Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

This just in…and I’m bursting with grandfatherly pride…

…Church had just been accepted into the veterinary school at Cornell University!

For the past two years, he’s been running Thistle Hill Farm and its herd of purebred Devon. All the while he’s pursed a graduate degree in biology at George Mason University. Before that he was graduated from Denison University in Ohio.

If that wasn’t enough, Church also wrangled a few pigs and worked for our local vet at Rose Hill veterinary service. And somehow he’s managed the time to help his uncle at Tolsons Appliance, a longtime family store.

Church’s achievements more than justify his grandmother’s belief in him. She was always his biggest booster! And a key moment in his young career was spending a summer working at Jim Gerrish’s ranch in Idaho.

Cornell’s vet school…for those outside farming…is one of the top, if not THE top, veterinary colleges in the country. More than 3,000 people vie every year for just 100 openings. It has been likened to the Harvard Medical School for physicians.

Not long ago Church was named one of the Outstanding Young Cattlemen in the entire nation. This admission to Cornell eclipses everything!

And I also don’t want to forget to congratulate mom and dad who have sweated out this every step of the way!



Neither rain, nor snow…

…not dark of night…can upset the timetable for embryo transplants once the clock is running.

Embryo Transplants
Photo by Carolyn Matthews

So under miserable cold and wet and muddy conditions, Veterinarian Tom Massey and grandson Church managed to successfully cut out and bring in eight cows that had been prepped. 

Eventually embryos went in six by bulls including Lakota’s P60 and Rotokawa 663 and 93.

We’ll now turn in our English bull Essington from Brian Drake’s old herd…and our own Churchill…to finish the job.  Sometimes I feel our slogan should be:  What’s Old is New Again.


The scorecard…

…for artificial insemination this year.  And it’s a year where we seem to be focused on up-grading our regular herd.

Thistlehill Farm Herd
Photo by Curt Humphreys

The first step is to get the cows in of course….and a new unrolled tasty bale of hay is a good appetizer.

Over several days Church has ai-ed about 10 cows.  The bulls he used included Tilbrook Sunset and Rotokawa 982.

We’ve had excellent results with both perhaps 10 years ago but the progeny somehow got away from us.  Our English friend Gavin Hunter was the breeder of Sunset…and he was also the source of embryos from Cashtiller, our favorite all-time cow.

Rotokawa, of course, was developed by the legendary Ken McDowall of New Zealand.  He has been to Thistle Hill many times and consulted on our herd.  We learned a lot from both Gavin and Ken.


Thistle Hill ham…

..using Curt’s go-to recipe with thanks to “”.

It starts with scoring the ham than patting on a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and kosher salt. Have to punch cloves in, of course.

Thistle Hill Farm Ham
Photo by Curt Humphreys

After 1:15 in an oven, baste with a sixth of a cup of maple syrup. Cook 15 minutes more and baste with more maple syrup. Bake another 15 to 30 minutes and after your family has at it, it will look something like this!

Thistle Hill Farm Cut Ham
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Call me a traitor, but no traditional Virginia ham ever tasted this good!

Christmas morning treats…

…at a customers home. Reserve you bacon now by contacting Church. Thistle Hill bacon is above the rest…he said modestly.

…and a Christmas morning treat for the venerable Highwayman. He gets a year off and his very own bale of hay while we test his younger full brother in this year’s heifers!


Thistle Hill Farm Bacon
Photo by Stephen DeCelle
Thistlehill Farm Bull - HIghwayman
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Christmas gift…

A Christmas gift for TDA 35…

…his very own set of two-year old heifers!

Thistle Hill Heifers

We start breeding our heifers about one month ahead of the main herd.  That, and holding off until they’re 2+, makes it a little easier on young, still growing females.  It also increases the percentage of successful rebreeding.

TDA 35 is a full brother of our wonderful English bull Highwayman.  His sire was Ashott Barton’s Millennium Falcon and his dam, Goldings Norah.


Pigs first snowfall…

..and they got a kick out of it. Mackenzie got in the spirit, too!

Video by Mack Mason


Who needs toys…

…when there’s a whole farm full of wonder to explore!

Great-grandchildren Rowan and Tillie recently spent the day at Thistle Hill and not surprisingly they didn’t want to leave.  From playing in an old hay bale to feeding carrots to the pony and donkey it was hard to keep them moving to the next treat.

By the end of the day, Rowan was still charging but his sister did what all exhausted farmers do…took a nap!


Rowan and Tillie at Thistle Hill Farm
Tillie with horse and donkey

Heading out on assignment…

…a young pure traditional Devon bull out of Ashott Barton Tulip.

Thistle Hill Farm Bull - Ashott Barton Tulip

F100 is 25 months old and just passed his breeding soundness test.  His assignment is an easy one…servicing three young cows we sold bred to Paul and Lauren Rohwer in Ijamsville, Maryland plus a few others.

Those Thistle Hill heifers have all calved and are now ready for rebreeding.

With both an American herd and the english bloodlines we have to maintain a large inventory of herd bulls.  Church has developed an important sideline offering them at stud.

F100 will stay at the Rohwers for 70 days.  It’s a cost effective way to build a herd!


The Class of 2021…

…the next batch of piglets have arrived at Thistle Hill and will “graduate” next March!

Thisthill Farm Pigs

We’ve pretty much settled on crosses of Berkshire and Tamworth for our purposes…both are heritage English pigs known for their bacon and hams.

We’ve also found they’re easy to handle…no minor attribute when dealing with pigs.  Their predecessors incidentally are now in our freezers and you can order cuts.

Of course you can also reserve one of the Class of 2021…a half or whole!

Contact Church at

(214) 802-1283