Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

The war against red meat…

…seems to have gathered some steam in recent years. Undoubtedly there’s new…and serious…money (Bill Gates) behind the campaign.

We haven’t given much thought to what has always seemed like a religious cult…but here’s an Australian who confirms what I only suspected.

Vegetarianism goes way back in history but really only flourished near the end of the 19th century when it attracted the attention of the 7th Day Adventists…and yes (following the money) Big Businessmen in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Their business was cereal…does the name Kellogg ring a bell?  In fact there were about 100 cereal manufacturers in the new industry…all centered in Battle Creek…and all now Adventists and vegetarians.

That group of people and their hired nutritionists sold America a bill of goods on the proper diet.  Remember the food pyramid?  The “scientific wisdom” was grains are good…meat is bad.

You can read some of the history here – Red meat under attack


Just a quick tour…

…this past weekend.  (Warning: no pigs; they’re off at freezer camp)

David at Thistle Hill Farm
Photo by Curt Humphreys

First stop the shipping pen where this four-year old bull is waiting for his ride to a commercial operation in southwest Virginia.  Clark Family farms have been good friends and customers for a number of years.

The Clarks also selected one of our young English bulls with Tilbrook Cashtiller genetics.  For three years running Cash’s sons topped the English national sales.

Thistle Hill Farm Field
Photo by Curt Humphreys

At one of our auxiliary farms we checked the progress of some of our other yearlings…three pure English calves and their dams.  In recent years we’ve found it best to separate the bull and heifers calves at about six months…just to avoid unwanted premature pregnancies.  It permits us to get an extra few months still on mother’s milk which we think is important for the calves…both physically and emotionally.

Thistle Hill Farm Heifers
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Just around the corner at Slainte Farm, our bred heifers are being spoiled by Mary Perrine.  We are particularly pleased with some of our traditional English ladies and even by Devon standards we find that a stay with Mary makes them particularly docile.

Photo by Curt Humphreys

Back at the farm’s bull pasture, THF Prince is now two-years old and a good example of our English genetics. His dam was an Ashott Barton Tulip daughter and the sire England’s champion Cutcombe Jaunty..

Thistlehill Farm Herd
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Next stop the main herd in pasture 4C, the young heifers still on their dams.  Church is justifiably proud of what he’s accomplished at Thistle Hill and we reviewed his plans for balancing his stewardship of the farm with his new major responsibility…attending Cornell veterinary school…in the fall.

Thistle Hill Farm Family
Photo by Janet Hedrick

But this is good problem to have…and parents Curt and Carolyn and uncle Church are well-experienced to take over the herd.  I’ll continue as “kibitzers-in-chief”!


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?