Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

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”?


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.