Interviews With People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs
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Holly Harper Sells Cow Waterbeds.
[Originally published February 26, 2013.]
Q: Why do cows need waterbeds?
A: When a cow is lactating, they lay down for 12-14 hours a day. It’s not 12 hours in a row—they get up and go eat, get a drink, get milked, and spend time with their friends. Cows actually have friends and hang out in cliques, and with this active social and work life, they need to rest in between activities to conserve energy for making milk. If their beds aren’t comfortable, they can get something akin to bedsores from lying around so much. It’s uber-important to farmers to ensure the cows are comfortable when lying to protect their pressure points.
Q: What do they normally lie in?
A: Straw traditionally, but these days it can be a variety of things. Sometimes sawdust, sand, shredded paper, mattresses full of ground up tires, foam, or gel… But cows produce so much liquid it’s disgusting, and all of these other bedding materials suck up the pee, milk, and poo like sponges.
When you walk in a barn, there will be thousands of gallons of poop and pee in the alleys—the hallways between beds—all headed out to the manure pit. One time I was walking through a barn and a cow flicked her tail and suddenly it was raining shit.
Cow shit is pretty cool though—stinky like organic matter, but not stinky like make-me-wanna-barf. Anyway, keeping that delicious poo soup off the beds is important to keep bacteria counts down and to keep the cows dry and comfortable.
Our cow waterbeds are made of rubber. They’re durable, float the cow comfortably, and shed the moisture, so it’s the perfect solution to keep them happy and dry.
Q: Don’t the waterbeds freeze?
A: We get this question all the freaking time. Yes, they’re filled with water, so they will freeze. But, they don’t freeze in the barn because the cow is lying on them, so it keeps the water melted. Why wouldn’t your cow want to sleep on something that floats?
Q: It does sound like a good idea. How did you find this job?
A: One of my good friend’s dads, Dean, patented DCC Waterbeds in 2003 and the family business, Advanced Comfort Technology, is the only one in the world selling them. I met Dean’s daughter Amy in 2004, unrelated to cows or waterbeds. She joined the family business in late 2010, and she asked me to come on board in 2011.
It’s all very exciting because when you think of waterbeds you think disco balls and shag carpet. Cows, waterbeds, the ’70s, a job. What’s not to love?
Q: Did you know anything about cows before you started this job?
A: I grew up in a rural community, so I know the difference between a Holstein and a Hereford. I was familiar with agriculture, but now I can tell you more about dairy cows than you’d ever want to know.
There are more than eight million dairy cows in the US. They each make around 75-100 pounds of milk per day, some of them have nutritionists, some have chiropractors, all get manicures (well, pedicures, I guess), they hang out with their cow buddies, there’s such thing as a Mean Girls-cow who bosses around the other cows.
Farmers care a lot about their cows. I went to a farm in Wisconsin last summer and there was music playing in the barn. I was being a smartass and asked the farmer if the cows were listening to country music. She replied, all seriously, “We do leave the radio on for the cows, but they actually prefer adult contemporary.”
Q: Are farmers open to the idea of waterbeds?
A: We go to trade shows and people sometimes still say, “What’s that?” But it’s getting better every year. To sell waterbeds, we have to catch the farmer at the right time because it’s a farm management system change—not like changing your mattress at home, more like changing your flooring or HVAC system. It’s a big thing to change bedding.
In Canada and the Netherlands we’re gangbusters. We sell more there than in the US right now. We are the underdog of all underdogs here.
At first, the farmers are super-skeptical, but once they install the waterbeds, it’s like a religious conversion—99% of them become converts and keep putting the beds in.
Q: So it’s hard to get new customers?
A: Yeah. Part of my genius PR strategy right now is simply calling the local rural newspaper reporter and saying, “Hey, did you know that a farmer in your town just installed waterbeds for his COWS?!” They get all excited and cancel the quilting bee story or the skip out on the school board meeting and go visit the farm.
I once pitched a story to a local newspaper and then a regional paper picked it up, then the AP picked it up. Then on “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live, they said, “A dairy farmer in Ohio recently installed waterbeds for his cows; the only problem is, now the cows are super into threesomes.”
That was followed up by a cameo on the limerick section of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on NPR. They were cracking joke after joke, like, “If your milk tastes like Axe Body Spray, it was a waterbed cow.”
I’m so glad that Dean and Amy kept the “waterbed” moniker. It’s a gold mine for PR.
Q: Is there anything bad about your job?
A: The worst job that I haven’t had to do yet is an installation. When our dealers go out to install waterbeds, they have to drag out those old mattresses that have been soaking up nasty for six to nine years. Oh, I’m avoiding that assignment, but I’m sure it will eventually catch me.
Q: Ew. Any long-term goals?
A: Maybe the CEO of Ben and Jerry’s will see this and decide to get their suppliers to install waterbeds for all of their cows. It would be a perfect fit to have Cherry Garcia made from cows that sleep on DCC Waterbeds. Lava lamps not included.
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