Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

A red calf and “end times”…

…fools rush in, as they say, but we’re going to have to dissent from this announcement from the Temple Institute in Israel.

The Institute has hailed the birth of a pure red calf as a sign its time to build the Third Temple. Some Evangelicals consider it a sign of the end times.

What we are presented with here is a calf conceived in a Red Angus mother and the resultant embryo imported to Israel. There is no identification of the bull involved. Nor is there any identification of a pedigree much less one tracing back 2000 years.

The rabbis seem to have their genetics a bit weak. An earlier candidate for the red heifer turned out to be a bull…and another developed patches of white. A calf conceived to a Red Angus cow and implanted in an Israeli cow is still just a Red Angus.



It’s not just the English…

…that excites us at Thistle Hill. We have always been big fans of Rotokawa’s Ken McDowall and hosted him many times. Ken has been consulted often about our breeding decisions.

One day on one his visits he looked at a new bull calf and said, “David you’ve hit the jackpot.”

The name stuck…and now here is Jackpot’s son, THF Guardian.
Jackpot’s son, THF Guardian.Guardian not only displays Jackpot in his pedigree but Thistle Hill’s “2” Rotokawa line, producers of more top animals than any other.

Almost needless to say it all starts with Rotokawa 243, who Ken considers his top achievement.

As always you’re invited to come see for yourself.


For years saturated fat, eggs, and red meat have gotten a bad rap

For years saturated fat, eggs, and red meat have gotten a bad rap from both the government and from the medical community. My great uncle Boze had a heart attack in the 1990’s and was placed on an incredibly strict diet that allowed for no eggs and no red meat, though he could have margarine, which we now know is a huge mistake.

In 2016, researchers from the NIH and other major institutions published an interesting study in the British Medical Journal. They reviewed previously unpublished data from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment which was  a study that took place in one nursing home and six state mental hospitals in Minnesota during 1968 to 1973. One group was fed a diet high in saturated fats; the intervention group received a diet that replaced the saturated fat with corn oil and corn oil margarine.

The interventional group that received the corn oil and corn oil margarine had a statistically significant reduction in their serum cholesterol levels as compared to the saturated fat control diet. However, there was a 22% higher risk of death for each 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol. There was no evidence of reduction in coronary atherosclerosis or reduced myocardial infarction by dropping the saturated fats.

Why then are we still seeing margarine on hospital trays?


Ramsden, Christopher E. et al. Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-1973). BMJ. 2016; 353:i1246

Heifers to go…

…this is the start of my favorite time of the year. The air becomes less humid, the leaves are turning and in the mornings there’s a new calf on the ground. We calve in the autumn here in steamy Virginia because it’s easier on mom and baby…surer-rebreeding too on mostly fescue.Forelle Calf

This little girl is just a few hours old…pure English genetics…at John Forelle’s farm in New York. She’s out of a Cutcombe Jaunty mother and sired by Tilbrook Sunset. John of course was one of the original partners in Traditional Devon America and while retired he maintains a few Devon cows.

Thistle Hill Farms HeiferAnd here, waiting out the last few weeks before delivery, is a two-year old plus heifer in our Tilbrook Cashtiller line. I think Cashtiller was the best female I’ve ever seen…here or in England. She won every show she ever entered and three years in a row her bull calves topped the English sales.

While there’s a hold on Traditional Devon cows for a few more years we have been using the English bulls on our regular herd with great results. The heifer just above is the daughter of TDA Victory and TDA 4.

We welcome visitors at any time…just give Church a call at (214) 802-1283.


The next generation….

Carolyn Matthews

Carolyn Matthews

…weighs in with the blog just below: “Monsanto gets its due”…signed Carolyn.

Carolyn Matthews is my late wife’s daughter and she reminds me of Wooz in many ways. Thistle Hill has been the family farm since the 1940s and now Carolyn is the “head honcho”.

Unfortunately she is one of those modern women who has to juggle a family with the farm and a demanding career. She has a medical practice to take care of as a cancer surgeon at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas and is also founder and director of Baylor’s integrative medicine center. She also writes and travels widely to make speeches.  And yes she does use Devon cow pictures in her presentations.

But she also does punch cows and drive a tractor and fix fences ! Now if I could only get my grandson Church to contribute to the blog. But he has his hands full running the farm, filling in at the family appliance store, Tolson’s Appliance Center in Warrenton, and studying for a master’s degree in biology.

Forgive me for bragging but it’s not really bragging since I supplied neither the genetics nor the environment. They just came with the deal for Wooz! No one told me sitting on the sidelines would be this much fun!


A New Buzzword: Unstressed

I began attending integrative and functional medicine conferences in 2007, when I first started attending Andrew Weil’s integrative medicine fellowship program at the University of Arizona. Since then, I’ve attended two to four conferences a year from various nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental organizations; they are “brain candy” for me.

I was impressed that from the very beginning of my integrative medicine journey, the speakers stressed the quality of the food we are eating. The traditional medical view at the time was that we should avoid red meat. But at the conferences, not only was red meat in moderation an acceptable part of the diet, it was encouraged- as long as it was pasture raised and grass finished.

In the last two years, I’ve been really pleased to see that the speakers at my conferences, primarily from the institute of functional medicine, are adding the word “unstressed” to the now readily recognized grass-fed, grass finished label.

The concept of xenohormesis is one way of thinking about why it would be important to think about your meat as unstressed. With this concept, one is imbibing some of the hormones that were present in the animal being eaten. It’s not proven, but it makes some sense to me. I know I don’t care to eat conventionally produced beef- just thinking about what seems like a miserable experience (separated from your known herd, crowded in a muddy cesspit and fed pesticide laden grains) ruins the meal for me. No way do I want to imbibe that misery.

At any rate, lifestyle and diet rise to the fore for prevention of chronic disease, and consumers hear more about unstressed beef, small family farms are going to be best positioned to provide unstressed, quality beef to the knowledgeable consumer.


Monsanto gets its due

Yesterday, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, terminally ill with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,  $289 million in damages. After a trial that lasted a month, the jury decided that Monsanto’s Roundup was the cause of his cancer. Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for a school district north of San Francisco and sprayed Roundup repeatedly throughout the year, sometimes for hours a day.

While Monsanto has long argued that Roundup is safe for humans and not linked with cancer development, the World Health Organization in 2015 classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Unfortunately it is ubiquitous now in our environment and when I tested myself (my family can attest to the fact that I am a pretty choosy eater) last year I was utterly surprised to find that had 1.2ug glyphosate/g creatinine, around 50th percentile.

My take on it is that glyphosate and GMO products, engineered to withstand repeated applications of Roundup, are one big experiment on the environment and on the human population. They do not have the eons of proven safe use in the human population that most organic foods do. Some are engineered so that they actually produce a protein that penetrates and collapses the cells lining the gut of pests. That doesn’t sound healthy!

Monsanto has done its best to suppress the work of non-industry funded scientists who have shown correlations between the introduction and rising use of Roundup with multiple cancers, autism, diabetes, antibiotic resistance, and obesity.  In environmental medicine, the precautionary principle states that when an activity raises threat of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In other words, better be safe than sorry.


A day of reckoning….

The chemical giant Monsanto had a rare come-uppance in a California Court when it was ordered to pay almost $300-million to a Roundup user. Roundup is a herbicide widely used in the United States and widely banned in many other countries.

Monstanto Article

Back in the day when I was blogging at the North American Devon website a recurring target was Monsanto. I felt then, as I do now, that much of the growth of cancer can be traced in some part (alright, large part) to Monsanto and its’ brothers in the chemical industry.

Monsanto is an American corporation recently purchased by the German chemical giant Bayer. Now there’s something to ponder.


Satisfied customers….

….and yes we are continuing to offer a limited amount of grass fed beef. If you want to be on our mailing list write:

In the 13 years we’ve been raising Devon the market has really exploded. When we began, Wooz and I would carry a booth around and explain the health benefits and offer samples. About year 5 we realized the people standing on the other side of the table knew as much or more than we did about the selling points of our product. And we’d sit quietly while they’d explain it to each other.

Since then the grass fed market has grown from $15-million annually to $270-million about 15% of total beef sales. Now of course the Big Boys have gotten or are getting into the act.  And a major bull producer—-Kit Pharo—-is going into a partnership with Walmart to sell grass fed beef.

I have mixed feelings about that. Kit and his partners produce excellent, moderate-framed bulls. But what I question is if anyone can really raise thousands of animals and finish them on grass. This kind of thing needs loving, stress free care…not another industrial approach.

The farmer needs to keep a close eye on his animals and a closer eye on his grass.

Our cows at Thistle Hill…and those of many others…are not only raised on grass but finished on grass. There are no grain supplements or chemicals in the final months to meet a target weight, sufficient marbling and/or a shipping date.  There are no chemicals spread on our grass either.

We have always believed customers should know their farmers…local farmers. That’s why we don’t ship but provide an alternative to out-of-towners.

Recently Robyn L. of McLean ordered 10 pounds of burger and left the meat with her husband while she traveled to Florida for her mother’s birthday.
Phone Photo
Hubby couldn’t wait but grilled a couple of burgers for himself.
Even before cooking he was a fan, writing under the picture:
“These R going to B top notch!!!”

According to Robyn L. he wasn’t disappointed. Her subject line told it all: “Best burgers in the world!!!” She was hurrying home before he ate it all.

Finally (for the moment) I have to disagree with Kit….it is not the bull or even raising his calves on grass that makes a healthy and superior-tasting product. It is finishing them solely on grass and the right kind of grass.

Wine makers call it “terroir” and that’s what determines the flavor. Soil…grass…terroir…flavor. Know your farmer and know your terroir!


Business as usual…

…that’s my report from Thistle Hill. After a year and a half I’m finally on my feet. But I won’t be chasing cows again. That will be up to my grandson, Church.

Church just graduated from Denison University with a degree in biology. He’s managing the farm and entering the master’s degree program at George Mason University.  He has a wonderful touch with animals and a good eye as well. He’s grown up with Devon and so he will be a formidable package as Thistle Hill goes forward.

Hopefully I can convince Church and his mother Carolyn to contribute to this blog. Carolyn’s schedule, as a cancer surgeon and director of Integrative Medicine at Baylor University Medical Center, doesn’t leave any spare time but her education and experience make her a tremendous asset for the Devon breed.

Wooz would be thrilled to see the way her family is taking hold. The Thistle Hill herd has never been stronger and we all invite you to visit.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to note the passing of Gearld Fry. Gearld more than anyone was the driving personality behind the revival of the Devon breed. As insiders know, we had our differences but I supported him, first nominating him to the board of the American Devon Association and then in founding the North American Devon Association.

He was a visionary…a dreamer…and a bit of a rogue. But always a delightful companion. Rest In Peace, Gearld.