Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

The future…

…is in good hands!  Two yearling bulls we have high hopes for.

Essington Jr. and Champson Defender calf.

In the background is one of the first calves from our herd bull Essington.  He’s from a premier English herd that was the work for many decades of Brian Drake…a herd that now sadly belongs to history.

In the foreground is the first American descendant of another historic English line, Champson.  He’s by Champson Defender.

Grandson Church came up with some Champson semen at UK Sires that, frankly, didn’t look very promising but decided to try it.  He hit on the very first attempt and so we now have three pure, traditional English bloodlines on our Virginia pastures.

Just for good measure a second Defender calf is due next month.  Nice going, Church!

Finally for those who haven’t been following our English Devon project…it began about 10 years ago when we discovered that the traditional herds were disappearing due to cross-breeding.

Today it is almost impossible to come up with a pure, traditional Devon bull in England…or here for that matter.  

Thistle Hill has become the sole repository for those genetics faster than we ever imagined.


A good omen…

A rainbow finds daughter Carolyn inspecting one of our newly-seeded pastures.

…as a rainbow finds daughter Carolyn inspecting one of our newly-seeded pastures.  It’s been 10 days since we seeded a cover crop of ryes, clovers, turnips, radishes and cow peas.

Cow peas

It’s the cow peas clearly winning the germination race but if you look closely you can see the ryes breaking the surface.

We let the cows graze the planned seeding areas lower than usual.  Otherwise we did no special prep work but depending on a no-till drill to set the seeds.

Our thanks to Glen Covingtin of the MarshAll Coop for consulting on our project.


A partial victory…

…with Bayer pulling it’s Round-up herbicide from the home market.

The major ingredient in Round-up is glyphosate…linked to cancers including non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Round-up will still be available for agricultural use despite continuing court cases against the product.

The story in full


Proud guard dogs…

…watching over our enlarged asset base.

Guard Dogs
Photo by Curt Humphreys

It’s a new For-most head gate, squeeze chute and a-i cage rolled into one transportable unit.  With four remote pastures now this mobile chute makes life a lot easier.  No more coaxing a sick animal into a trailer to get it home for doctoring.

This thing has all the bells and whistles including a scale and more controls than I had when I was flying for the Air Force!


Ladies in waiting…

Thistle Hill Farm - Ladies in waiting...
Photo by Carolyn Matthews

…have been moved to the pasture closest to the house where we can keep an eye on them.

It’s interesting that none of the cows in this picture is actually grazing…they’ve all adopted that far-off stare of cows waiting for birth.  That event begins in just a few days!

Keeping an eye on them has suddenly taken on added meaning.  Two nearby farms have been struck by cattle rustlers and we’ve all gone on alert.

With the number of expert marksmen on these farms, the rustlers are playing a dangerous game.  Son Church, while standing in front of our house, once hit a fox 300 yards away running across this very pasture.


Updating upgrading…

…our pastures.  Four days after seeding with a mix of cover crops we see the first sign of success!!  Young cow peas are the first to germinate…can the turnips and radishes be far behind?


Cow Peas
Photos by Curt Humphreys

Cow Peas

Upgrading some pastures…

…and using a no-till drill.

In addition to clover, which we often spread, this year we’re mixing in perennial rye, cereal rye, turnips, radishes and cow peas.

We’re doing several pastures hoping to extend the natural grazing season.  Not only should it mean extra nourishment for mama and calf in the winter slump but some of these plants put down very deep roots.

The theory is that will loosen the compacted soil and bring more minerals closer to the surface to feed the plants.  It also should help capture rain water, limiting the effects of drought.

As they say on television…”only time will tell”!


Time flies…

It’s hard to believe but it was 10 years ago when we saw the first results of our traditional English Devon project.


TDA 7 was the first calf we selected from our first English flush and she remains today one of the mainstays of our herd.

“7” is the daughter of the great English cow Tilbrook Cashtiller by another great, Cutcombe Jaunty.  Three years running Cashtiller was the Grand Champion in English shows and three of her sons topped later Devon national sales.

In a few weeks ”7” will be calving again…always an exciting event.


The unending war continues…

…no not the one in Afghanistan but the fight over Roundup…the herbicide banned most places but here.  It’s been going on almost as long!

It’s a controversy that has, if nothing else, revealed the unholy alliance between Big Pharma and the government which is “here to protect us”.

Along the way, there’ve been many successful lawsuits and government (not U.S.) bans against using the product.  Now Bayer is advancing the defense that since the American government hasn’t outlawed its use, cancer victims have no right to sue for damages and wrongful death.  Meanwhile Bayer plans to continue selling Roundup but under a new name.

Joel Salatin in his latest blog tries to sort out the nonsense.


A great leap forward…

…for grandson Church as he departs Thistle Hill for veterinary school.

Church & dogs

For the past two years Church as stepped up in my absence to handle our Red Devon herd.  All the while he also completed an advanced degree in biology.

Now it’s on to Cornell University and one of the leading veterinary programs in the country.  The competition for admission is fierce…exceeding only by the pressure from his high-powered class mates.

Church has an amazing knack for handling animals.  They just seem to want to do what he asks.  We have no doubt that he will become a leading light in the veterinary world.

Just to keep an eye on him, I’m sending along my dog Pokey.  She’s at the stage now where she just prefers to sleep so there may be a course she can take to hone that skill.