Rinse Andringa of Cowhouse International seized his chance when he was able to participate in the World Dairy Expo in October 2019 through the NOM. Because: 'This fair seemed like a good platform for us to test whether there is a market in the US for our innovative cow mattresses.' It turned out to be a good move: with his Dutch Mountain and Friesian Island he attracted the interest of American farmers and after a successful follow-up, the first orders are in sight.
As a down-to-earth Frisian and business entrepreneur, the Cowhouse director is selective when it comes to trade show participation. 'It costs time and money, while you have no guarantees whether it will pay off,' says Rinse, who founded his barn equipment company 20 years ago. 'Still, it is important to show your face and products at certain trade shows. Moreover, it can be a good way to explore new markets. Because we wanted to draw attention to our self-developed cow mattresses in the US, I was pleased with the opportunity NOM offered to participate in Holland Dairy Valley's stand at the famous World Dairy Expo.'
The five-day World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, is so popular that there is a waiting list for attendance. Moreover, it comes with a hefty price tag. 'Then it is very nice if you can hitch a ride in the Holland Dairy Valley booth at an attractive rate,' Rinse says. He immediately responded to the mailing from Joep de Vries, who works as Business Developer at the NOM and always keeps an eye on opportunities for Northern Dutch companies. 'We have known each other for some time and in 2018 I was a visitor to this fair. Joep has a large network and likes to make connections. So I took my chance as a co-stand holder
at Holland Dairy Valley.'
We have known each other for some time and in 2018 I was a visitor at this fair. Joep has a large network and likes to make connections. So I took my chance as a co-stallholder at Holland Dairy Valley.
Rinse Andringa, director Cowhouse International
'Holland Dairy Valley is primarily a networking booth,' Joep explains. 'It was a good move this time to link up with a company showing concrete products. The farmers visiting the fair literally went through their knees in the stand to test Cowhouse's cow mattresses.' Rinse laughingly agrees: 'In America, too, farmers want the best for their animals. So they feel for themselves first. I was pleasantly surprised by the interest. In the US, seventy percent of livestock farmers have sand in the stalls, so they don't need a mattress. With thirty percent, there is still plenty of market left, but it turned out that many farmers are considering quitting sand in the barn because it is quite labor intensive. So they too were orienting to cow mattresses.'
For those wondering why mattresses are needed in a cow barn: they are a comfortable and easy-to-clean alternative to traditional straw or sand. 'It is important that cows lie down relaxed for at least 12 hours a day, because then all the energy goes to their milk production,' explains Rinse. 'If a cow lies an hour longer a day, she gives one and a half liters more milk. So good cow mattresses not only have to do with animal love, they also provide a return for the farmer.'
Cowhouse had been producing cow mattresses under license from a Canadian company for years for the European market, as part of their complete barn equipment. 'It was a fine product, but at some point it was due for renewal as market needs changed. Unfortunately, our partner was not very innovative, so three years ago we decided to develop a mattress ourselves from a different material. We ended up with three variants of different thicknesses: Dutch Mountain (14 cm), Friesian Island (6.5 cm) and Friesian Polder (4 cm). The common thickness has always been 4 cm, but with us that's the entry level model. Cows get better support on a thicker mattress and can therefore lie more comfortably. With over six hundred kilos on them, such a mattress has to have something going for it.'
In addition to supportive and shock-absorbent foam in the multilayer interior - which molds to the cow - the quality of the covering layer is also important. 'It must stay dry and provide grip, but not be so rough that the cow suffers from pressure spots,' Rinse explains. 'In cooperation with the Dairy Campus in Leeuwarden, among others, we have conducted extensive tests and seen that cows like to settle on our mattresses for long periods of time. Reliable research results are important, we also noticed at the World Dairy Expo. You have to be able to explain why a product works and what such an investment benefits the farmer.'
The story caught on at the World Dairy Expo and the orange-colored Dutch Mountain in particular drew attention, although the sand-colored Friesian Island is just as desirable. 'In the agricultural sector our country has a very good name, that's the first entry,' Rinse notes. In early December he flew back to America for a round of interested farmers and dealers. 'At eight companies I measured barns for quotations and now there are more requests. It is clear that there are opportunities in the U.S., so we are thinking about how to take this further. But we are starting with actual customers who can serve as references. In addition, I will be in the booth with Joep at the World Dairy Expo again this year. Being distinctive is nice, but you have to be able to show it.'