News / Blog

Kids and Cows are Top Priority for Minnesota Family
June 1, 2015

Kids and cows are the top priorities for the Vander Kooi family at Ocheda Dairy near Worthington, Minnesota. 

Rita and Joe Vander Kooi are the parents of Vince, 9; Liv, 6; Ava, 3; and Violet, 5 months. They farm with Joe’s dad and milk 1,300 cows three times daily in a double-20 parlor with help from 15 employees.

“We’re continually looking forward in our dairy operation, and Joe especially loves the constant change,” Rita says.

She grew up on a 50-cow dairy farm in central Minnesota. She met Joe while they were earning degrees in animal science at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul. They married 11 years ago.

Dairy Herd Grows With Next Generation

After graduating from college in 2001, Joe returned to the farm to join his dad, Dave, who began his dairy business with four cows when he was a high school freshman in FFA. “When I was a kid, we milked 80 cows,” Joe says. “When I graduated from high school, we had 160.”

The Vander Koois expanded to 500 cows in 2001 and had subsequent expansions in 2008 and 2011. Their second barn, built in 2008, is cross-ventilated to control temperature and humidity. Baffles force circulated air to the cows’ level. The barn features sand-separating lanes to reclaim or recycle bedding.

“The addition helped us continue to grow, as well as better care for our cows prior to calving,” Joe says. Their milk is delivered to an AMPI facility in Sanborn, Iowa. Much of it is ultimately served as cheese slices on burgers at fast food restaurants.

The Vander Koois also grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa.

Dave cares for the maternity and hospital pens, mows hay, and performs fieldwork, along with managing the employee payroll.

Joe drives the chopper and handles maintenance. “I do a lot of planning for projects and expansions, and for technology,” Joe says. “I’ve had a custom forage harvesting business for eight years.”

The Vander Koois’ two longtime coworkers, Bryan Voss and Corey Boehnke, have been on staff for a total of 42 years. Voss handles herd health, and Boehnke is in charge of feeding operations for the herd.

About a year ago, the Vander Koois switched from using transponders to identify the cows as they enter the milking parlor to using radio frequency identification (RFID).

“Knowing what each cow produces each day is essential for helping us to monitor herd health,” Rita says.

Plan is a Process

About three years ago, the Vander Koois began work on a succession plan, consulting with Cathy Olson from the AgStar Consulting Team and an attorney.

“Dave got the ball rolling,” Rita says. “We weighed our options before forming a corporation. We developed a buy/sell agreement to determine what happens if anyone wants or needs to exit the business.”

They worked to identify and to understand each others’ business, family, and individual goals. Leadership development, business reorganization, and estate planning also were discussed. Joe and Rita updated their wills.

The plan will pass on what Dave has worked so hard for in a way that’s respectful and coincides with his wishes,” Rita says.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Joe says. “It’s a work in progress, but it’s good for both generations to know there’s a plan.”

Rita agrees, “If our kids want to farm, it creates a way to enter the business.”

Rita also enjoys blogging about their farm and family. “Opening the doors to our dairy and educating consumers about what goes on here is a passion of mine,” she says.

The Vander Koois took part in the 2009 Farmers Feed Us Campaign.


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Summer 2018