Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

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”?


The family that works cattle together…

…well gets dirty together if nothing else.  Pregnancy checking is a kind of tense moment in the year.  Not only do you hope for a high rate of pregnancy…but for matings you’ve invested in embryo transplants and artificial insemination.

Thistle Hill Cows

This year we’re checking a total of 32 cows…a mix of regular Devon plus our pure traditional English Devon.  The wranglers are grandson Church, his Dad Curt and his uncle Church. 

First mamas and calves are called in and then sorted in separate pens.  The young will get permanent tags and tattoos and vaccinations.  Some of the bulls that don’t meet Thistle Hill standards are also converted to steers.


At the head gate is daughter Carolyn.  It’s a job for quick reflexes and cows develop little stutter steps to try to out-smart the gatekeeper.  But Carolyn has a cool eye and steady hand…probably because of her part time gig as a cancer surgeon at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.

Veterinarian Tom Massey & Church

The actual examinations are done by our longtime veterinarian Tom Massie of Rose Hill Veterinary Service. He not only can confirm the pregnancy but come very close to predicting the birth date.  The word you don’t want to hear is “open”!

He not only can confirm the pregnancy but come very close to predicting the birth date.  The word you don’t want to hear is “open”!

So how did we do?

Of 32 cows…we have 29 pregnant.  That’s 90%…a little better than the national average.

One surprise…we have two sets of twins coming.  First time for that in a number of years!

On artificial insemination…

Church himself was successful on five of nine.  That was only his second attempt and so a phenomenal result.  Included in the five was a much-hoped for Champson pregnancy…and a couple of English Tilbrook Sunset pregnancies. He also hit on two Rotokawa bulls: 982 and 243.

As for embryo transplants…Dr. Massey did very well hitting on five of six!

All in all half the pregnancies including the twins were in our pure traditional All in all half the pregnancies including the twins were in our pure traditional English genetics herd.  But we also strengthened our American Devon group…including a find in our cryogenic tank that Church came up with…four embryos from what I like to call our foundation cow, 48, sired by Lakotas P60 Buckeye.  That was a flush from ten years ago at least!

Finally, thanks to embryos, we’re happy to have two Rotokawa calves to look forward to again!

In all I think it was a grand finale for Church…who soon leaves for veterinary school at Cornell University in New York.  He’s done a terrific job as the Thistle Hill ramrod the past couple of years…all the while finishing up his masters degree.

I’m one proud grandpa!!


This little piggy…

Thistle Hill Farm Piggy off to the market soon.

This guy claims to be a Berkshire, but for some reason I keep seeing a Gloucester Old Spot!  No matter; both are delicious breeds.

However, unless you pre-ordered, you’ll just have to take our word for it.  This year’s group has already sold out.

Beef coming soon.  Don’t be left out again.  Contact Church.


Meat sales soar…

…according to a survey of supermarket and on-line buying.  Meat during this pandemic year has gained about 20% in sales volume…it’s now 35% of the food dollar and twice as much as chicken.

It’s interesting that on-line sales have really increased while at the same time people are more concerned about healthy food.

Now note this summary is based on dollar sales…not pounds.  But now that younger people have broken the restaurant habit, will they continue cooking at home?  Will their interest in healthy foods continue?

Most smaller farmers we know haven’t been able to gear-up production to get a piece of this action.  Nor do they have the capital or marketing savvy to join the action.

We have noticed the national and regional producers associations are beginning to stir…but has the moment passed?


A new arrival…

…a young lamb Church came up with in his part time veterinary work.

New arrival at Thistlehill Farm

She has a hairline leg fracture but Church is determined to nurse it back to health.  And he seems to have the willing assistance of his dog Nala.

A friend who raises sheep thinks this is probably a Suffolk but suspects it’s been crossed with Hampshire.


What’s the difference…

..between Grassfed and grass-finished beef?  From time to time we allude to the benefits of Thistle Hill’s grass-finished beef…but the labels are confusing and the USDA does it’s utmost to confuse the issue to the benefit of Big Ag.

So we thought we’d reprint an article that does a fair and balanced treatment of the subject by food writer Nathan Phelps which was recently published in the US Wellness newsletter.


Free at last…

Thistle Hill Farm - David

…with everyone in the family safely vaccinated, I was finally able to escape my senior residence for the first time in almost exactly a year.

Naturally it was this year’s calf crop that interested me most.  They’re five months old now and a rewarding bunch of prospects.

THF 3 - daughter of TDA Cashtiller 4 and our Essington bull

Church’s favorite is THF 3…the daughter of TDA Cashtiller 4 and our Essington bull.  She’s the latest in our line of pure traditional English calves.

Bribery heifer

I was taken by this Bribery heifer..a combination of four great English herds.  She’s two-years old…and perhaps in-calf.  And she was the last mating Wooz and Church selected on our final visit to England.

Champson Defender calf

We were in agreement in selecting this Champson Defender calf as our top bull prospect.  We’re particularly excited to see the impact he might eventually have on our herd.

But a word of caution…in our experience calves change a lot in their first two years… particularly bull calves.  And almost every year a late bloomer comes along and surprises us!


A new wrinkle…

…to cooking steaks.  Church introduced me to grilling on a soap stone.  It’s pretty simple and pretty much guarantees even cooking.

We cooked a filet and two boneless strip steaks…all from a 10-year old cow.  Tenderness and the flavor could not have been better!  We have pretty well satisfied ourselves that for our personal eating we’ll stick to the older cows.

Will the day ever come when the government does away with the 30-month nonsense?  The rule that older cows cannot be butchered goes back to the “mad cow” scare in England.  Just what caused it was not conclusively proven but millions of cows were slaughtered “just in case”.

In recent years there’ve been only a handful of cases reported world wide.  And we also now know younger goes can carry the disease.  Even in England traces of Mad Cow have not been seen for years.

Additionally it came a truism that older cows were “tougher” which justified rushing animals to market.  It’s all a part of the better living through chemistry which had infected the beef industry.  And Bill Gates!


Fugitives from our storm…

..for a nice set of Thistle Hill steers.  They had just been shipped to Jimmy Acres Farm near Semora, North Carolina when the snows hit.

Brother and sister Jake and Anna Tommerdahl originally were going to fatten the steers for us but I guess they fell in love and immediately offered to buy them!  That’s the way it is with Devon.

Church met the Tommerdahls when they and he were Fellows at a Grassfed Exchange meeting in California.  Until now they’ve been farming produce and chicken and pigs.  This is their introduction to bigger livestock though Jake had interned in cattle operations before.

Perhaps best of all it’s confirmation of the value of the Grassfed Exchange and particularly their fellowship program for young farmers!

Read all about the Tommerdahls and their sense of mission.


This is SO important…

…we all have chemicals in us that weren’t around a hundred years ago. Even in the smallest of quantities these endocrine disrupting compounds can lead to major health problems like diabetes, obesity, and infertility. The end of the article has some tips on how to limit your exposure.