“There are three trout streams that run through our farm property,” remarked 3rd generation dairyman Richard Skoda. “So, Grandpa came up with Triple Creek for the farm name.”
Richard’s grandfather, John Skoda, bought the West Taghkanic- Churchtown, NY, property, establishing the dairy in 1922. He milked 20 head the good old-fashioned way.
Hauling milk for other farms provided extra income for John, allowing him to steadily grow his herd and enabling him to purchase a neighboring farm of 250 acres in the early 40s.
“In 1950 he turned the farm over to my dad,” said Richard. By then the herd had grown to 60 milkers. In addition to the dairy, Richard’s father made a prosperous hay farm out of the property. “Dad sold 20,000 bales of hay each year to horse farms on Long Island.”
In 1955 Richard’s father added more cows bringing the number to 85 head, and then purchased another 100 acres of land in 1980, bringing the total acreage to 500 acres, where it is today. “We rent another 200 acres now and farm a total of about 700.” Skoda’s grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa to feed to their herd and put in about 300 acres of hay.
In 1986, the farm was passed over to Richard and his wife Melissa.
Twenty years later, in August 2006, when the milking herd had been built up to 90 head, a fire that took the dairy barn and entire herd devastated the farm.
“The only thing left was three silos,” Richard recalls. “We decided to rebuild and we were up and running again in February of ‘08. It was the only time in the last 95 years that we weren’t shipping milk.”
Skoda gratefully says the community rallied around the family after the fire, raising $80,000 through raffles, silent auctions and a dinner dance.”
After the fire Skoda’s changed the design of the milking system and the barn.
A 250-stall, free stall barn with sand bedding takes the place of a previous tie stall barn with a pipeline milking system. Skoda says sand bedding keeps bacteria low while providing a more comfortable bed for the cows. “We believe in cow comfort!”
Grain is pushed up three to four times a day.
“We built the barn. Just us three,” Richard says, indicating the help of his two oldest sons, Ryan and Joshua.
Richard says when rebuilding, they found a modern, double-12 parallel milking parlor with automatic take offs from Western New York advertised in Country Folks. “We went out with a big flatbed trailer, a jack hammer, a torch and tools, and we dismantled the whole thing and brought it back here and reassembled it — and here it is!”
The parlor has a holding area that holds about 90 cows and has a crowd gate that drops behind them. “It’s all automated; it brings the herd closer every time you let 12 more in per side. Press a switch and it moves them up with gates.”
Richard said usually by the second time the cow’s milked, they’ve got the technique.
“First calf heifers automatically follow the cow in front of them. Once she’s in, she can’t go anywhere. They may resist a little bit, but usually by the second time they realize it’s comfortable; the fans blow air across their backs and they’re fine.”
The double 12 parlor utilizes an automatic take off system. “It enables one man to handle 24 machines rather easily — that’s the biggest benefit.”
The new milk house has two bulk tanks; a 3,000 gallon tank and a 2,500 gallon tank. Milking is done 2xD. Components run about 3.8 fat and 3.1 protein with somatic cell count averaging about 100,000 per month.
More changes took place in 2014.
“We use a lot of hot water to wash everything, so two years ago we installed solar on the barn roof to heat the hot water for the parlor. And, also two years ago, we expanded; we built four new 36’ x 140’ concrete bunks to store all of our corn silage and haylage. We use the silos for high moisture corn.”
Just a year ago, Skoda’s built a new 60’ x 110’ special needs ‘hospital barn’ with maternity pens and a bedded pack for pre fresh and fresh cows.
“As the heifers get close to giving birth, we move them over to the pre-fresh pen, from there when they start to spring up even closer, within 3-4 days, we move them over to the hospital barn where the birthing pens are.”
Calves are housed in individual 4’x 8’ pens in a ‘greenhouse’ nursery that was copied from a design in a Cornell calf-raising book. Sixteen pens run along each side of the building.
Skoda previously used ‘super hutches’ to house the calves.
“We abandoned that. It’s easier to take care of them in the pens. We can just bring the skidsteer down through the middle of the barn and shovel the wet sawdust out. There’s also a drainage system underneath the pens, so we just wash the partitions down and sterilize them before bringing in a new calf.”
Calves are fed a 22 percent high fat pellet in a special formula made specifically for Triple Creek.
Calves stay in the greenhouse for about 2 months. From there, they go to the next barn, then they go into a group pen of about six together. “As they grow, the groups just keep moving around the farm.”
Richard and Melissa’s oldest son Ryan, a 2007 graduate of SUNY Cobleskill, herdsman at the farm, uses the Ovsynch (Ovulation Synchronization) program to breed the cows and most of the heifers.
The herd is 99 percent Holstein, with about half Red and Whites. “Our daughter-in-laws own a couple of Guernsey and a couple of Jersey cows that are mixed in.”
Skoda’s are proud to be part of Hudson Valley Fresh Co Op.
“Our quality standards, which are self-imposed at Hudson Valley Fresh, far exceed organic for quality,” said Ryan.
“We believe that quality brings you a good investment on your return,” said Richard. “It’s good for overall herd health and it’s good for the bottom line. We keep our standards high; we keep our barns clean and our cows clean.”
Richard says working together as a family keeps things running smoothly and is the glue that keeps the farm together, along with keeping things in good shape. “Keeping things neat, keeping things clean — we service everything in the wintertime and it’s not broke down in the summer. When the work is done; we take our time off too. You’ve got to take a day off once in a while or you get burned out. We work hard — but we play hard, too.”
Richard says Triple Creek was a great place to grow up. “I kind of like it right where I am. We raised three sons and a daughter here.”
Sons include Ryan, who resides on the farm with his wife Crystil Lee and their two children Brayden and Lydia; Joshua, the farm’s mechanics repairman and crops man, who resides at the farm with his wife Heather and their 6-year-old daughter Maysie; and Alex, recently married to Johanna, who lives off of the farm, but is close enough to milk on weekends.
Daughter Rachel, a Marine Veteran and her Navy Veteran husband Carl Van Schaik also live on the farm with their 6-year-old daughter Bella. They milk or work as needed.
“This is very much a family farm,” says Richard.
“I like having my family all right here,” adds Melissa.