Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

The Thistle Hill Alumni Club…

…and a recent graduate…Equinox.  He’s a combination of our top English lines.

Equinox - Thistle Hill Farm

Equinox is not quite two years old and at 900 pounds has a lot of growth yet to come.  But he went right to work covering the herd at Spring Pastures farm in Maryland.

The Equinox pedigree includes such top names as Falcon, Cashtiller, Buttercup…all the result of a ten year search we made through Devon country in their native England.

That dark ruby red haircoat and the spotless muzzle are two guarantees of a pure traditional Devon!

Reddi - Thistle Hill Farm

This is the second bull we sent to Spring Pastures Farm and owners Brooke Henley and Tom Garnett.  Reddi was the first…and after almost 10 years, he’s moved on to another farm in Pennsylvania!

Longevity is another attribute of the best Devon.


What could possibly go wrong…

…China will protect us!

The United States and China are wrapping up the agriculture portion of their trade talks and the two countries have agreed to open their markets to chickens.

China has a history of dumping its contaminated food products here…well other things too, including toys.  Our only protection is going to be an occasional audit…whatever that entails…after China’s chickens have already been shipped!

Here’s the story:

How will we know when we’re eating chicken from China? We won’t!


Our namesake…


…and a stubborn little plant!  The Canadian Thistle dominated our pastures 20 years ago…along with Rosa multiflora.  It’s taken a long time (and many grandchildren serving hard labor) to get both weeds to manageable proportions.

We simply keep cutting them to ground level and eventually the plant gets the message and quits trying.

The multiflora was an earlier brainchild of someone who wanted to duplicate European hedgerows on this property.

While neither is considered edible, we’ve heard of people successfully training their cows to consume thistles.  They simply spray the plants with fish oil,  the cattle love it and eventually the fish oil isn’t necessary.


King David reigns…

…over the American part of our herd anyway.  He is now in his third year and making stunning growth…300 pounds and 2.5 more inches scrotal growth…in recent months.

King David Bull
King David

King David is the result of crossing one of our pure English bulls with an American cow.  The idea was to mate the best to the best…hoping in the process to reduce the size of our cows just a little.

Obviously we’re pleased with the result.  This fall will show us more about his impact on frame scores.  Meanwhile he is one of several cows we’ve been leasing.

Talk to Church about that:

(214) 802-1283


The danger of Super-Sizing…

It’s been some years now since Michael Pollin set the beef industry on its ear with his article in the New York Times expanded into the book The Omnivores Dilemna.

Speaking  in England…Pollin pulls back the curtain on the real story behind McDonalds French fries…or as they’re called over there…chips!


Caution…grass at work…

…it may look like resting and that’s what graziers call it…but this grass is hard at work!

Thistle Hill Farm Eastern Pasture
Photo by Curt Humphreys

The trick in grazing isn’t how much grass the cows eat…but how much they leave.

Ideally we like them to bite off about a third…and trample a third…and leave the rest for regrowth. That’s what’s happening here.

The cows have left…we’ve topped off the weeds and seed heads…and now the roots which have died back to mirror the amount of leaf surface above ground…are regrouping.

It’s that new growth which is most nutritious and the cows will be returned in 45 days for another pass across this pasture.

Not only will there be new grass, but new roots. And decaying old roots adding vital organic matter to the soil. It’s a wondrous thing watching this conversion of sunlight to food…food for microbes, for plants, for cows, for humans.

Despite the nonsense you have read, grass farmers are doing more for the planet than just about anything you could imagine. And yes, the red meat is good for your too!


An excellent explanation…

…of just what holistic grazing is all about.

About seven years ago we were introduced to the concepts of Alan Savory and even hosted a session here with Michael Mitchell-Innes.  It was a milestone in the history of the farm, particularly for Wooz, who had grown up here.

In sum, holistic grazing puts the land into the perspective of the entire ecosystem.  It can be pretty heavy stuff so I was delighted to come across this short video…just three minutes…by Blaine Hitzfield of Seven Sons Farm in Indiana.  In everyday terms Blaine describes what it has meant for their farm.

The experience Blaine describes…raising organic matter from two percent to as high as six per cent…exactly mirrors our experience at Thistle Hill.  Even places with desert-like conditions have seen incredible regeneration using holistic grazing practices.


Strip grazing…

…and the main herd has settled in…changing paddocks with no more than a whistle.  I’m sure you could set up an automatic gate opener and they’d move themselves.

Thistle Hill Farm - Trip Grazing

There are 33 pregnant cows in this group.  The section already grazed is in the foreground.  By enlarging the picture you may be able to see the single strand of polywire which is all we need to keep them together.

The grass as we began was about a foot tall, and we’ve taken the top half before moving on. 

In recent years a technique has developed called “mob grazing”…or “high intensity grazing”…that is jamming the equivalent of 500 to 700 cows into a single acre.  That is said to mimic the way buffalo once roamed this land.

The weight on the hooves pounds the grass…and manure…into the soil forcing the nutrients closer to the root system of the grass.  That happens anyway, but this technique arguably restores pastures to the ground our forefathers once new more quickly.

We’ve been hesitant to try that approach although we’ve visited the farms of friends who have…and are impressed.  But it’s not efficient for our smaller operation.  Getting the poundage focused would require tiny paddocks…1/4, even 1/8 of an acre…and constant moving of temporary fencing. And that would greatly complicate seeing that the cows get ample shade and water.

We’re also not convinced cows are meant to be that closely bunched in a fenced operation.  How do they feel (yes, I’m serious)!  And then there are possible health concerns.

Frankly we’ve never seen healthier, happier cows than at Thistle Hill.

Our conclusion for now is to keep things as they are…for the well being of the cows…and ourselves.


End of the trek…

…we take this for granted now but it is quite an advantage to raising Devon…particularly Thistle Hill Devon.

Here the herd has moved itself from one of our main pastures to another…perhaps a half mile with lots of tempting grass in-between…but they trust Church and don’t break ranks.

(Looks like they’ve survived the winter pretty well, too!)


Happy new year…at last…

…the scene we wait all winter to see!

Thistlehill Farm Grazing

The main Thistle Hill herd moving from the western to eastern pastures to begin strip grazing.  Here temporary fencing already has been put in place.  That will allocate roughly one acre paddocks per day.  The confined space increases the trampling effect….the cows pointed toes grinding in some of the grass…the result is organic matter and food for the soil.

This is the first pass over the eastern pasture…and if Mother Nature is good…there’ll be one and maybe two more.

That’s Church…our manager/foreman…supervising the herd.  Someone tell him he needs a haircut!  (Inside family joke)