JEFFERSON — California dairy farmers would have us believe their cows are the happiest on earth.
But it would be hard to beat the life of the Holstein and Brown Swiss cows at the family-owned and operated Van Loon Dairy near Jefferson.
Their cows have rest on water beds instead of wood chips, straw or sand bedding.
“We have about 800 cows total and milk about 370 twice a day,” Ben Van Loon said. “We started installing the new water beds in January and hope to have the whole operation switched over by the end of the year.”
In an era when young people are leaving farming, Ben, 25, and his brother, Jeremy 23, have always wanted to work with their parents, Kryn and Irene, on the dairy founded by their grandfather, Gerrit in 1970.
“They have been using the water beds in eastern states for several years, but it’s pretty new out here,” Van Loon said. “Other people have been asking us how it’s working and they’re kind of waiting to see how we do with it.”
Van Loon said the 48-inch by 80-inch beds cost about $260 each including installation and 104 have been completed so far. They are composed of thick rubber.
The Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds come from a small family-owned business in Wisconsin, called Advanced Comfort Technology.
Although the total project will cost nearly $100,000, Ben said the family expects it will pay for itself in about three years. The water beds come with a 10-year guarantee and have a 15- to 20-year life expectancy.
“We have been spending about $600 per week on bedding,” Van Loon said. “Plus, there’s the labor cost of changing the bedding and we’re seeing fewer cases of mastitis (an infection of the cow’s udder.)”
The water beds cushion the cows’ knees and hips, decrease bacterial growth and help keep the cows warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer months. The units also reduce bedsores, abrasions and swelling of pressure points.
Van Loon said it’s too early to tell if they have led to increased milk production.
He said the water beds are also environmentally friendly.
“Less bedding in means less bedding that has to be spread in the fields or hauled to a composting center,” Van Loon said. “We also installed a new manure separator that’s much more efficient and the lack of bedding getting into the manure will make it even better.”
Kryn (pronounced Crane) Van Loon said he also likes the fact that often, as soon as fresh bedding was placed for the cows, they would “kick half of it out onto the floor. If they kicked out enough bedding, they could squeeze under the stantions and get caught.”
The Van Loon brothers are happy to be bucking the trend of young people leaving the farm for jobs in cities.
Ben graduated from Santiam Christian in 2006, attended LBCC for one year and then completed an ag degree at Dordt College in northwest Iowa. He especially enjoys planting and harvesting crops and working with the cows.
His brother is a 2008 Santiam Christian graduate and earned a degree in diesel technology from LBCC. He enjoys keeping the operation’s many pieces of equipment running efficiently.
Ben’s wife, Melissa, is a veterinary technician and Jeremy’s wife, Terri, is a teacher. Both help on the farm, especially during the busy summer months.
“We grew up playing and working on the farm,” Ben said. “We love it here. It’s a way of life where you can see the fruits of your labor every day.”
Oregon dairy facts
- Dairy farming contributes nearly $1 billion annually to the state’s economy.
- There are about 120,000 dairy cows in the state and they each produce about 65 pounds of milk per day, or 2.2 billion pounds annually.
- Oregon cow milk is consistently ranked among the top five states in terms of quality.
- The average dairy farm encompasses 300 acres.
— Holsteins and Jerseys are the most popular dairy breeds.
Agri-business Council of Oregon