"People were using rubber mats, so why not fill the rubber mats like a hot water bottle or one of the emergency things," Bristow explained.
(I thought the British were a more articulate people. Oh well..)
THAT report was apparently picked up by the venerable Newsletter of the California Cheese
& Butter Association under the headline "Water Beds for Cows -Not just an amoosing idea!"
They claim that water beds for pigs, horses, and sheep are being studied as well.
At least they won't have problems getting the sheep to try out the beds.. as long as an English Sheepdog tells them to!