September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
And Then There Was One

There is no place like home

Dutch emigree builds dairy life in Kansas

By JAN LEFEBVRE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Ria Vos gives a cow extra attention in July at Vos Dairy near Cedar Point, Kansas. Vos singlehandedly milks 40 cows in a double-5 parabone parlor and sells raw milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and Gouda out of her on-site creamery. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)


CEDAR POINT, Kan. — Chase County spans 778 square miles in Kansas and is home to large numbers of grazing beef cattle, but it only has one dairy farm.

Vos Dairy and its on-site processing facility, Flint Rock Creamery, are located in the county near Cedar Point.

Ria Vos runs both operations solo.

“Cedar Point is like one of those ghost towns,” Vos said. “They have a post office and a bank that is open one morning in the week — and nothing else.”
The whole of Chase County has just under 2,600 residents.

“We have one hardware store in the county,” Vos said. “We don’t even have a grocery store. Dollar General is our only option.”

Vos milks 40 Holsteins in a double-5 parabone parlor that she adapted from a herringbone setup. The equipment is nearly half a century old.

“If it could talk, it could tell quite a few stories,” Vos said.

The site is around 4,600 miles away from Vos’ home country of the Netherlands. However, Vos did not grow up there either.

“All my family is in the Netherlands, but I grew up on a dairy farm in South Africa,” Vos said. “My dad was the herd manager there for a 250-cow dairy.”
When Vos was a teenager, her family moved back to the Netherlands.

“Kansas is two and a half times bigger than the Netherlands, but there are 17 million people (in the Netherlands),” Vos said. “I saw all those people so close together, and I told my mom, ‘As soon as I’m able, I’m leaving.’”

Jake Leitnaker leads a heifer in July during the Chase County Fair in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. The heifer is one of five that were halter trained by Ria Vos, who operates the only dairy farm in the county.



When she was finishing her last year of college, Vos saw ads for herd management positions — one in New Zealand and one in Kansas.

“My dad said I’d have more opportunity in America than in New Zealand,” Vos said.

She applied and was hired by Chuck Magathan, owner of Silver Creek Dairy. He had been having trouble finding employees in Kansas.

In 2000, Vos started work on Magathan’s roughly 650-acre farm. Magathan allowed her to begin buying her own cows. In 2008, Magathan was ready to sell the dairy part of his farm, so Vos bought cows from him and struck a deal. She could run her own dairy business there in exchange for helping with Magathan’s crop operations and maintenance. A main benefit was that she could remain in Kansas.

“I fell in love with Kansas,” Vos said. “It reminds me a lot of South Africa. I like the space. I’m in the Flint Hills of Kansas, so it’s beautiful.”

The Flint Hills area in east central Kansas has the densest coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America. Because the soil is rocky there, early settlers had trouble plowing it and turned to cattle ranching instead. The area now holds the last expanse of intact tallgrass prairie in the U.S.

That grassland creates a feeding paradise for beef cattle, which are brought in by many farmers to graze there from spring to summer.

“Chase County gets hundreds of thousands of beef cattle in the spring from all over the country to graze,” Vos said. “Then in the fall, they pull them back out.”
Vos’ animals graze all year. Her heifers and calves eat the prairie grass with no need for supplementing. Her milk cows also graze but are supplemented with whey year-round that she purchases from a plant in Wichita. She also supplements with hay in winter and as needed. Vos avoids supplementing with grain unless there is a long winter cold snap, a rare thing in Kansas. A few years ago, grain almost destroyed her herd.

“I used to milk close to 100 until I got a toxin in the corn silage which killed half my cows,” Vos said.

Then in June 2022, her milk hauler suddenly pulled the plug, giving her only two-week’s notice. There was no longer anyone who was willing to travel the distance to the farm to pick up milk. Vos had to think fast.

That is when Flint Rock Creamery was born. Vos added a creamery space onto the parlor from which she now processes and sells raw milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese and Gouda. Her herd is at 40 right now because she cannot use more milk and that is with reducing milking to once a day. With her helping with crop farming and maintenance on Silver Creek Farm while running the creamery and dairy by herself, her cows have had to adjust to a variable milking schedule.

“I run the combine, I can run the planter, I help fix things in the shop, wherever I need to be,” Vos said. “My cows have learned that I’ll get to them when I get to them.”

There is a good market in her area for grass-fed milk and dairy products, Vos said, and she has developed a customer base. Many of her customers are in groups, or co-ops. Members of each group take turns driving to the farm, up to two hours away in some cases, to pick up their group’s orders. That way, Vos has fewer interruptions to her farm work. The person picking up for a group lets her know when they are getting near to the farm, and Vos meets the person at the dairy.

With such a busy life, Vos decided 10 years ago to make life even more demanding so that she could promote dairy in a nondairy area while helping kids grow confidence.

“Even though we are quite rural, there’s very few people in town who have access to livestock, and a lot of people have no clue where milk comes from,” Vos said.

She began halter breaking heifers for kids to show at the Chase County Fair. Kids now come to Vos every year to practice with heifers she has prepared for them. Many of the kids have never been near a heifer before, or any kind of livestock in some cases, and some of the kids come from difficult backgrounds.
“I do it to help them build self-confidence,” Vos said. “If you come from a broken family and have been pushed around or are unsure about yourself but you can take that heifer and tell it to stop and go and do what you want, it does something to the kid. They think, ‘If I can handle this animal, I can handle another situation in life also.’”

Vos has halter broken anywhere from five to 20 heifers each year. When kids come to the farm to be matched with an animal, she has honed her technique for matching them.

“What I have learned is, when I try to place the heifers with the kids, I let the kids walk up to the heifer and let the heifer smell their hand,” Vos said. “When the heifer jerks her head back, forget it, but if the heifer will reach out and keep smelling the kid’s hand, they like each other, and that heifer will not hurt that kid at all.”

Seeing what her cows can do for others is just one more reason Vos continues to dairy farm, even in more challenging years such as this one when weather has made grazing less than optimal. She does rotational grazing on several fields where cover crops are planted. Vos can graze her cows on the cover crops in winter and supplement with hay.

“Right now, we are in an extreme drought, so it’s the first year since I’ve been grazing that I support my grazing with hay in the summer months because there’s really nothing,” Vos said. “The beans all died; the corn looks horrible — it’s one of the worst years we’ve ever had. Since April, we’ve had 6 inches of rain.”

However, Kansas remains her home of choice and dairy farming her passion.
“I love working with my cows, but no day is the same,” Vos said. “I have a lot of space, a lot of room around me. I like being outside with nature, and I like the variation.”

She said she especially likes having her cows outside year-round. If the odd cold snap arrives in winter, she simply puts down bedding in a low area that is protected, and the cows do fine. It is just another advantage Kansas provides.

“I came to America with nothing, and it is amazing what I’ve been able to build up through the years,” Vos said. “It’s a challenge sometimes, but when you’ve got the next new calf from a good cow, and she grows up to be even better, it’s always a sense of accomplishment to see that next generation coming along.”


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