Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Meeting of the braintrust…

…we took advantage of a weekend wedding to gather the principals of Thistle Hill Farm.

It was an opportunity for Church (on the right) who now manages the farm to brief us on his first full year of stewardship. Uncle Church is listening intently.

Carolyn is the new principal of the farm though her focus must remain on her profession as a cancer surgeon and integrative medicine specialist.

She and husband Curt make regular trips from their home in Dallas to Hume. Curt in addition to keeping the books helps Church with the heavy lifting.

After the meeting and discussing everything from pasture fertility to foreign imports, came the fun part…looking at our herd!

The 36 cows and 8 heifers are all in perfect condition for November breeding. It involves complicated scheduling to get the right bulls with the designated females.

Thistle Hill maintains essentially two herds: a traditional pure English group…and an American Devon group. We’ve also used our English bulls with some of the American cows with exciting results.

You’re always welcome to come by and check out what’s available. Just phone Church at:

(214) 802-1283


David & Church
David & Church
Church and Church
Uncle Church & Church
Carolyn Matthews
Thistlehill Farm Cows

Passing of a giant…

…sad news from England. Ivan Rowe, a true giant of a man in all ways, has passed away at the age of 85.

He grew up on a dairy farm in Cornwall, changed its orientation at the death of his father, and made Goldings Farm a leader in the Devon breed.

Respected throughout Britain for his integrity and devotion to the civic good, it was inevitable he would be selected a magistrate in Her Majesty’s judiciary.

For many years a cattle judge sought after by many breeds, here in the suit on the left he is pictured in 2007 judging Tilbrook Cashtiller to be the grand champion.

Ivan Rowe with Tilbrook Cashtiller

It was on Ivan’s farm…stunned at the beauty and uniformity of his cattle…that John Forelle, Bill Walker and I and our wives partnered on the spot to bring pure traditional Devon genetics to the United States. Again and again others waived more money at Ivan but he never could be moved from his word and handshake.

More than that, Ivan and I formed a personal bond to last for the few years we had left. When we parted he always wanted to be sure of my return…and called the States worried if I was out of touch for more than a few days.

From the first, he called me “mate”. And when I heard him say that I knew it was the highest honor I would ever receive.

Wooz and I spent many memorable days looking at cattle on his wind and rain swept pastures of Lands End. And delightful nights in the warmth of Ivan and Joan’s St. Just home.

As we always said on parting:

“See you soon, mate!”



…do not date a farmer! He will put you to work!

Mackenzie Mason & Curt Humphreys

Here Mackenzie Mason, who could be basking in the sun in San Diego, is helping with a rush fencing repair job. She’s in the camo jacket with son-in-law Curt Humphreys.

Take our word for it: she’s pretty!


Parade of cows…

…time to get back to business with a quick look at our main herd.

Thistle Hill Farm Cows
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Leading the way to fresh grass is an English pure traditional Devon, TDA 5. She was originally assigned to our partner John Forelle’s care.

The cow right behind is an American Devon whose tag is illegible. But you can appreciate the uniformity. Our aim is to produce moderate-sized animals… ”sturdy” Wooz would call them…thick and deep to my eye.

Grandson Church will start breeding about Thanksgiving, starting with the heifers. A family meeting is scheduled soon to finalize the pairings.

The cows condition is (are?) just about perfect…a tribute to Church’s first year as herd manager. Quite a tough job combined with his post-graduate work in biology at nearby George Mason University. Great job on all fronts, Church!


Our newest hand…

…and a picture of pure joy. Oliver and mom, Ashley!

Oliver and mom, Ashley!

Maybe he should go in our calving report. Oliver was eight pounds-one ounce…and big hands and feet indicate he’s going to be a big ‘un like his Dad.  A tribute to carefully selected genetics: Warhurst, Ostroski, Mayo and Schoumacher.

Check out the girth! Okay, the upper arms anyway. Lift that bale!

Baby Oliver


Living in a resort…

…that’s what my 18 years at Thistle Hill have felt like. The farm has been in the family a lot longer…almost 75 years.

And now a new generation…the fourth…is beginning to take hold.  Grandson Church Humphreys is managing our Devon cattle herd and showing the same appreciation for the setting in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia that his great-grandparents fell in love with.

Thistlehill Farm sunset

Cutting through the picture…and the farm…is the beautiful Rappahannock River…the stream legend has it George Washington threw a coin across. (Actually a pretty easy toss).

And no farm is complete without its fishing hole…and thanks to grandson Luis Gentry we’re well-stocked with large mouth bass perch, sunfish and crappies.

Thistlehill Farm Pond

Sorry fish caught at Thistle Hill is for family consumption only. But contact us for delicious, healthy grass fed beef and natural pasture raised pork.


Parade of bulls…G101…

…is a pure traditional English calf just 10 months old.

G101 Thistlehill Farm Bull Calf

Again note the deep ruby red coat..a distinguishing feature of a pure Devon. G101 is a grandson of Ashott Barton Millenium Falcon who we spotted in Cornwall and is the bull that got us started in importing English genetics.

His dam is TDA 4…a cow that has produced for us consistently. She was a daughter of the famed English cow Tilbrook Cashtiller, who won three grand championships before retiring undefeated.

Cashtiller and Falcon are found throughout our herd now and we’re indebted to our English partners Gavin Hunter and Shiamala Comer for sharing their genetics with us.

Sadly many English breeders have succumbed to the “bigger is better” fever…crossing with Salers mostly…and so today an English cattleman has to look across the ocean to Thistle Hill for pure genetics.

One of our English partners this year just gave up in disgust and brought in an Angus, writing off the entire breeding season, hoping to find a rare pure traditional Devon next year.


Parade of bulls…

…features a relative newcomer who is pure traditional English on both sides. He’s F65; one month past his first birthday.

Thistlehill Farm bull calf F65

F65’s dam is Essington Buttercup, from one of England’s oldest and finest Devon herds…one that sadly was dispersed a few years ago with the retirement of owner Brian Drake.

The sire was our major herd bull Thistle Hill Churchill. He in turn is the son of Tilbrook Cashtiller…the award “winningest” Devon cow in recent English history. In fact four of her sons topped successive sales and our Churchill is their half brother.

F65 has quite a lot to live up to!


The three little pigs…

…who went to market the other day averaged 230 pounds hanging weight. Exactly what we were aiming for! And Church reports the spread was only five pounds…227, 230, 232.

Can’t wait for our share! There is no matching fresh farm-raised pork. It’s akin to corn or tomatoes right out of the garden. And Thistle Hill pigs have the advantage of browsing for acorns…producing pork like the Spaniards do (and charge so much for!).

Hanging Hams in Spain
David's daughters and their mother sampling the ham in Spain.

By coincidence, my daughters and their mother are in Spain right now…where raising pork is an art form. Every region has its own special taste…and pigs raised on truffles can bring as much as $300 a pound. Acorns are also the favored food in some places.

Those in the know sample the ham and sausages along the way…fortifying them for the journey or sight-seeing.

This year, for the first time, we’re raising Spanish heritage pigs…although we’ve been very satisfied with the English Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot.

Give Church a call if you’d like to reserve a half pig or more for the end of the year. Phone: (214)-802-1283


The parade of bulls…

…this time features a young bull exactly one year old, F100. He’s a combination of English genetics.

Thistle Hill - F100

The sire is the great English champion Cutcombe Jaunty.

The dam was selected by Wooz on what turned out to be her final visit to England. She choose an Ashott Barton Tulip heifer which in turn we mated to Jaunty. All this in a clinic outside Oxford.

The resultant embryo was shipped to Virginia where we implanted it in a top Thistle Hill cow…in our Rotokawa line, in turn from New Zealand.  That recip is a vital part of the whole process.

So there you have F100…a citizen of the world!

When we first traveled to England looking at Devon we had no idea that trip would lead to archiving the most pure traditional Devon genetics still to be found. We were only wondering if crossing some our best with the best England had to offer would strengthen our herd.

As F100 demonstrates, we think it has. Most obvious is the deep ruby red haircoat of the pure English Devon. We also find the English to be more sturdy and balanced.