"All being equal, sand is still an every day job. The waterbeds just make it so much more simple, and still the cows are comfortable."
Make no bones about it: in 2011 when Terry Stammen, owner of Wabash-Way Holsteins in New Weston, Ohio, was building a new free stall barn and parlor, he wanted sand bedding.
In Stammen’s case, sand would have been impractical. There is no supply of good quality sand near the farm, so he would have had a high overhead expense of trucking it in or a high capital expense of installing a sand-manure-separation system.“We would have really liked to have sand,” he said. “It is the most comfortable for the cows, and we didn’t want to go with a mattress.”
“With sand, we would have needed two lagoons, it would have cost $350 a load to get it in or we would have had to reclaim it,” he said.
Once sand was ruled out, Stammen asked his son, a dairy nutritionist, what the next best alternative to sand would be.His answer: waterbeds.
“My son gets to a lot of dairies and said the waterbeds would be best suited since we couldn’t take on sand,” he said.
Here is a Q&A with Stammen about how DCC Waterbeds have been performing on his dairy:
Q: The main reason you didn’t put in sand was the ongoing expense of buying it. Knowing now how DCC Waterbeds work after having them in for two years, if you had a free supply of good sand, what would you put in the barn?
A: Sand is probably the best for comfort, but you have all of the other issues to deal with. Since the cows are comfortable, I would probably just do the waterbeds again. All being equal, sand is still an every day job. The waterbeds just make it so much more simple, and still the cows are comfortable. It took a little bit for them to get used to the waterbeds, but they lay down. We don’t have sore hocks, zero abscesses, and the cows lay down.
Q: We know sand was your first choice, so how do you believe DCC Waterbeds have performed compared to sand in terms of lying times?
A: It’s negligible the difference. The cows are comfortable. When we get done milking, like the other day, I looked out in the barn. Out of 144 head, there were only 10 or 12 that were standing up eating or drinking. The rest were lying down.
Q: How do your cows’ hocks look?
A: We don’t have any problems with the hocks. Our hock problems are nil.
Q: Were you surprised at how well DCC Waterbeds worked?
A: They are better than we thought they would be. Most mattresses the cows move around trying to get comfortable because the mat packs down and there is a hole that the cow must mold to. My son noticed that that’s really how the cow gets the abrasions on a mat, from moving around because she can’t get comfortable. The waterbeds are not abrasive and they mold to the cow immediately, so cow shifts around less because she is comfortable right away.
Q: In your old barn, you bedded with straw, which is a lot of work. Then you looked at sand, which is also a lot of work. How much work are the DCC Waterbeds?
A: We bed one time every three weeks, and only from November to March. In the summer we don’t bed at all. We have fans in the new barn and we didn’t know how we would keep bedding on them in the summer, so we just don’t. They stay dry except on really humid days. For the winter, we found a good supplier of sawdust and we only have to bed every three weeks. It takes one afternoon, about three hours, and they have it all done. They just run the load in with the TMR mixer and do a little raking.
Q: How has cutting back on the bedding saved you money?
A: We get a load of sawdust every three weeks and do the whole farm – the waterbeds, the heifer barn, everything – and it’s about $1,000 a load. That means we’re doing the whole farm for about $300 a week. Before we were spending $500 to $1,000 a week. We have seen a lot of labor and materials savings. With all of the changes we made on the farm in 2011 – the new barn, the fans, the waterbeds, the new parlor, we’re able to milk more cows, three times a day, with the same number of employees.
Q: How long do you think the waterbeds will last?
A: They don’t seem to be wearing yet. I’m hoping they’ll last 10 years.