Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

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.


Sad to report…

…the passing of legendary Devon breeder Ken McDowall of New Zealand. 

Ken McDowall
Photo by Sue Beal

Ken’s Rotokawa bulls were at the center of the great Devon resurgence at the turn of the century.  While there is some dispute over just who “discovered” Ken, there is no doubt it was Gearld Fry and Ridge Shinn who popularized the great Rotokawa bulls in America like 688, 982, 667 and many more.

Eventually Fry, Shinn and a partner brought the entire Rotokawa herd here to the States where they’ve settled in Hardwick, Massachusetts.

Ken was a great friend to Thistle Hill and he spent many days here freely dispensing his breeding wisdom.  I treasure those conversations as I do the many vacations we took together as we introduced he and Pru to the United States.

Grandson Church had gathered a tankful of semen of the Rotokawa stud and in that way Ken will continue to be a key member of the Thistle Hill team.

The Devon breed has lost one of its giants!


The class of ‘21…

…welcomed to the Perrine’s nearby Slainte farm by the year around dog in charge, Molly.  This group of 14 includes both heifers and steers.

Class of '21
Photo by Mary Perrine

The Perrines and their neighbors, the Ferro’s, have been taking our young calves for a number of years.  That larger calf to the right is a Devon-Senepol cross…a testimony to the magnifying effect of heterosis or out-crossing.

The mama cows remain at Thistle Hill and they’ll be delivering new babies in about two months.  Separating these calves enables us to bring bulls to the main herd for rebreeding.

Incidentally these calves aren’t the entire class of ‘21.  There are another 7 that have moved under the care of Joan Fleck, a well-known Virginia horsewoman.  We’ve said many times that Thistle Hill could not provide the quality seedstock we do without the help of our neighbors.

This is the time of the year to strengthen your herd with Thistle Hill genetics…from open young heifers, to heifers bred to a choice of bulls, to young cow/calves to three-in-ones!  You can also supplement your meat program with one of our grass fed steers.


Closing the circle…

Thistlehill Farm - Bribery

Bribery is her name and we spotted her grand dam on our first visit to Ashott Barton farm in England 10 years ago.  The breeder, Shiamala Comer, didn’t want to submit her best cow to the rigors of flushing.

Fast forward 5 years and on our last trip to England , Wooz and Church convinced Shiamala to part with two heifers, one Bribery’s daughter.

What followed then was a convoluted journey to overcome England’s export ban.  In brief, we sold the heifers to a friendly English cattleman…flushed them…bought back the embryos…and shipped them to Thistle Hill to implant in our cows.

And here stands the result…our Bribery, in an unbroken line from the legendary English herd Champson, now two months away from delivering her first calf. 


Waiting for the jury…

…well actually TDA35 is waiting for his first Thistle Hill calves…due in a few months.  We’ve loaned him out to neighbors in the past who had just a few cows.

TDA 35

35 is the result of a mating between two great traditional Devon herds…Goldings in Cornwall and Ashott Barton in Sometset.  Church was pleased with the results our neighbors got.  If we like his Thistle Hill calves we’ll consider whether to promote him to cover the main herd later this year.

What looks good on paper doesn’t always turn out in the real world.


Know your farmer…

…was never more true if you care about the food you eat.    

In recent years, organic and natural foods have begun to take a small slice of the household budget.  It’s still minuscule compared to the total spent on groceries and eating out.

But Big Ag and it’s allies in the chemical industry have taken notice of the upstart…and with the support of the government, they’ve been fighting back…muddying the water with deceptive labeling and advertising.

A farmer just north of us in Chambersburg, PA finally had enough the other day and exploded on his website.

With the connivance of Washington, we can no longer trust claims like grass fed or all-natural or even organic.  The nation’s food producers have found ways of getting around even the loosely-drawn regulations now in pace.

And as the author here correctly notes: big operators have developed slick marketing websites to take advantage of gullible consumers.

The only answer is to buy local and from a farmer you can trust.

One other tip: the con-men have invaded many farmers markets, too!


It’s been almost a year…

…since the birth of what we hope will be another line of pure, traditional English Devon at Thistle Hill.

H364 Bull Calf and Dam

H364 was sired by Champson Defender via AI ten months ago and is now ready to be weaned.  He was an early success story for Church, who is now waiting for Defender #2 to calve in October.

Pure Devon genetics are increasingly difficult to find.  Even some English breeders we know have given up because bulls are in such short supply there.

Seeing what was happening, in both England and the States, Wooz and I decided we would create a living archive here in Virginia.


The time capsule…

…F212 carries genetics from many of the milestones in the 20-year history of Thistle Hill Devon.

F212 - the daughter of Lakota 180.

212 is the daughter of Lakota 180…a natural daughter who until she died recently at the age of 19, had produced some of our best bull calves.

So when 212 came along we grabbed her and now have great hopes for this young cow.  On the other side, her sire was Highwayman…an English cow by Ashott-Barton Millenium Falcon.

And now, to top it off, she is expecting a calf by Lakota P60, one of the finest meat sires in the breed!

So if there’s a legacy cow on our pastures it is 212…with an exciting future.