Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Breeding step two…

…is very much a family affair. The herd has to be brought in from the pasture and sorted to isolate the target cows. We started in the dark, in a light rain.

Church administers a shot of lutalyze.

Grandson Church is really in charge now. He administers a shot of lutalyze which will bring the cow into heat in 48-72 hours. Dad Curt (in background) is the Chief Wrangler, bringing the designated cows into the chute.

Mom Carolyn is “manning” the headgate.

Mom Carolyn is “manning” the headgate. Gotta grab ‘em just right or it’s back around and try again. How many farms have a gynecological cancer surgeon in their crew?

Mom Carolyn is “manning” the

The final step: putting an alarm patch on the rump. When she goes into heat, others cows will mount her turning the patch a bright red. Then it will be time to inseminate.

We are prepping 29 cows…over two days. The rain could make things messy and uncomfortable but this is a process that is carefully timed.

There are no time outs!


Not an approaching storm…

Lime Truck

…but an approaching lime truck. Our pH averaged about 5.8 across the farm and we decided to bring it back up over 6.0.

We’re adding one to two tons of dolomitic lime per acre…depending on what soil testing revealed.

I think this is the best investment you can make in a pasture. It not only kicks up the yield and feeds soil biology, I’m convinced it is one of the reasons Thistle Hill beef and pork just tastes better! IMHO

Good timing too…if we can get it all down. Two days of rain coming to soak it in.

Incidentally over the years we’ve found some difference among soil tests…with the State recommending higher applications than private labs. Just saying!


Living up to its reputation…

…our Mule foot pigs are sometimes called “the ham breed” and now we know why.

Thistlehill Farm Ham
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Curt topped the ham with chutney and cloves and the family pronounced the results excellent.

In Spain this would be called an Ibérico ham…a great delicacy at $400 or more. There they fatten on acorns and while we can’t claim that, by coincidence there were acorns on the ground in the pasture as these pigs matured.

Flavor is, after all, less a function of genetics than feed. But it was this we were aiming for when we selected the Mule foot pig!



Mack serves up the first pork chops from our latest pigs.
Photo by Curt Humphreys

Mack serves up the first pork chops from our latest pigs. And Nala is worried. She only counts three chops!

In the past we’ve used Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs…English heritage breeds. This time we’re trying a Spanish pig…the Mule foot.

The flavor of these first chops seemed the same though the meat was fatter. The Mule foot is known for its ham though and we have yet to sample that. I’ve noticed that the imported ham is selling in specialty stores for more than $300 a pound! We’ll save ours for the holiday.


Let the fun begin…

Church moves the first group of cows into the chute to begin the process of artificial insemination.
Photos by Curt Humphrey

…Church moves the first group of cows into the chute to begin the process of artificial insemination. This will be his first solo effort and he’s set an ambitious schedule…almost 30 heifers and cows to bring into heat.

Included in the group is a wonderful English bull whose semen, unfortunately, did not score very high. But we wanted to give it a try.

We’re also going to experiment with another breed—-British White—-as a terminal sire to gage its impact on meat yield.

Here the cows are receiving hormone shots to trigger cycling. There’s a two-day wait before actual insemination.
Photos by Curt Humphrey

Here the cows are receiving hormone shots to trigger cycling. There’s a two-day wait before actual insemination.

Church took a course this summer in artificial insemination and got a perfect score! But this is the test that counts!


Thistlehill at sunset

Thistlehill Farm Sunset

The bottom of the barrel…

…the stockpile barrel, that is.
If there is a key in cattle raising, it is to avoid feeding hay at $100 a ton for as long possible.

Here Church opens one of our last stockpiled pastures and the cows don’t need a second invitation.

Video by Church Humphreys

Native grasses here for the most part but will satisfy them until AI is scheduled for mid-month. Then we will bring a cover bull in and hope the grass will last until the end of the month.

There’s 22 acres of grass left just across the road…tantalizing but Church has decided to feed that to our steers destined for meat.


Parade of bulls…

…TDA Ransom…a Wooz favorite maybe because his mama was Goldings Snowdrop…selected by her when the “wise old men” of the partnership were favoring others. She called him “Handsome Ransom”…and saw something in him even in his awkward teenage years. He’s come into his own now though Wooz is no longer with us to say I told you so. (That wouldn’t be like her anyway!)

Photo by Curt Humphreys

We keep eight to ten bulls in the same pasture. Why is it when they reach their prime they invariably stand apart and spend most of the day posing?

Ransom’s sire is the great Millennium Falcon.


We don’t pay well…

…but the fringe benefit for managing Thistle Hill Farm is that you’re required to sample all the meat before it’s released to customers! Church takes that responsibility very seriously.

We’re pleased to report that the first of our pork is back from the butchers and Church says the bacon is “very good”…which is a rave coming from him. Here’s his breakfast:

Bacon Cooked

We were particularly interested in this first batch. It’s from Mulefoot hogs…a Spanish heritage pig. Until now we’ve used English breeds but had an opportunity to try these.

They’re easier to handle and now we know the meat holds its own with the best we’ve produced over the past ten years.

There’s a lone half-pig left in the December group. Contact us if you’d like to experience the absolute delight of pasture-raised pork.


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