The Donker Dairy Farm in Spanga, Friesland in north Holland is home to 170 cows producing more than 380,000 gallons of milk per year for commercial distribution in the Netherlands. Thanks to the recent installation of specially designed waterbed mats and energy-efficient LED lighting, the family-owned farm has dramatically reduced operational expenses and improved milk production.

When it came time to build a new dairy barn last year, the Donkers looked to specialist dairy supplier Animat Netherlands to help them create a state-of-the-art environment for their herd. Company representative Jacob Hoekstra began by installing specially made bovine waterbeds for the cows to lay/stand on in their new 20,500-square-foot facility. While the idea of milk cows lounging around on a cushy waterbed may sound amusing at first, Hoekstra maintains that the beds yield a legitimate benefit: The cows are healthier and less prone to an infection of the udder called mastitis that can negatively impact milk production. Looking for a sustainable lighting solution that would match the new facility’s modern infrastructure, Hoekstra also recommended using high-efficiency LED High Bay lighting fixtures from Dialight.

“In 2003, a report was published by the Research Institute for Animal Husbandry which showed farmers that improving the lighting inside their milking barn would encourage the cows to produce more milk,” said Hoekstra. “While that may have certainly been true, at that time adding more light was very expensive as it sent electricity costs through the roof, not to mention the added maintenance of the typical high-pressure sodium fixtures being used.”

According to Hoekstra, a decade ago, the added costs may have outweighed the benefits, but the tables have turned. Today, efficient LED lighting can deliver a much higher output and better quality of light while reducing energy consumption by as much as 90% compared to traditional fixtures. Consuming just 150W at full output, compared to 480W for traditional HPS fixtures (including driver consumption), the Dialight LEDs deliver visibility that mimics clear daylight.

This gives the Donkers a significant advantage when it comes to both human and animal comfort and safety. The light enables workers in the barn to see colors properly, more easily spot injuries or other animal welfare issues, and clearly identify the animals by their ear tag. Due to the unit's lower profile and smaller footprint, the LEDs also collect less dust and dirt, which helps keep the barn clean. Because LEDs emit no ultra-violet light, another added benefit is they don’t attract flies. Due to their instant-on capability, the LEDs eliminate the problematic warm-up period commonly associated with conventional lighting, allowing the Donkers to turn the lights on and off as needed. When enough sunshine streams into the barn, the lights can be dimmed to just 30W output to supplement the natural light for an energy savings of up to 90% compared to traditional lighting.

With the waterbeds and new lighting fixtures working together, the Donkers expect to see annual milk production grow 15% or more —from just over 2,000 gallons per cow up to as much as 2,650 gallons per cow.