Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Needed: short term pasture….

….in the Petersburg-Richmond area of central Virginia.  A young farm couple we work with needs a pasture for about 15 cows…some with calves….for 90 days.  If you can help out, please contact us here at Thistle Hill.  We’ll all appreciate it.



New on the scene….

….well new to me anyway.  Tammi Jonas is an Australian farmer (cattle and pigs) who departed vegetarianism several years ago to become not only an omnivore but a butchers.  And not incidentally, an advocate for “natural” farming.

Ms Jonas recently attended a pork producers meeting in Australia and found her worst fears confirmed.  Pigs are a big business with the dirty work done by little farmers but the ground rules dictated by Big Ag and Big Pharma.

The situation is exactly the same here in the States.

Big Pharma, Big Food… who really controls the pig industry?

Extra company….

…..throw another steak on the grill!


No, this isn’t at Thistle Hill.  We thank our friend and webmaster Keith Smith for the link.

Looking for volunteers….

….and here they are from the main herd. A big week at Thistle Hill as we implant embryos from the two heifers we purchased in England.  There are four more waiting in another pasture….young cows who’ve had just one or two calves.

Again, we’re congratulating ourselves for choosing Red Devon some years ago….they are calm and easy to handle in this sensitive project.  You can see the current calves relaxing just outside the pen.  The process takes about 10-15 minutes per cow, including moving them into the chute and headgate.


Dr. Tom Massey of Rose Hill Veterinary Service did the implant work this time.  We enjoy working with Tom because he provides a running commentary and keeps us “in the loop” on the decision-making.IMG_0563

Two of the recips were finally rejected because of small cysts on their uterus.  And two others just didn’t feel right.

So the final total was 12….and now we wait a month before pregnancy checking to learn how many “took”.  A stressful wait.


Eat. More. Fat.

….they’re having the same difficulty in England as here in the States….breaking down the “settled science” that fat makes you fat.  In fact, the right fat makes you thin…and healthy.

The cost of confinement….

….is generally discussed in terms of cost/benefit ratios.  What is it worth to keep an animal confined to a pen, indoors…sometimes even immobilized…in order to put cheap meat on your table?  (Forget, for the moment, that it is mostly unhealthy meat.)

In the abstract, a few may understand that the animal is paying a terrible price but it’s not often we have its testimony.  Here’s a young bull that was kept tethered for “only” a few months because bulls are “hard to handle” and he’ll be dead soon anyway.

At Thistle Hill, we have two bull pastures….generally about 10 bulls in each….living together peacefully….perfectly safe to handle.

Buddy update….

….IMG_0545yes our rescue efforts with a twin abandoned by his dam continue.  Dee Carter, our housekeeper, farm hand, and most of all, dear friend and neighbor, has made “Buddy” her particular labor of love.

As his mother quickly figured out, “Buddy” isn’t “right”….hind legs crippled, hooves malformed and mostly blind.  So he wanders the home pasture, trying to stay close to the herd, but often left behind.  Twice every day, Dee hunts him out and feeds him two half-gallon bottles of milk replacer.

“Buddy” is five months old now, generally in good health, eats grass in addition to the milk.  Thanks to Dee and Wooz, he’s had some kind of a life…but now we’re trapped and can’t decide on his fate.  Perhaps if he grows enough….veal?

Life is a series of choices….


Heat checking….

….as we get ready to implant our latest embryos IMG_0529from England.  We’re using our best cows for this project.  The CIDRs were pulled just last weekend and this was the first time we could detect heat.

Of the 16 cows we’re prepping, 10 came into heat today.  Eight days from that point we’ll be implanting the embryos and then a tense time as we await the results.

For our city friends: this is what we are looking for.  The 8-day clock starts running now.IMG_0536

The embryos are waiting in a canister a few miles away…eggs that were fertilized in a mating of cows and a bull we selected for their conformation and pure Devon genetics.  That was six months ago in a farm clinic near Cambridge, England.  The females were two cows that we purchased from Ashott-Barton farm; the bull (long dead) was from Cutcombe farm.  (He thoughtfully left behind a supply of semen.)

We’re using our own best cows as recips because experience has lead us to believe the recip is at least as important as the donor cow and bull.  The average success rate for this procedure is about 50%…but it can be as low as zero.  An expensive crap shoot.

But we love the results we’ve been getting!  (see home page)

What is it about the Amish….

…..their life-style is not for everyone…but we certainly pay a price for our “progress”.  Thanks to Lois Aylestock of Blue Ridge Meats for the link.

People always laugh at them, but they are the only people that don’t get CANCER