Ria Vos is the dairy maiden of Chase County. She loves her cows; she knows each by name. They know their name, and if she calls one by the wrong moniker, that cow scowls at her.
It might sound farfetched, but it?s fact.
In ?cowboy country,? the Flint Hills of Kansas, dairies are few, and numbers decline annually. Vos Dairy at Cedar Point is the only remaining dairy in Chase County.
Yet, Ria Vos has the greatest respect among cowboys, and all who have crossed paths with her, been to ?her? dairy, or even are vaguely aware of her dedication to, and knowledge of, ?milking cows.?
?I hire some kids to help with the work here, and am always anxious to give tours and explain the operation to youngsters, and anybody who is interested,? Vos said. ?These cows can teach people, especially youth, more about living, responsibilities, and appreciation than I can, or even more than a formal education.?
Sometimes these kids she hires to help, do play around more with the cows than get the work done.
?That?s OK, she said. ?They?re still learning, and becoming better people. Even if they are never involved in the dairy business again, they?ll know where milk comes from, how it?s a high-quality nutritious food, so important to diets today. Many people don?t understand that.?
Dairies are few state?wide, but milk-cow count remains stable, or even higher due to corporation dairies.
Ria Vos is most rousing in her objectives for her industry.
?I?ve come a long ways, but I?m always setting higher objectives,? she said. ?Some?body said, ?She puts too much hay on her fork.? That might be true, but when I accomplish something here that somebody said could never be done, I set my goal even higher, and will accomplish it, and more, too.?
Growing up in South Africa, Vos said, ?My dad managed a 250-cow dairy, so I?ve always been involved in the dairy industry, and have always loved the business.?
When safety concerns forced her family to the Netherlands, the dairy was dispersed. Vos couldn?t foresee career opportunities in the dairy industry, so she decided to pursue alternatives.
?I enrolled in horticulture at college, and received my degree, but that just didn?t fit me. I loved milking cows, so I transferred into the dairy science curriculum to get another degree,? she reflected.
When Vos graduated from college, dairy opportunities were limited in South Africa and the Netherlands for what she really wanted to do, so Vos responded to a job offer in the United States.
?Chuck Magathan needed a herd manager for his Silver Creek Dairy,? she said. ?I came here in 2001, was going to check it out for two weeks, but Chuck hired me, and I stayed. I?ve been here ever since.
When Magathan decided to sell out in 2008, Vos bought part of his herd, and added the cows to the herd she? was developing.
?I lease the facilities here from Chuck, and help him with his farming operation,? said Vos, who is 37. ?I?ve even been able to buy some land, where I can grow my own forage, and also have some pasture for my heifers and dry cows,? she said.
With a Farm Service Agency loan, she was able to make improvements to the facilities.
?I came to America with nothing, and now I own a dairy herd and a farm,? she said.
Herd improvement has been foremost in objective from the beginning.
?This was a commercial herd when I started, but I knew it didn?t cost any more to milk good cows than average cows. I started acquiring top registered Holsteins, used the bottom cows as recipients to carry embryos from my top cows. This way I?m getting higher producing, higher quality registered cows quicker.?
The grade-A dairy features registered black and white Holsteins, with 70 cows in production at the present time.
The double-four Herring?bone milk parlor is more than 50 years old, but works fine for the dairy maiden.
?I?m always concerned about cleanliness, sanitation, and milk quality, so I have healthy cows with low somatic cell counts,? she said.
Unlike many agriculture operations with modern conveniences, the dairy business is unchanging in required dedication of management. Cows must be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Vos is always there.
?During certain seasons, when planting, baling hay, harvesting, helping Chuck with his farming, I may not milk at the exact same time every day, but I don?t miss,? she said. ?I take care of my cows.?
Because dairies are far and few between, milk pick-up can be a problem for some operations.
?I?ve had to buy a bigger bulk tank,? Vos said. ?But, I?m fortunate the Dairy Farmers of America truck from Hillsboro comes by every other day, to pick up my milk that goes to Wichita or Kansas City.?
Voss is optimistic about the future of her dairy. ?There continues to be a place for small herds in the industry to keep working to improve cows? genetics for larger operations.
?The cows here are getting better all of the time, so demand should continue to increase for my bulls, for the embryos, and for selling herd replacements,? she added.
by Frank J. Buchman
Special to the Free Press