Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

An update from the science desk….

Nothing really new here but it summarizes where science is and where it’s going. Will the government eventually mandate that we must follow?


It’s fescue weather….

We had a good solid freeze last night…the time of year that fescue pastures come into their own!
Thistlehill Farm PastureThe main herd has just moved into the next to last paddock.
The green line is obvious but you can click on the picture to enlarge.

Scientists say that the freezing temperature increases the sugar content considerably.  And we’ve never been able to buy hay that tests as well in winter as our fescue.

Not by coincidence this is exactly when we time our calving.  The cows are in peak condition and there’s plenty of energy in the ground for nursing and rebreeding…and no endophyte toxicity around to complicate things.

When the grass runs out we supplement the hay with alfalfa cubes.  Now if I could only still skate!


Remember, the answer lies in the soil….

When we first moved to Dallas, we had an English gardener, Patrick Butterworth, who ended every letter, birthday card, and bill with the above phrase. Over time I have come to appreciate how incredibly apt this phrase describes so many systems, from the human body and how well it heals, to the garden, to the pasture and the animals on it.

Diversity has been shown to be an important part of any ecosystem, whether one is looking at the boardroom, the gut flora, or the soil. For our gut flora, we want a diverse population of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi that together shape our physiology, guide our immune system, and help with digestion. In our soil we want a diversity of microbes that will support dense foliage of a number of different plants and strong root systems.

Repeatedly growing the same crop in the same patch of ground will thwart diversity. Having a variety of grasses, plants, brassicas will help, as will having our pastured animals trodding the recycled nutrients back into the soil. 1 tsp of dung contains more microbes than stars in the universe!

Carolyn M. Matthews, MD
Director of Integrative and Functional Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center

A new profit center….

…and it certainly fits our wellness theme.

A farm in New York offers spa treatments including “cow cuddling”. For $75 an hour you can snuggle up to a cow. Seems their body temperature and heart rate are good modifiers of the human condition.

Of course that’s in New York; not sure our cows will work that cheaply. Thanks to longtime Devon friend Shauna Wobeser for sharing the link.


Cow Cuddling Is The New Wellness Trend Now And It Costs $300 For A 90-Minute Session

Red Rubies….

…that’s what our British colleagues call them…often leaving off the “Devon”.

Mom and SonOur most recent pure English arrival reminded us again of the beautiful deep ruby red color of the traditional Devon.

We use different tags for our English herd though I’m not sure why. Hide color identifies the English animals long before you’re close enough to read the tags.

We began the English acquisitions initially to strengthen our Rotokawa-Lenoir Creek-Lakota genetics.  Developing an entirely traditional Devon herd came later.

 Descendant of the champion English cow Tilbrook Cashtiller.This is what we were looking for: a descendant of the champion English cow Tilbrook Cashtiller.

The American side of the pedigree is all Rotokawa/Lakota.

Clearly that deep ruby red color is dominant. Now can this young cow equal her grandmother, who produced the top selling bull at three straight English National bull sales?!


You can take the farm…

…but then you know the old saying.

It wasn’t that long ago that today’s over-populated Washington suburbs were wonderful, if not terribly productive, farmland. Even up to 40 years ago, super malls like Tyson’s Corner had to demolish barns and feed stores to make way for the likes of Bloomingdales and multi-tier parking garages.

Still the old day’s and ways are not forgotten.

Man and pigsDriving down the main street in Falls Church recently I noticed a statue of a farmer feeding his pigs. Investigation informed me that the statue was erected by the family of mega auto dealer Don Beyer in 1985.

Seems the Beyers started out raising pigs on a farm in nearby McLean…which is home to Tyson’s Corner by the way. The Beyers certainly got out of pigs at the right time but they weren’t about to forget their roots! So this tribute to their humble beginnings stands on West Broad where all the city folk can admire and take their pictures.

Cow PainitngContinuing our tour for art lovers of a rural bent…not six blocks away from the pigs a chic coffee house displays paintings from area artists. And there in a prominent place next to the door hangs this portrait. Wooz would say she has kind eyes.

I should say “hung this portrait”. Since I first saw this painting two weeks ago it had been sold. Next thing you know they’ll be raising V-Gardens around here.


Catching up…

…is hard to do. Over the years we have spent a lot of time, effort (and money) on our pastures.

The results have been gratifying and we reached a point where even seed and fertilizer salesmen were at a loss to recommend anything else.
Thistlehill Farm Pastures
But now four years of neglect caused by health issues are seeming to take their toll. The heavy rains, flooding and pugging did their best (worst), too. Weeds have moved in and there could be still more next spring filling in bare spots.

Actually from afar the pastures look pretty good…but we do want to measure now and hold some pastures back as we try several approaches. At the least we’ve decided to do what is required and review at each step before moving forward.

Liming is a no-brainer…with pH at 5.5 straight across our 15 pastures we’re adding a ton of lime per acre now and will probably add another ton in the spring. Our target pH is 6.5.

Fertilization is an option we’ve set aside for the moment. We are firm believers in natural farming and while the Coop and State Ag people are recommending 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre, we are not convinced. So we plan to top seed white and red clover in later winter.

As for the bare spots, right now we are putting down Ryman annual rye and a little cereal rye. This was our toughest decision and I look forward to the results on this one.

Finally we are switching our mineral program back to the cafeteria style approach of Advanced Biological Concepts.

That’s a lot of moving parts but we have seen in the past that money we invest in our pastures is well-repaid in the health and vitality of our animals and in the ease of breeding and calving.

We’re interested in your reactions and experiences and invite your comments and we’ll keep you posted along the way.


Clean Air – Diesel Exhaust

I had a long weekend at Thistle Hill Farm two weekends ago and loved my time there. I fixed fences with young Church, visited all the herd and delivered minerals to the different pastures, and worked on some weed-eating along the fence, done the old-fashioned way in my case- with hand clippers! I loved spending so much time outside, especially the ability to breathe in deeply the (relatively) clean air on the farm.

Over the last year I have been taking an environmental health course with Dr. Walter Crinnion, learning about the ubiquitous toxicants in our air, food, and water. Even according to the EPA, there isn’t any area in this country that has pure, clean air any more, and there hasn’t been for the last 25 years.

For farmers, we are typically out in the country, which has repeatedly proven to have cleaner air than urban environments. I’m making the assumption that grass-fed beef farmers aren’t going to be using chemical pesticides, or herbicides on our carefully maintained pastures. The one thing I would caution about is the use of diesel fuel in our tractors and trucks.

Try to limit your inhalation of diesel fuel exhaust as much as you possibly can. Diesel fuel exhaust is absolutely one of the most dangerous pollutants- it contains particulate matter which is a combination of liquid droplets and solid particles including chemicals, dust, and soot. It has been associated with increased risk for sudden cardiac death, angina, heart attack; increased risk for lung cancer; increased asthma; and reduced cognitive development in both children and adults.

My recommendations: as much as possible limit your exposure to diesel exhaust; when at home have a high quality air filter in your house (consider a separate free standing unit in your bedroom), consume foods with high antioxidant levels, and consider supplementing with vitamin C, fish oil, and curcumin.

Carolyn M. Matthews, MD; Director of Integrative and Functional Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center

Why eat organic?

Earlier this week a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that eating more organic foods was statistically significantly associated with a reduction in risk of cancer.

French researchers reviewed the diets of 68,946 middle-aged French adults by questionnaire, assessing how often they reported eating 16 organic foods. The average time on study was 4.5 years, during which time 1,340 cancers developed.

Participants who were in the top quartile of eating organic food were 25% less likely to develop cancer over the ensuing years than those in the lowest quartile. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was 75% less likely in the organic food eaters, and postmenopausal breast cancer was 21% less likely.

I’ve always favored organic food over non-organic: who really WANTS to partake of pesticide residues and other toxicants? However, it is more expensive to eat totally organic. When your budget is a limiting factor, the most important foods to eat organic are dairy and meat, because they typically are one of the largest sources of fat in our diet and fat is where the persistent organic pollutants are concentrated.

Another option when you only have so much of an organic food dollar to spend is to look at the Environmental working group’s annual list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. The dirty dozen include the top 12 fruits and veggies which are loaded with pesticide/herbicide residues- celery, spinach, apples and strawberries have been on the list for several years running, and shouldn’t be consumed unless organic. The clean 15 include foods like avocados and bananas contamination is minimal and it’s not as important to buy them organic.

Carolyn M. Matthews, MD; Director of Integrative and Functional Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center

Baudry, Julie et al. Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption with Cancer Risk. JAMA Internal Medicine. Doi:10.1001, Oct 22, 2018 : website for the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, updated annually

Welcome the latest….

…pure, traditional English Devon heifer. She’s out of a very famous English line…one that we fell in love with when we saw a Bribery heifer on Shiamala Comer’s Ashott Barton farm in Somerset.

Welcome the latest....This heifer came 10 days early and is a few pounds lighter than I’d like. (BW 59 pounds) But my prediction is she’ll grow up and hit our target for a two year old heifer when she’ll be bred.

I base that not only on her genetics but that recipient cow watching over her. THF 257 was Wooz’ favorite…and a steady performer. I think maybe 257 wanted baby on the ground before she got too heavy.

Can cows do that? Daughter Carolyn thinks I’m nuts.