Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Here they come…

Main Devon Herd

The main Devon herd stretched out across Thistle Hill at sunset. No fuss or bother as they follow grandson Church for close to a half a mile.

Do they understand that luscious green grass awaits?

They do certainly trust Church’s leadership and sense of purpose. Outriders, sticks and herding dogs not necessary.

Once they’ve regrouped they’ll begin a daily rotation of fresh grass, roughly an acre at a time. They have to be this well trained after all because Church has college to attend and can’t be late.

After a few days they’ll be waiting for him at the entrance to the next paddock. He won’t even have to whistle!

David

That didn’t take long…

Thistle Hill Farm Grass

What a difference five days makes. Grass is now 8 to 10 inches.

We’ll have to move fast or risk falling impossibly behind. Grandson Church is erecting the stakes for one-acre paddocks and the main herd of 30 cows and their new calves will have an acre a day.

Look carefully and you’ll see a healthy stand of clover.

Thistlehill Farm dirt

Out of curiosity Church turned over a shovel of dirt. Look carefully near the top and left of the picture and you’ll see earthworms. I count five in less than a square foot. Again note the clover…and the organic matter. Enlarge all our blog pictures by simply tapping on them.

Healthy soil makes for healthy cows and healthy beef!

David

A spring morn update….

….and the grass is a long time coming. We’re keeping the main herd in this sacrifice pasture and continuing to feed hay. Just because we miscalculated we can’t ask the cows to pay for our mistake!

Thistle Hill Farm sacrifice pasture

Not only isn’t there enough yet, but this early the grass is “washy”…not as nutrient rich. On the other hand, you can’t see it but there is a beautiful stand of clover coming along. We estimate in a few weeks we’ll be able to move the herd to begin our serious rotational grazing.

The steer calf in the picture is half English…the full English cow sharing the hay was calved at Thistle Hill and is out of the Tilbrook and Cutcombe herds in England.

David

Lest we forget…

Thistlehill Farm English Heifer

…another pure English heifer…half sister to the two below…Ashott-Barton Tulip is the mother…and a line that stretches back as far as there have been Devon record books.

The origination was in the famed Champson herd. The sire is Cutcombe Jaunty.

Our current plan for Tulip is to let her calve at 3 and then decide whether to flush her.

David

Bribery update…

A few years ago, on an introductory trip to meet our partners in England, Church was given a wonderful gift by his grandmother: the right to select any heifer he wanted from the Ashott-Barton herd.

The young cow he selected—-without any prompting from me—was from the Bribery line which I had long coveted.

Because of import restrictions against live animals, we bred the heifer in England and shipped the frozen embryos to Thistle Hill. Five months later, here’s the result:

Bribery Calf
Bribery Calf

So Jim Gerrish knows….

…we practice what he preaches.

Thistlehill Farm Herd

The experts say the cows get about two-thirds of the best hay.  The rest is not wasted but trampled in creating organic matter and feeding the microbes. Add in the fertilizing the cows do as they roam around and our fertilizer bill is precisely “zero”.

We do need a minimum application of lime though…if the fields ever dry out.

David

Surprise…

The oldest cow in our herd at 16, M180, greeted us with a bull calf.

The oldest cow in our herd at 16, M180, greeted us with a bull calf.

(Keith pic surprise full but cropped a little top and bottom)

Baby is an 82 pound bull calf by an English bull, TDA Highwayman. M180 was purchased from Lakota ranch years ago and has produced a string of nice calves.

She preg checked open and gave no sign she was expecting. In fact, she had been at the top of the list in our discussion of potential culls. Back to the drawing board.

And did you notice the new green grass now that the snow has melted?

Baby is an 82 pound bull calf by an English bull, TDA Highwayman. M180 was purchased from Lakota ranch years ago and has produced a string of nice calves.

She preg checked open and gave no sign she was expecting. In fact, she had been at the top of the list in our discussion of potential culls. Back to the drawing board.

And did you notice the new green grass now that the snow has melted?

David

An inspection tour…

…the new management took me around to check on our cows the other day.  With my usual impeccable timing, we were right in the middle of a blizzard.

Carolyn and Church
Carolyn and Church

Carolyn and Church got a close look but I stayed in the car, which promptly got stuck in the snow.  But the main herd looked great…featuring a beautiful calf crop staring a Tulip youngster from England who is going to make a major impact soon.

It is personally rewarding to see the farm, which was founded almost 75 years ago, doing so well under the next generations.

PS: they sent a 4-wheel for me and a tractor for the car!

David

A reunion…

…with my friend and mentor Jim Gerrish the other day.  Jim is the acknowledged guru in the grass fed business.

David and Jim Gerrish

He first came to Thistle Hill Farm about 15 years ago and was influential in designing our grazing plan.  When people rave about the taste of our meat…they’re really raving about Jim.

So when I heard he was speaking at a day-long grazing conference in Boonsboro, MD,  I signed right up.  Jim is a retired Ag professor and runs a thousand cow feeder operation in Idaho in addition to lecturing around the world.

Most of all he has never stopped learning and revisiting what he knows.  If he’s ever speaking near you, sign up!  And visit his website:

americangrazinglands.com

David

English update….

Bull Calf out of Tulip dam.
Heifer Calf out of Bribery.

The bull calf on the left is out of a Tulip dam, a line that goes back as far as there have been herd books in Britain…about 170 years. He’s definitely a “comer”; love his head and muzzle!

The heifer on the right is out of Bribery. Church spotted her dam on his first trip to England. Ten years earlier I fell for her grandmother but it took young Church to sweet-talk breeder Shiamala Comer into releasing the genetics.

We’re often asked how we judge purity. Check the muzzles on these two calves. Flesh toned…clear of any spots. It also helps to know your registrar.

In years past, our in-house registrar, Wooz Matthews, spent weeks here and in England with the British Devon Society registrars poring over old files to be sure of the pedigrees.

It also was a blessing to be working with old-timers like Ivan Rowe, Brian Drake and Margaret Elliott. Amongst them they have close to 170 years raising Devon.

And as long as I’m acknowledging our English partners, a special thanks to Gavin Hunter of Tilbrook Grange, former president of the British Society. Add those four together with Shiamala and Thistle Hill Farm has had a brain trust unique in the breed!

David