Thistle Hill Farm – Blog

…doing what comes naturally

Making history…

…is something of a habit at Thistle Hill.  We’re always trying new ideas…ways to improve the quality of our operation and the cows we produce.

In that pursuit we were particularly excited when Church was able to negotiate the purchase of a canister of scores of straws of semen from longtime Devon breeders Don and Heather Minto in Jamestown, Rhode Island.  Among the straws were collections from almost all the top Rotokawa bulls plus some of the legendary sires in Devon history.

Church planned the first major use from the cache to take place during his Christmas break from Cornell Veterinary school.  Because our vet’s clinic is close to Thistle Hill, Church decided not to freeze the embryos but rush them to our farm for implantation.

Thistle Hill Farm cow/calves grazing.

Three of our best cows…daughters of Cashtiller, Bribery and Buttercup…all outstanding English Devon…were  selected as donors and brought to the clinic for conditioning.  At the farm eleven top mama cows with a top reputation for mothering calves were brought into synchronization with the three back at the clinic.  The three at the clinic have been pregnant for eight days…the 11 recipient cows each have the uterus of a cow impressed exactly at the same time eight days ago.

First in the chute TDA 24…a daughter of Essington Park Buttercup.

First in the chute TDA 24…a daughter of Essington Park Buttercup.  Actually, thanks to modern technology we are breeding a bull long gone to a cow that is out of a herd that no longer exists.

Our longtime vet, Dr Tom Massie, heads the transplant team assisted by technician Jane Naramore and our Church  Humphreys.

Our longtime vet, Dr Tom Massie, heads the transplant team assisted by technician Jane Naramore and our Church  Humphreys.  Flushing the eggs out of the cow is delicate but straightforward…a solution is injected in the uterus and the eggs are gently dislodged and funneled into a flask.  That procedure takes about 30 minutes.

Dr. Massie hurries the flask to his lab and under a microscope searches out the 8-day old embryos among the liquid and chaff.

Dr. Massie hurries the flask to his lab and under a microscope searches out the 8-day old embryos among the liquid and chaff.  The first question is quickly answered…we have live embryos!  Yes, we cheered!

Five embryos are pretty easily spotted and then seven.  There are more but it’s not immediately apparent yet how viable all the eggs are.

Five embryos are pretty easily spotted and then seven.  There are more but it’s not immediately apparent yet how viable all the eggs are.

However the clock is running…only a short window exists to complete the operation and there are two more cows to go.  Jane stays in the lab to complete the search. 

Meanwhile, Church has moved the second cow into the chute and readied the instruments and chemicals for the next flush. 

This second cow proves as docile as the first and Dr Massie raises the possibility we’ll finish all three flushes before the trip to the farm and the implanting.

This second cow proves as docile as the first and Dr Massie raises the possibility we’ll finish all three flushes before the trip to the farm and the implanting.  Until now we had expected to flush two, implant those and the return for the third.

And cows two and three cooperate beautifully…as does the lab work.

This second cow proves as docile as the first and Dr Massie raises the possibility we’ll finish all three flushes before the trip to the farm and the implanting.

Meanwhile at Thistle Hill Curt has moved 11 mothers-to-be into the pen awaiting the stork.

Church has made a decision: we’ll use 10 of the embryos…6 for Potheridge President and 4 for Champson Defender.  The remaining embryos will stay at the clinic and be frozen for use later.

Of course as always with artificial insemination there are no guarantees…it will be about a month before a pregnancy check determines just how successful this day has been.

An exciting and exhausting day…but rewarding for this old wrangler watching the next generations of Thistle Hill Devon!

David

Church, Carolyn and David

A lucky stroke…

By grandson Church who bred this two-month old heifer.  The semen tested poorly but we liked the son Church produced last year so we tried again.

Heifer calf - daughter of Defender.

She’s the daughter of Defender, the most recent star of the famous Champson herd.  Her brother will have the chance to breed for the first time this year.

We like Defender very much and are pleased to have him round out our battery of pure traditional English Devon bulls.

Up for discussion is whether to risk a live flush which is now scheduled for about a week.

The dam of this heifer was our TDA 4…a “smallesh” cow even by English Devon standards.  This girl was 59 pounds at birth but growing nicely.

David

The one that got away…

…almost.  Some years ago we were very pleased with our Sunset bulls from Gavin Hunter ‘s Tilbrook Herd in England.  So were others and one day we realized we had sold the last of the blood line.

Thanks to AI tanks we have just solved the problem.  Church found some Sunset semen in an old Folly Farm tank and Sunset is back on our pastures…in the form of this three-month old bull calf.

Bull Calf - three months old

Making this an all the more exciting mating…we AI-ed Sunset to our new young Tulip cow.  She’s from the Ashott Barton herd in England.

We’ve barely finished this year’s calving and it’s already time to start planning the timing for the next round of embryo and ai pairings.

And we ear-marked some of our rare semen for live embryo transfers!  We’ll be flushing at Rose Hill Veterinary clinic in Little Washington and rushing the embryos back to the recips timed and waiting at Thistle Hill!  Stay tuned!

David

Yes I have favorites…

…and TDA 7 has been mine for the past 10 years!

TDA 7 & Calf

And this morning she further endeared herself by presenting us with a perfect 64-pound heifer.  Somehow 7 has maintained her girlish figure (and udder) all these years.

And yes 7 is a Cashtiller daughter…who may well be the best Devon cow in history.  Her bull calves topped the British sales three years running…just as she earlier had won three Grand Championships in national shows.  And her breeder, Gavin Hunter, is once again serving as the president of the British Society.

And to share the credit, the sire of this heifer is Essington…named for the Brian Drake farm where this line originated.

David

Grass is always greener—II

Just a quick add…pictures of the turnips we’re getting (with our hound) and the radishes.  Add in the roots we left behind and you get an idea of the wonderful impact in the soil!

Turnup

David

Radish

Home again…

…are three yearling bulls who were at summer camp…actually the pasture owned by neighbors, the Rowland’s.

Truthfully I’m not sure which is which….but these are sons of some great English herd genetics such as Champson, Essington Park and Ashott Barton.

We take our young cows away for the summer to ease the pressure on our grass.  That also means more here in our stockpile and easier to supplement with hay.

David

The grass is always greener…

…when you add cover crops!  And for the first time that’s what we’ve done.

Son-in-law Curt Humphreys and Coop manager Glenn Covington reviewed the results of the project this weekend
Photo by Carolyn Matthews

Son-in-law Curt Humphreys and Coop manager Glenn Covington reviewed the results of the project this weekend…and pronounced themselves satisfied.  Grandson Church had started the plan with Glen but he’s now off at Cornell Veterinary School.

turnip, radish, cow peas, clover, cereal rye and perennial rye.
Photo by Curt Humphreys

If you enlarge the picture you should be able to pick out turnip, radish, cow peas and the clover.  Tougher to see but they are there are Cereal Rye and perennial rye.  I never thought we’d get to the point where I’d think we’ve maxed on clover.  

Glenn is a little worried about possible bloat.  We have pastures that were not over-seeded and hay standing by just in case.

Incidentally we did use a no-til drill for the seeding…supplied by Glenn’s Farm and Home Coop!

David

A winning combination…

…of the outstanding Rotokawa 982 and our awesome X2a!

4 is a healthy 65-pound bull calf…an ai son of 982.

4 is a healthy 65-pound bull calf…an ai son of 982.  This sire was an unsung member of Ken McDowalls battery of great bulls.  Church came up with some of his hard to find semen not long ago.

We chose X2a whose pedigree goes way back among American Devon.  And the 2-line has been very good to Thistle Hill…producing a string of outstanding bulls and heifers.

David

The first bull calf…

…of the year weighs exactly 70 pounds.  And though mom is a heifer she has him well-disciplined.  No easy task with a rambunctious little bull calf!

Thistlehill Farm Bull Calf
Photo by Curt Humphreys

The sire of these early calves is TDA 35…an all English bull by Falcon out of Norah.

Mom is a good example of crossing our American herd with an English import.  In this case grandma is R2…a calf we spotted at Lakota Ranch 15 years ago…and it paid off for us and farms throughout the East.

The English grandsire was a bull we nicknamed Handsome Ransom and, while early, this guy is well-proportioned just like grandpa.

Never was good at fractions but I guess this makes 3 a three-quarter English Devon.

David

Back in the bull pen…

…and oblivious to his achievements in the pasture…is TDA35.  This young bull has sired this year’s heifer candidates.

The son of Goldings Norah by Ashott Barton Falcon..TDA 35 has an outstanding background on paper.

The son of Goldings Norah by Ashott Barton Falcon..TDA 35 has an outstanding background on paper.

This is his first real test.

David