Sweet dreams and more milk from cows that sleep on water

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The Independent Online
A helicopter pioneer turned farmer, Alan Bristow, has brought a touch of the bordello to the cattle shed. His 450 cows are spending the winter on water beds designed by him.

Mr Bristow, the former head of Bristow Helicopters, the world's biggest helicopter airline, devised the strengthened rubber beds after deciding that the pounds 50,000 he was spending each year on straw could be put to better use.

He claims that his system is more hygienic because it avoids the problem of bacteria growing in the straw.

They are also more comfortable for the herd which normally face the winter hazard of knee injuries on straw-covered floors.

By training the cows to lie down with their heads away from the pen entrance, automatic scoops can even whisk away any slurry they produce.

When Mr Bristow unveiled his latest invention at agricultural shows this year, he was immediately inundated with orders.

He has patented the design and licensed Dunlop in Holland to make the beds, which cost around pounds 100 each, after they have been tested at his 2,000-acre farm at Cranleigh, Surrey, where he has 252 in use.

Speaking at his farm yesterday, Mr Bristow said: "Water beds have sleazy connotations of cheap bordellos and motels, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"It is designed to improve the health, welfare and comfort of our cows and improve the quality of the food - which is becoming increasingly important."

He added: "It has increased milk production by about 6 per cent."

The idea won the Duke of Edinburgh's award at the European Dairy Farming Event at Stoneleigh last September.

The award was for the invention that made the biggest contribution to the dairy industry in 1996.

"We won it against the big boys like ICI. You could have knocked me down with a feather," Mr Bristow said.