Big Isle bovines getting waterbeds
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Waterbeds for cows.
That may sound like a fanciful title for a novel but it describes the latest investment of a Big Island farm pumping out fresh locally produced milk.
Island Dairy owner Bahman Sadeghi explains it this way: "Happy, healthy cows produce more milk."
So, "a cow that is not at peak health and is in stress is not going to produce as much milk as a comfortable relaxed cow."
And that's where the plan for a new 320-cow barn full of waterbeds comes in.
The company said the pampered cow approach has produced measurable results.They cited reports from the Mainland that cows with waterbeds installed in their barns are producing 10 to 20 percent more milk.
Island Dairy is on the Hāmākua Coast of the Big Island, in 'O'ōkala. General manager Kyle Christensen said the footing for the new barn has been poured and construction will be going strong beginning next week.
That means the cows could be snoozing in comfort by March, he said.
The dairy's continued growth is welcome news to the state's agricultural community after decades of decline and the end of O'ahu-produced milk.
The dairy's plans mean that O'ahu, Maui and Kaua'i residents may be able to buy local milk in stores for the first time in years. The fresh milk is currently distributed to Whole Foods, Foodland and Sack-N-Save.
Over the past two years, the company has more than doubled its herd, and milks about 600 cows, Christensen said.
He and the dairy's owner saw the waterbeds in action at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.
"We saw it there and read about it in Progressive Dairy Magazine," Christensen said. "It looks like it will work well for our situation."
The waterbeds are often an alternative to more traditional straw bedding or sand, he said. "We don't have easy availability of straw or an abundance of sand."
The dairy markets its milk under the Hawaii's Fresh brand.
With the continued support of Big Island supermarket chain KTA, the state Department of Agriculture, and Meadow Gold, demand for Hawaii's Fresh milk has increased.
The company's goal is to have 1,000 cows by the end of 2010 as it increases sales of local milk through more retailers.
Island Dairy and one other surviving dairy business on the Big Island supply fresh local milk on that island.
Sadeghi said word has spread that locally produced milk is, on average, 10 days fresher than Mainland milk, but it also helps create "hundreds of good-paying jobs here on the Islands."
To meet the increasing demand, Island Dairy has implemented new methods at the dairy to increase milk production.
Earlier, they flew in more cows from the Mainland.
Further pampering in the works includes installing a speaker system to play music. Research has shown that cows produce more milk while listening to music. So Christensen said they'll be piping in the music soon — in the new barn and in the milking parlor.
"It helps soothe the animals," he said.
It has yet to be seen if Island Dairy cows will prefer Hawaiian music over classical.