Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

An early morning stroll…

Thistlehill Farm Pasture

…but with a purpose.  This part of the herd has finished strip grazing the East pasture and is moving to fresh grass in the West pasture.

This is not the entire herd…just the mamas with their steer and heifer calves.  At about eight months we move the bull-calf pairs to an auxiliary field.

An important thing to note is how well-behaved our Devon are.  Church is taking this picture and they come at his whistle…no shouting, or whips or dogs.  Of course the cows know there’s ice cream at the end of this trail, and though there’s pretty good grass where they’re walking, they want to do as Church asks.


Holding you hostage…

…hackers have been targeting American consumers recently…by going after fuel and food.

First the cyber-attack on Colonial pipelines which cut off gasoline supplies on the East Coast.

And now the second largest meat packer in the US has been hit.  Apparently Russian hackers are behind this one and demanding a ransom.

The two attacks demonstrate how foolish we have been to allow the huge conglomerates to take hold.

A neighboring cattleman Joel Salatin addresses the problem here.


The magic of grazing…

Thistle Hill Farm Grazing

This photo by son-in-law Curt Humphreys captures the harmonious relationship among soil, grass, animals and sky that is an on-going process on the pastures of Thistle Hill.

There are no losers in this kind of farming…the soil, the grass, the cows and the environment all prosper.  And the farmer does, too.

It’s easy to lose sight of the Big Picture but every once in awhile we come across a kindred spirit, such as Suzanne Nelson Karreman in North Carolina, who puts it into words better than most of us can.  She deals with the holistic nature of this kind of husbandry…yes, including the ultimate death involved.


The war against red meat…

…seems to have gathered some steam in recent years. Undoubtedly there’s new…and serious…money (Bill Gates) behind the campaign.

We haven’t given much thought to what has always seemed like a religious cult…but here’s an Australian who confirms what I only suspected.

Vegetarianism goes way back in history but really only flourished near the end of the 19th century when it attracted the attention of the 7th Day Adventists…and yes (following the money) Big Businessmen in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Their business was cereal…does the name Kellogg ring a bell?  In fact there were about 100 cereal manufacturers in the new industry…all centered in Battle Creek…and all now Adventists and vegetarians.

That group of people and their hired nutritionists sold America a bill of goods on the proper diet.  Remember the food pyramid?  The “scientific wisdom” was grains are good…meat is bad.

You can read some of the history here – Red meat under attack


Just a quick tour…

…this past weekend.  (Warning: no pigs; they’re off at freezer camp)

David at Thistle Hill Farm
Photo by Curt Humphreys

First stop the shipping pen where this four-year old bull is waiting for his ride to a commercial operation in southwest Virginia.  Clark Family farms have been good friends and customers for a number of years.

The Clarks also selected one of our young English bulls with Tilbrook Cashtiller genetics.  For three years running Cash’s sons topped the English national sales.

Thistle Hill Farm Field
Photo by Curt Humphreys

At one of our auxiliary farms we checked the progress of some of our other yearlings…three pure English calves and their dams.  In recent years we’ve found it best to separate the bull and heifers calves at about six months…just to avoid unwanted premature pregnancies.  It permits us to get an extra few months still on mother’s milk which we think is important for the calves…both physically and emotionally.

Thistle Hill Farm Heifers
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Just around the corner at Slainte Farm, our bred heifers are being spoiled by Mary Perrine.  We are particularly pleased with some of our traditional English ladies and even by Devon standards we find that a stay with Mary makes them particularly docile.

Photo by Curt Humphreys

Back at the farm’s bull pasture, THF Prince is now two-years old and a good example of our English genetics. His dam was an Ashott Barton Tulip daughter and the sire England’s champion Cutcombe Jaunty..

Thistlehill Farm Herd
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Next stop the main herd in pasture 4C, the young heifers still on their dams.  Church is justifiably proud of what he’s accomplished at Thistle Hill and we reviewed his plans for balancing his stewardship of the farm with his new major responsibility…attending Cornell veterinary school…in the fall.

Thistle Hill Farm Family
Photo by Janet Hedrick

But this is good problem to have…and parents Curt and Carolyn and uncle Church are well-experienced to take over the herd.  I’ll continue as “kibitzers-in-chief”!


The butcher’s breed…

…was the name the English gave to the Devon.  That was because of the quality of Devon meat.  It was about that time that the leading English agriculturalist Robert Bakewell pronounced Devon the perfect cow…in no further need of refinement by crossing with other breeds.

At Thistle Hill we have devoted our time and resources duplicating that early English Devon…and by coincidence the other day some of cows lined up demonstrating what we are trying to achieve.

Thistlehill Farm Devon Cattle

I guess the larger one in the center helps demonstrate the uniformity of the rest of the herd.  She’s part Senepol bred to a Devon bull, an experiment we tried to demonstrate the prepotency of Devon genetics. And an independent study at Clemson university demonstrated meat from the Devon-cross was indistinguishable from pure Devon.

Of course, while some traits like tenderness are genetic, flavor is largely the result of the diet the animal is raised on.  Stress-free management is important, too.

Devon cattle are easy on the farmer and on the land as well.  A quarter century raising Devon has confirmed for us that Robert Bakewell had it right 150 years ago!


Words unnecessary…


He’s doing his part…are you?!


Thistle Hill alumni club…

…features our Equinox at home at Spring Pastures farm near Middletown, Maryland.


Equinox is packed with our best pure English Devon genetics…Churchill on one side…Buttercup on the other.  It’s the second bull Thistle Hill has supplied to Brooke Henley and Tom Garnett.

Brooke is excited by his first calves...eight so far, all vigorous and thick.

Brooke is excited by his first calves…eight so far, all vigorous and thick.

We’re excited by the grass on Brooke and Tom’s pastures!  The combination of that forage and Devon genetics will result in top quality meat!


It’s official…

…Spring is here!

Thistle HIll Farm Strip Grazing

We know because the interior portable electric fencing has gone up and our cows have begun their strip grazing.  From now through the first of the year the main herd will be allocated about an acre of pasture at a time.

Thistle Hill Farm Clover

To tide them over the summer slump when grass nutrition value declines, we’ve seeded in a heavy stand of clover…three types of clover…including a red and white variety we’re experimenting with and a New Zealand white clover we’re used before.

So far this year we’ve been blessed with favorable growing conditions.  The clover had plenty of time to establish before the grasses came on. 


Click bait…

…although we didn’t call it that back in my ink-stained days of newspapering.  Back then editors were always looking for photos that would help sell papers.

The formula was simple…pretty girls, babies and animals.  Get a picture with two out of three and you were guaranteed good placement in the paper.

Today with the Internet and Facebook they call it “clickbait”…and here’s an example:

Mackenzie Mason and lamb.
Photo by Church Humphreys

A baby lamb qualifies as a two-for and the pretty girl is our Mackenzie Mason.

The lamb is a kind of rescue project…it has a bone fracture making it difficult to balance and walk.  Church took over care of the animal while on rounds with our local vet.

Still not sure it will make it.  Her name is fitting….Izzy…as in “is she going to make it or not”?