The researchers also have 24-hour per day video footage to analyze as well as blood samples collected during the two-month period to measure changes in the cow’s stress levels.

A new project includes the addition of dual-chamber waterbeds in the cows’ stalls. Bewley said cows have a natural need to rest.

“When you provide them with ample opportunity to lie down, milk production tends to increase,” he said. “Additionally lameness and diseases decrease, and that also leads to higher production.”

Graduate student and project leader Barbara Wadsworth said there has not been much research on cow waterbeds but the few results she’s seen are encouraging.

“These beds are very comfortable, and they move with the cow as she gets up and lies down,” she said. “We also changed the dimension of the stalls to meet current recommendations … an important factor in keeping cows from standing with their rear feet on concrete.”

The cows in one barn will use the waterbeds, while another group of cows will get to relax on conventional mattresses. The team will compare lying time, rumination time, milk production, somatic cell counts and lameness and hock condition between the two groups.

There’s really no fear that the UK Dairy will be confused with a spa, as all the projects have a real biological meaning to the cows, Bewley said.

“These aren’t just ‘toys,’ and we aren’t trying to provide them with a luxurious life,” he said. “We really just want to provide cows and their farmers with a comfortable lifestyle.”

The next project includes installing more fans to help cows deal with the heat stress they may experience when the weather gets warmer next spring. Bewley said cows actually begin to experience heat stress when the temperature humidity index is a mere 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

He added that they are also planning to analyze the economics of the comfort solutions they have been implementing. 

“If these ideas don’t make economic sense to the dairy farmer, they aren’t as useful,” he said.  “We want to understand the real economic value to the dairy farmer.”

Sponsors and partners for the project include the UK College of Agriculture, UK Coldstream Dairy, Advanced Comfort Technology and Lely.