Steve Oosterhof's dairy farm in Smiths Falls, Ont., has a lot of technology not normally associated with rural workplaces, but the most unusual is one of its creature comforts: waterbeds for his cows.
Oosterhof says milk production is up 20 per cent since the new barn and new technology was introduced.
Sixty years ago, Oosterhof’s grandfather started working on this farm with his instincts and a clipboard. Today, Steven, his father Henry and his uncle Alex maintain about 90 head of cattle 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Milking robots allow the cows to milk when they want, even when the farmer is not around. The farmers say it’s more natural for these free-range cows.
“Technology has come and has been an improvement in life and it’s working smarter, not harder maybe. It’s still a lot of hard work, but we’ve got a lot more information and computers and we can better manage the work,” said Steven Oosterhof.
A good quality of life for both the farmer and the cow is important at the Oosterhof farm. They’ve introduced elements to make milking less stressful and life more comfortable, including the introduction of waterbeds for the cows.
Waterbeds for happy cows
“It’s offered to us, why shouldn’t it be offered to them? It’s all about comfort,” said Oosterhof.
The waterbeds lie on the cement floor of the barn and are made of a highly durable material that Oosterhof says can withstand the weight of cows exceeding 600 kilograms.
“They’ve got the waterbeds to sleep on. The comfort level for them has improved and the comfort level for us has improved. The happier they are, the happier we are,” said Henry Oosterhof. “They require very little bedding, which is nice, lowers our cost for bedding.”
But that’s not all. These cows get pedicures twice a year with a trim and a cleaning of their hooves.
The barn is also equipped with motorized body brushes that oscillate over the body of the cow to help them groom. And the cows wear electronic transponders around their necks to record the number of times they milk, how the digestive system is working and how much they’re walking or lying around.
All that information goes into the farm’s computer system for the farmer to track.
“If there's a problem here, the robot calls us,” said Henry Oosterhof.
This farm made a 20-year commitment with a major investment in new, farm technology.
“We brought the robots in to bring in the next generation. Milk is a lot of work. It’s more sustainable, definitely more sustainable,” said Alex Oosterhof.