Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

The perfect steak…

..ok, begins at Thistle Hill. But Church found a way to gild the lily.


Apparently these cookers have been around quite awhile but pricey. (Now, Amazon has them for $160-180). Basically you put the steak in a plastic bag…remove the air…and slow cook in water at a temp of 135 degrees.

He deployed one of his Christmas presents: a Sous vide cooker. He selected a Delmonico steak for his first try just in case it didn’t turn out. In fact he reports it was as tender and flavorful as a filet mignon.

Sous Vide Cooker

Apparently it’s a no-brainer; a gourmet steak every time! Church finished his steak off in a skillet with a dollop of butter just for aesthetic reasons. I would miss the fellowship of standing around the grill with an aluminum can in my hand, but in mid-winter….


Let’s call this before….

Thistle Hill Farm fence at sunrise

Christmas weekend opened splendidly with sunrise reflected off the Blue Ridge..captured by our designated early riser, daughter Carolyn.

But if there’s a before there must be an after.  At the moment Carolyn took the before picture a passing motorist was also admiring the sunrise over Thistle Hill.  At least that’s what he told the investigating state trooper.

Thistlehill Farm fence being repaired.

In any event the motorist lost control and we lost four sections of four-board fence.

Fortunately a neighbor saw the accident and moved our cows to a nearby pasture with intact fencing.  Thank you Kathy Hartz!

Rebuilding fencing wasn’t the way we planned to spend Christmas but the job is done!  Thanks to Church, Lucio and Curt…and Carolyn, who took this picture, too!


Suspicions confirmed…

…for some time I’ve felt we as an industry have been harvesting our beef at too young an age.

First let me say I am skeptical of the results of the Mad Cow scare of some years back. Even more skeptical of the cure…permitting bone-in cuts only for animals under 30 months. Whatever triggers Mad Cow may simply not be apparent in younger animals.

No matter…30-months has been the trigger for slaughter dictated by the USDA and the industrial beef people love it because that supports their rush to harvest.

Finally along comes a cattleman to speak out…and let us know what we’ve been missing. He’s been taste-testing some of his older steaks…15-year old steaks…and posted the results on a YouTube video.

It was a few years ago…on one of our Devon visits that I had a steak that was about 10 years old. The farmer wasn’t sure. What was certain was that it was the most delicious, and yes tender, steak I’ve ever had!

It is past time that we revisit the whole Mad Cow Syndrome. And I have to note that no more than there’s ever been any recall of grass fed meat, there’s never been a case of E.coli or Mad Cow in a grass fed and finished beef!

Know your farmer.  And yes we do follow the USDA guidelines…begrudgingly.


Let the real test begin…

…in the final analysis it’s not the bull…nor the pedigree…but the calves.

TDA 16, Cutcomb - Sired by Ashott Barton Millennium Falcon. Dam is TDA 4

Cutcombe represents one of the first second generation all English animals born in America. Sired by Ashott Barton Millennium falcon and out of TDA 4. We hope to see his deep ruby red coat show up in his upcoming calves. And Cutcombe’s first calves are due any day now.

This just in…

…all natural grass fed, grass finished beef!  Now there’s a delicious mouthful…and nutritious, too!

Thistle Hill Farm Beef Steaks

Thistle Hill Farm is back in full operation now under the direction of grandson Church Humphreys.  Our focus remains the marketing of the very best Devon seedstock but that doesn’t mean we can’t set aside a limited number of animals for personal consumption.

Again we’re offering whole carcasses, halves and quarters.  Bulk Prices range from $7 to $7.50 a pound…and that’s packaged weight in individual cuts.

We’ll also endeavor to provide special packages of our mouth-watering hamburgers.  You’ve  never tasted anything this good..and a bulk buy at just $6 a pound is a family bargain.

To order or to be placed on our mailing list get in touch with Church at info@thistlehill. net or phone 540-364-2090


More about Buttercup…

…see below “All we could have hoped for…”. The dam of our Buttercup was Essington Park 136, photographed the day we first saw her at Essington Park in 2010.

Essington Park 136

She was standing a bit apart from her herd. And she was always that way particularly with a calf at her side. Did she know her pedigree stretched back more than 100 years?

She was Brian Drake’s favorite too. He liked her trouble free performance..a calf every year right on schedule. Mobile; she was always first to the best new grass.

And a solid mother. Her babies did not wander…where she put them is where they stayed, even if a stranger came up.

She was an absolute reflection of the solid couple who bred her…Maureen and Brian Drake. They dedicated their lives to the Devon breed. It’s an honor to feature Essington Park at Thistle Hill.


All we could have hoped for…

…when we began our English project. Entirely new pure traditional Devon bloodlines.

And here is one: Buttercup from Brian Drake’s Essington Park herd. Bred there…born here…and now with her first calf.
TDA23 and her calfBrian has since retired and his herd, one of England’s oldest, has been dispersed. The sire of this month old well-mannered bull calf is our Churchill…out of Gavin Hunter’s great cow Tilbrook Cashtiller.

The shortage of pure, traditional Devon bloodlines has become so critical in England that one breeder we know has thrown up her hands and is using an Angus bull this year, hoping for better luck next year.

We’ll never forget spotting Buttercup’s dam on her pasture in North Tawton…and working with Brian to arrange the flush. She brings a certain touch of class to our herd in northern Virginia.


Did you know that grass-fed beef is one of the top ten sources of tryptophan?

I have to confess that I didn’t know that grass fed beef is on the top ten list for sources of tryptophan…I always think of turkey. Tryptophan is the amino acid that goes on to become serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone which is low in depression, and melatonin, which helps us sleep at night.

Other sources besides grass fed beef and turkey: lamb, chicken, tuna, pumpkin seeds, eggs, crab, cheese, and spirulina.

In addition to getting enough tryptophan in your diet, it is important to pursue lifestyle strategies to minimize inflammation, because when inflammatory pathways are turned on, the tryptophan gets hijacked down an inflammatory pathway to make kynurenine and quinolinic acid, leading to lower serotonin levels and increased anxiety and depression.

Some anti-inflammatory strategies:

  1. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep nightly
  2. Eat of variety of vegetables every day
  3. Try to get some form of exercise daily
  4. Avoid processed foods
  5. Avoid foods fried or cooked at high temperature
  6. Avoid added sugar
  7. Use herbs and spices wherever possible in your cooking
  8. Consume more omega 3 fats

Carolyn M. Matthews, MD

The next generations review…

..the next generation.

Thistlehill Farm CowsIt was front and center for this year’s crop of yearling-plus heifers. Not quite ready to breed and that’s the problem. Breed now and calve in the fall with the attendant problems plus rebreeding difficulty?

Or wait until they’re ready which could mean calving in the equally difficult winter months.

Cows in Winter at Thistlehill FarmChurch on the right voted to go ahead and he’s the one who gets up in the dark and will have to deal with the problem either way.

Grandpa on the left voted to wait but of course he’s in Assisted Living where he can do nothing but express an opinion. Curt and Carolyn in the middle were the swing votes and they said wait.
Thistlehill Farm Red Devon cattleIn the final analysis the old folks chickened out…and left the vote an “advisory opinion”…with Church to do as he thinks best. New generations have to learn.

Grandpa finally decided for himself that an older cow is better able to handle the stress—-physically and psychologically—than a younger animal. And the extra calves got added on at the end and for the life of that cow she was more trouble-free.

But it’s a funny thing about cows…they’ll try their best to do what you ask of them.


Another profit center…

…this one for the gentlemen to go along with the spa for the ladies. (See below)

While the ladies cuddle up with the cows in one pasture, the men could enjoy soccer in another pasture. Let’s go to the tape!