Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Waiting for the jury…

…well actually TDA35 is waiting for his first Thistle Hill calves…due in a few months.  We’ve loaned him out to neighbors in the past who had just a few cows.

TDA 35

35 is the result of a mating between two great traditional Devon herds…Goldings in Cornwall and Ashott Barton in Sometset.  Church was pleased with the results our neighbors got.  If we like his Thistle Hill calves we’ll consider whether to promote him to cover the main herd later this year.

What looks good on paper doesn’t always turn out in the real world.


Know your farmer…

…was never more true if you care about the food you eat.    

In recent years, organic and natural foods have begun to take a small slice of the household budget.  It’s still minuscule compared to the total spent on groceries and eating out.

But Big Ag and it’s allies in the chemical industry have taken notice of the upstart…and with the support of the government, they’ve been fighting back…muddying the water with deceptive labeling and advertising.

A farmer just north of us in Chambersburg, PA finally had enough the other day and exploded on his website.

With the connivance of Washington, we can no longer trust claims like grass fed or all-natural or even organic.  The nation’s food producers have found ways of getting around even the loosely-drawn regulations now in pace.

And as the author here correctly notes: big operators have developed slick marketing websites to take advantage of gullible consumers.

The only answer is to buy local and from a farmer you can trust.

One other tip: the con-men have invaded many farmers markets, too!


It’s been almost a year…

…since the birth of what we hope will be another line of pure, traditional English Devon at Thistle Hill.

H364 Bull Calf and Dam

H364 was sired by Champson Defender via AI ten months ago and is now ready to be weaned.  He was an early success story for Church, who is now waiting for Defender #2 to calve in October.

Pure Devon genetics are increasingly difficult to find.  Even some English breeders we know have given up because bulls are in such short supply there.

Seeing what was happening, in both England and the States, Wooz and I decided we would create a living archive here in Virginia.


The time capsule…

…F212 carries genetics from many of the milestones in the 20-year history of Thistle Hill Devon.

F212 - the daughter of Lakota 180.

212 is the daughter of Lakota 180…a natural daughter who until she died recently at the age of 19, had produced some of our best bull calves.

So when 212 came along we grabbed her and now have great hopes for this young cow.  On the other side, her sire was Highwayman…an English cow by Ashott-Barton Millenium Falcon.

And now, to top it off, she is expecting a calf by Lakota P60, one of the finest meat sires in the breed!

So if there’s a legacy cow on our pastures it is 212…with an exciting future.


The happy marriage…

…of two great English herds at Thistle Hill.  TDA 31 is an embryo heifer from Goldings Farm in Cornwall and Ashott Barton Farm in Somerset.

Photo by Church Humphreys

31 is Exhibit A in what we hoped to achieve with our pursuit of pure traditional English Devon genetics.  We would be hard-pressed to find some way to improve her.

The dam was Goldings Norah who we discovered in Ivan Rowe’s pastures at Lands End.  Ivan told told us to select any cow we wanted from his herd of more than 100 Devon.  He’d wait for us back at the house.

Wooz and I trudged back and forth in the rain all afternoon before settling on Norah for flushing.  When we got back, Ivan was sitting at the dining room table with only one pedigree in front of him.

It was Norah’s!

There was never any question who we’d use as the sire.  We had already discovered Ashott Barton’s Millennium Falcon and considered him the finest bull we’d ever seen.

Now the results of that pairing are on our pastures.  And TDA 31 is in calf…make that “in calves”…she’s expecting twins in September! 


Just for fun…

"Vegetarian" is an Old Indian Word for Bad Hunter

Waiting in the bullpen…

…one of our herd bulls, THF Essington.

Bull - Essington

He’s five years old now and has served as our primary sire for the past two years.  Essington’s dam was the daughter Brian Drake’s great English cow, Buttercup.  The sire was our THF Falcon, who traces back to the Ashott Barton herd in Devon.

Thanks to the mating of these two great lines in Essington, his progeny will be the mainstay of our herd for years to come. 

A commercial cattleman in Virginia compares Essington favorably to Rotokawa 688!

Since 688 in our view is one of the top bulls in Devon history, we appreciate the compliment.  Here’s a picture so you can judge for yourself.


Rotokawa 688

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.