Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Spoken for…

Thistlehill Farm Pigs

…the three larger pigs anyway. If you want all or part of the remaining two, contact us now.

They should be ready by the holidays but we won’t rush them.  It takes time not only to fatten properly but to cure and smoke.

You choose the curing you want along with the size of the hams and pork chops…and of course the kind of sausage you want.

We guarantee not only a healthy product but the most delicious pork you’ve ever tasted! (Unless you’ve ordered from us before)

Contact Church at
(214) 802-1283


Reddi for action…

Not a misprint; that’s his name!

Reddii Bull
Photo by Brooke Henley

He was Red Lad when he left Thistle Hill several years ago for Spring Pastures Farm near Middleton, Maryland. There, Brooke Henley immediately dubbed him Reddi.

He was a well-mannered young man…one of Wooz’ favorites. Now with 19 progeny on the ground and more to come, Brooke and her husband Tom Garnett have regretfully decided he should move on. In fact since this picture was taken, Reddi has already been sold to Keystone Farms in Pennsylvania.

The nice things Brooke says, coupled with “gushing” reviews of Thistle Hill bulls from Clark Farms, a commercial Angus operation in southwestern Virginia, prompts us to launch a series on the current young animals in our bull pen.

We probably spend too much time spotlighting our pure, traditional English herd to the slighting of our early Devon…which are largely based on Rotokawa genetics. This series will correct the balance and along the way highlight the wonderful blending of the two.

Thistle Hill probably has the widest selection anywhere of the progeny of Rotokawa bulls, personally bred in consultation with Ken McDowall.

As always we invite you to visit. Thistle Hill is in northern Virginia nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a lovely time of the year to visit.

The system circles the wagons…

..for 20 years I’ve been railing against glysophate…a chemical herbicide that Monsanto has been selling worldwide under the trade name “Round-up”. A number of studies have identified it as a carcinogen and a few farmers have successfully sued Monsanto for damages.

Now however the EPA has declared glysophate entirely safe, putting millions of dollars in court awards in jeopardy. And more than that our health in jeopardy…particularly because glysophate/Round-up is invariably used in growing GMO foods.

In short, glysophate is spread on almost all the vegetables we eat folks and the government, Big Chemicals and Big Ag are going to keep it that way.

Joel Saladin is a natural grower of beef, chicken and pork in the Shenandoah Valley and he captures the not-so-subtleties of the moment.

As a side note: Thistle Hill never uses herbicides nor pesticides of any kind on its pastures.


Everybody outta the pool…

…a momma black bear checks out our swimming pool!

Thistlehill Farm Momma Bear
Photo by Church Humphreys

She almost certainly has a cub or two safely behind her but out of sight. For at least 17 years this bear has been raising her family in a den just below what is now Church’s house. More often she is content to splash around in the two-acre pond, again just down the hill.

The cubs often think it’s great sport to slap the row boat oars and watch them spin in the oar locks.

They’re no danger unless surprised or accidentally cornered. She also is clearly well fed with her very own 200 acres of vegetation and fruit and berries (and neighboring corn crops).

Bears like nothing better than to plop down in the middle of a corn field and pig out. They leave behind a very neat symmetrical circle in the bare ground. Their very own “field of dreams”!


This little piggy…

…went to the freezer. Two of the pigs we’ll be harvesting between now and the holidays.

Thistlehill Farm Pigs

They’ve passed 250 pounds and the closer they are to 300, the better we like them. These are mulefoot pigs…descendants of pigs brought here by the early Spanish explorers.

Their diet now should be adding some acorns from trees in this pasture. And that’s the combination that made the flavor of Spanish ham famous worldwide….at $60/pound the imported price today!

I’ve already ordered my holiday pig! Have you? Spanish pork at American prices.

Call Church at (214) 802-1283 or


Grass update….

Thistlehill Farm Grass

We’ve never gone into the fall and winter with this much reserve grass. It’s called stockpiling and Church is stockpiling about 70 acres which is just over half our total acreage. The best I ever managed was about 40 acres.

This field was underwater the first part of the year. We think it’s switchgrass…a native grass that does particularly well with “wet feet”. An adjacent pasture with reed canary grass handled the flooding but not this well.

The trick now is to get it consumed while it’s in this nutritious stage. Eventually it will probably grow to about 8 feet and be unpalatable.

But for now it takes the pressure off our fescue which actually improves in nutrition and palatability after a good frost.

With hay at $100 a ton this is a serious business and not a game. The basic idea is to lengthen the grazing season as much as possible.

Church credits the unusually wet spring and more rigorous strip grazing for this year’s improvement. We’re also considering seeding some winter annuals including turnips and radishes.

Can we make March 1st?


It’s not too late…

…to purchase Thistle Hill burger for summer grilling. Our family gets great satisfaction in reading notes like this one from Bill E. It’s almost like we’re at the Outer Banks, too!

We have the whole family at the beach in North Carolina for the week. We brought down 7 lbs of our most recent thistle hill ground beef. Our son made hamburgers for everyone. Of course they were spectacular and got added kudos when I told the family that this was local grass fed beef from my neighbor.

Bill E.

Thistle Hill Farm complete price list. Or call or write Church at (214) 802-1283 or


This ain’t Kansas…

Thistlehill Farm Baby Bull

So what’s a pure English Devon bull doing in Virginia? He’s the result of the last mating Wooz designed on our final trip to southwest England a few years ago.

The dam comes from the famous Tulip line…renowned all over the island. The sire the equally-renowned Cutcombe bull named Jaunty. The resulting embryos from the mating were flown to Thistle Hill for calving.

This young guy is now 8.5 months old and destined for great things!


Starting second pass…

…after about 45 days rest.

Thistlehill Farm Grass

Grandson Church says too many weeds though that’s not apparent in the picture.

We calculate we have about 54,000 pounds animal weight per acre…just about a quarter of what we really need to see the results off mob grazing. At this level the cows can still afford to be selective. And there’s only limited trampling affect.

The obvious answer is to reduce the size of the paddocks but that brings up the question of water and shade.

Yes, we could bring in more cows but it’s almost breeding time and again this year we’ll be testing several young bulls after ai-ing.

Interesting choices for a young cattleman.


Evening sun at Thistle Hill….

Evening sun at Thistle Hill Farm
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Sometimes it seems Heaven is just down the road.