Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

A New Buzzword: Unstressed

I began attending integrative and functional medicine conferences in 2007, when I first started attending Andrew Weil’s integrative medicine fellowship program at the University of Arizona. Since then, I’ve attended two to four conferences a year from various nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental organizations; they are “brain candy” for me.

I was impressed that from the very beginning of my integrative medicine journey, the speakers stressed the quality of the food we are eating. The traditional medical view at the time was that we should avoid red meat. But at the conferences, not only was red meat in moderation an acceptable part of the diet, it was encouraged- as long as it was pasture raised and grass finished.

In the last two years, I’ve been really pleased to see that the speakers at my conferences, primarily from the institute of functional medicine, are adding the word “unstressed” to the now readily recognized grass-fed, grass finished label.

The concept of xenohormesis is one way of thinking about why it would be important to think about your meat as unstressed. With this concept, one is imbibing some of the hormones that were present in the animal being eaten. It’s not proven, but it makes some sense to me. I know I don’t care to eat conventionally produced beef- just thinking about what seems like a miserable experience (separated from your known herd, crowded in a muddy cesspit and fed pesticide laden grains) ruins the meal for me. No way do I want to imbibe that misery.

At any rate, lifestyle and diet rise to the fore for prevention of chronic disease, and consumers hear more about unstressed beef, small family farms are going to be best positioned to provide unstressed, quality beef to the knowledgeable consumer.


Monsanto gets its due

Yesterday, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, terminally ill with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,  $289 million in damages. After a trial that lasted a month, the jury decided that Monsanto’s Roundup was the cause of his cancer. Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for a school district north of San Francisco and sprayed Roundup repeatedly throughout the year, sometimes for hours a day.

While Monsanto has long argued that Roundup is safe for humans and not linked with cancer development, the World Health Organization in 2015 classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Unfortunately it is ubiquitous now in our environment and when I tested myself (my family can attest to the fact that I am a pretty choosy eater) last year I was utterly surprised to find that had 1.2ug glyphosate/g creatinine, around 50th percentile.

My take on it is that glyphosate and GMO products, engineered to withstand repeated applications of Roundup, are one big experiment on the environment and on the human population. They do not have the eons of proven safe use in the human population that most organic foods do. Some are engineered so that they actually produce a protein that penetrates and collapses the cells lining the gut of pests. That doesn’t sound healthy!

Monsanto has done its best to suppress the work of non-industry funded scientists who have shown correlations between the introduction and rising use of Roundup with multiple cancers, autism, diabetes, antibiotic resistance, and obesity.  In environmental medicine, the precautionary principle states that when an activity raises threat of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In other words, better be safe than sorry.


A day of reckoning….

The chemical giant Monsanto had a rare come-uppance in a California Court when it was ordered to pay almost $300-million to a Roundup user. Roundup is a herbicide widely used in the United States and widely banned in many other countries.

Monstanto Article

Back in the day when I was blogging at the North American Devon website a recurring target was Monsanto. I felt then, as I do now, that much of the growth of cancer can be traced in some part (alright, large part) to Monsanto and its’ brothers in the chemical industry.

Monsanto is an American corporation recently purchased by the German chemical giant Bayer. Now there’s something to ponder.


Satisfied customers….

….and yes we are continuing to offer a limited amount of grass fed beef. If you want to be on our mailing list write:

In the 13 years we’ve been raising Devon the market has really exploded. When we began, Wooz and I would carry a booth around and explain the health benefits and offer samples. About year 5 we realized the people standing on the other side of the table knew as much or more than we did about the selling points of our product. And we’d sit quietly while they’d explain it to each other.

Since then the grass fed market has grown from $15-million annually to $270-million about 15% of total beef sales. Now of course the Big Boys have gotten or are getting into the act.  And a major bull producer—-Kit Pharo—-is going into a partnership with Walmart to sell grass fed beef.

I have mixed feelings about that. Kit and his partners produce excellent, moderate-framed bulls. But what I question is if anyone can really raise thousands of animals and finish them on grass. This kind of thing needs loving, stress free care…not another industrial approach.

The farmer needs to keep a close eye on his animals and a closer eye on his grass.

Our cows at Thistle Hill…and those of many others…are not only raised on grass but finished on grass. There are no grain supplements or chemicals in the final months to meet a target weight, sufficient marbling and/or a shipping date.  There are no chemicals spread on our grass either.

We have always believed customers should know their farmers…local farmers. That’s why we don’t ship but provide an alternative to out-of-towners.

Recently Robyn L. of McLean ordered 10 pounds of burger and left the meat with her husband while she traveled to Florida for her mother’s birthday.
Phone Photo
Hubby couldn’t wait but grilled a couple of burgers for himself.
Even before cooking he was a fan, writing under the picture:
“These R going to B top notch!!!”

According to Robyn L. he wasn’t disappointed. Her subject line told it all: “Best burgers in the world!!!” She was hurrying home before he ate it all.

Finally (for the moment) I have to disagree with Kit….it is not the bull or even raising his calves on grass that makes a healthy and superior-tasting product. It is finishing them solely on grass and the right kind of grass.

Wine makers call it “terroir” and that’s what determines the flavor. Soil…grass…terroir…flavor. Know your farmer and know your terroir!


Business as usual…

…that’s my report from Thistle Hill. After a year and a half I’m finally on my feet. But I won’t be chasing cows again. That will be up to my grandson, Church.

Church just graduated from Denison University with a degree in biology. He’s managing the farm and entering the master’s degree program at George Mason University.  He has a wonderful touch with animals and a good eye as well. He’s grown up with Devon and so he will be a formidable package as Thistle Hill goes forward.

Hopefully I can convince Church and his mother Carolyn to contribute to this blog. Carolyn’s schedule, as a cancer surgeon and director of Integrative Medicine at Baylor University Medical Center, doesn’t leave any spare time but her education and experience make her a tremendous asset for the Devon breed.

Wooz would be thrilled to see the way her family is taking hold. The Thistle Hill herd has never been stronger and we all invite you to visit.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to note the passing of Gearld Fry. Gearld more than anyone was the driving personality behind the revival of the Devon breed. As insiders know, we had our differences but I supported him, first nominating him to the board of the American Devon Association and then in founding the North American Devon Association.

He was a visionary…a dreamer…and a bit of a rogue. But always a delightful companion. Rest In Peace, Gearld.


Sometimes you gotta wonder….

….if that old joke isn’t true….that among the three greatest lies is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”.   It seems the feds devote their greatest effort to what isn’t a problem…..finding ways to nitpick small farms and processors when all the  bad food is coming out of the industrial food chain.

Just today our CSA farmer told me he can’t eat hamburger because his stomach can’t handle it.  I told him that’s because he wasn’t really eating ground beef….but a conglomeration of junk from around the world.  (Yes, “Certified Angus Beef” isn’t all Angus).  Several of our customers who couldn’t eat beef happily down Thistle Hill steaks and burger.

But having successfully blurred the issue on grass fed and finished beef, the USDA is doing everything it can to shove GMO foods down our throats.  Here’s the latest:

Thanks to Lois Aylestock of BlueRidge Meats for the link.

You also to have to wonder what Vladimir Putin knows that we don’t!




Well, this is depressing….

….and it’s only a partial list.  Doesn’t anyone every wonder why we’re spending more and more on health care….and our population is increasingly less well?  Let’s start with obesity, autism, ADD in our kids.  You think maybe??

I also have to shake my head when people say they don’t eat red meat….but choose chicken and fish instead.

Traditional Devon update….

..the principals of Traditional Devon™ got together this past week IMG_1716to review progress…and here’s an example:  TDA 23.  She’s an Essington Park Buttercup embryo daughter by Ashott Barton Millennium Falcon.  She’s just five months old but this is what we’ve been working for.

English breeders Brian Drake (who provided the dam) and Shiamala Comer (who provided the bull) deserve the the credit.  But we think the picture demonstates another thing:  the importance of the recip.  Awhile back we decided that we were going to select our very best cows to serve as recipients.  In our opinion that is just about as important as the genetics.

Incidentally, veteran cattlemen Jerry and Jeremy Engh of Lakota Ranch visited this week as well and were equally impressed.

Incidentally number 2:  Jeremy reports tentative plans are underway for a “mini-world tour” in two years and Thistle Hill has been asked to demonstrates the results of our “pure, traditional English Devon”.

At the end of the day….


….the sun sets over the Blue Ridge mountains.  Photo by our daughter, Carolyn Matthews.



….in fact, raising beef is better for the planet than growing vegetables.  The real threat is cultivating crops the conventional way.