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Back to the future….

Back to the Future...

With our long search for the most pure English Devon genetics bearing fruit, we face some tough decisions. We have built a beautiful herd of Devon over the past 10 years but there’s just not room for everyone….who stays, who goes?

The purity of the Devon breed is under assault, not only here but in England. Loving Devon as we do, we decided to devote these years focusing on producing a traditional Devon herd here on our farm. And that means, as our historic English calves mature, our beautiful American Devon will have to yield.

So we invite you to inspect proven dams and sires (and their off-spring) and help us make these difficult choices.

This by no means a dispersal sale…and we’re in no hurry. The transition will take several years. But it starts now.

How do you work these things?

Thistlehill Farm Pigs

A new-born bull calf is up on his legs and a little surprised!  Moving any one of those four things will probably deposit him right back on the ground.  He’ll get the knack within a few minutes.  Shortly after, he’ll be trotting unsteadily, trying to keep up with Mom.  By mid-afternoon he’ll be running and playing with his herd-mates.

For the first time in a couple of years, Thistle Hill will be offering not only exceptional young bull calves but females of various ages as well.  You can choose: open or bred.

If you’re looking to expand, upgrade, or add new genetics, give us a call and fire off an email.  And make plans to visit soon to see why Thistle Hill Devon make a difference.

 

By the way.....

Thistlehill Farm Pigs

Thistle Hill does pigs, too.  And like our Devon, they're red and we think they're special.

Pigs are strictly a sideline, though.  We began raising a few Tamworth for ourselves.  But then people starting tasting our pork chops and sausages. And bacon!  And we decided to share this special pork with our beef customers.

Twice a year now we harvest about four pigs.  Mostly they go to folks who have ordered a whole animal.  But from time to time, we keep one for ourselves to make cuts available for others.  The chops and bacon from our most recent harvest are gone, but you can still order breakfast sausage, brats and kielbasa.  And, of course, you can always contact to be put on the list for your very own hog!


 

The Boys of Thistle Hill...

 The Boys of Thistlehill...

…..our picks from the calf crop two years ago.  At Thistle Hill we think you really can’t be sure about a bull until their second year.  But if you come by, we think you’ll agree:  they’re worth the wait.

Our bulls feature Rotokawa genetics:  688, 93, 974 and 243.  A few are line bred by 688.  And as a bonus, you can see how they stack up against our Traditional Devon bulls:  Churchill and Wellington, out of the great English cow Tilbrook Cashtiller.

Photo:  Ciao Bella Photos, Warrenton, VA


 

We believe in Magic…

  Magic

….and if you’re looking for a meat sire…Thistle Hill’s Magic S484 is the bull for you.  Well, you can’t have him, but you can purchase his semen.

Magic is far and away the meatiest bull we’ve seen…here or anywhere.  He’s a Rotokawa 93 son out of one of our first cows, and she’s still producing great calves at age 8.  And Magic’s new owners agree.  Regina and Jim Tesnow of Tomina Farm in Waynesboro, Tennessee have now collected semen from this bull…there are calves at both our farms.

We highly recommend him for your program for two reasons:  Not only is he an outstanding  meat bull,  Magic is just a Frame Score 1….all that meat is packed-in close to the ground…so he’ll add to the efficiency of your herd, too.

As the song goes, “We believe in Magic”….so much so that we offered to help the Tesnow’s market his semen.   Straws are $25 and there’s a 10-straw minimum.  Call or email us for more information or to place an order.  (No, there’s nothing in it for us.  We just believe in Magic and what he can do for our breed!)


 

 Getting started in Devon…

Getting started in Devon

What is truly rewarding is introducing people to Devon and then helping them start their own herd.  These Thistle Hill Devon have just walked off the trailer at Pacolet, South Carolina and onto the farm of Linda Hendrix and her son, Dr. John Hendrix.  The Hendrix’ purchased not only a young bull but four young bred cows, two with calves at their side.  It’s what is called a “three-in-one”: cow, calf and pregnancy.  We recommend this as the way to get started.  First, the cows have established a family and that eases the transition to new surroundings.  And the cows, while young with many years of productivity ahead, have delivered their first calves so they can teach their new owners all about it.  You can read more…and see more pictures…by going to our blog. (click here)


On the pastures of Thistle Hill….

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We spent a few hours recently photographing Thistle Hill’s Devon.  We’ll be using the pictures soon to update our cow and bull pages, but here’s a preview:

U6 (1) is a Rotokawa 93 son out of a 688 daughter and we’ve used him sparingly this first season.  He still has a lot of growing to do but the foundation is there.

X3  (2) is only a few months old but shows a lot of promise.  Thistle Hill likes their bulls thick with lower frame scores.  This is the target!

W18 (3) is very much in the mold.  A Rotokawa 243 son; he’d be tough to sell.  Fortunately, we also have his brother.

The 64s (4) are particular favorites of Wooz.  An unbroken string of heifers and this is the latest by our former herd bull, Watson.  Read more about this line at our blog under the heading:  “You gotta love her….”

In all, we are very proud of our class of 2012:  14 heifers and 5 bulls are being offered for sale.  It would be a good idea to act quickly by emailing or calling.  Visitors (even “tire-kickers”) are always welcome.


 

The Rotokawa 688 experiment….

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  1. One of the 7 Rotokawa 688 calves, a heifer, at three-months.  She’s on the DeKalb Wells farm in North Carolina.
  2. A heifer here at Thistle Hill, #4, and now four-months old.
  3. We had two bull calves; this one is #6.  Again, four-months.
  4. Wooz tries out her new iPhone.  All the pictures turned out movies.  Back to the instructions!

For our non-farm readers:  line-breeding describes the practice of breeding a bull to his own daughter.  If both animals are top notch, the results should be that the good traits are magnified in future generations.  The danger is, any flaw can be magnified, too.  We won’t make up our mind about any of these for more than a year but the three here seem to be a good bet to turn out “keepers”.  While these aren’t for sale, we have a number of other excellent young bulls and heifers you should check out for your herd.  We’d be happy to work with you.


 

The line-breeding experiment....

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It's a controversial topic in breeding circles, mating fathers and daughters.  You're trying to concentrate the genetics to multiply the effect of the good characteristics of your best animals.  This young heifer, the result of breeding a Rotokawa 688 daughter back to 688, would seem to be the beneficiary of  the desired effect.

And here at Thistle Hill, we now have eight outstanding young calves as the result of the pairing:  two bulls and six heifers.  This three-month old heifer is still down in South Carolina with her recipient mother.  She has a sister there but the rest of the siblings are here in Hume.  Not only does line breeding the best appear to achieve excellent results, there's also a uniformity in our calves that is particularly noteworthy.

The practice of line breeding, though, is controversial, as we said.  You not only concentrate the good genes, but you also can strengthen bad characteristics.  That's why it's important to have a really good bull to start with and, just important, be ready to cull any calf that turns out
less than the best.  There's a chance that something will yet show up, but right now all our 688 calves seem just about perfect.  However, before offering any for sale, we'll want to watch them develop for awhile.  And down the road, we also have to answer a key question:  do we double down?

That is, do we breed these 688 daughter/grand daughters back to 688 again?


 

Scenes from Thistle Hill Farm….

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We’ve started our preparations for winter at Thistle Hill.  The last two have been a real challenge and we’ve spent a good deal of time making sure water and hay will be available.  Meanwhile, our experiment with mob grazing has left us with more stockpiled grass than ever and we’re hopeful that we’ll get through January before its time to  start unrolling bales.  

  1. A week-old heifer, our newest calf, seeks shelter from the first chills winds in a hillside depression.  She is a first calf by one of our fine new heifers, T64. 
  2. In the foreground, two of the five line bred daughters of Rotokawa 688 born this year..  One has already been talen; sorry, the rest we’re keeping as an important element in our herd.
  3. Some young calves playing around Vulture Rock in our western pasture.  Moms come running if they see those ominous black birds circling in the sky.
  4. Thistle Hill two-year olds savoring the grass on Lindsay Sagstuen and John Dibble's farm before heading home for breeding.

We are fortunate to have access to pastures at four neighbors' homes during the grazing season.  Our thanks to Lindsay and John, and Don and Sue Ferro, Frank Wickersham and Kirk and Jo James.  This has been an exciting year at Thistle Hill, capped by a complete sell-out of our heifer crop.  And the line is already forming for next year.  We now have 30 producing Devon cows with four of the best heifers we’ve ever seen going “on-line”  next season.  If you’ve been thinking of putting Red Ruby Devon in your herd, now’s the time.  We invite you to drop in any time to see what we’re doing.   And we haven’t forgotten our meat customers.  Seven steers have been set aside for Thistle Hill’s beef fans in the coming year.  If you’d like to be on our mailing list to be notified when beef is available, just send us an email us at devon@thistlehill.net.   Speaking of new arrivals,  please check our new blog from time to time for the latest news. 


 

Welcome NADA and ADCA members….

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Congratulations on your recent successful annual meetings and a special salute to presidents Jeff Moore and Jeremy Engh.  Thistle Hill Farm is proud of its deep roots in both organizations, had the unique experience of being there at the founding of the American Devon Cattle Association and then the North American Devon Association.  In fact, we wrote the bylaws for both.

But our roots in Devon go back even farther…right back to the Pilgrims!
   Above clockwise from top left:

  1.  Our daughter, Carolyn Matthews is a descendant on her late father’s side, of William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims and the man who brought the very first Devon to America. 
  2. Dr. Matthews, a Dallas cancer surgeon and director of integrative medicine at Baylor Medical Center, was a featured speaker at the recent NADA meeting in Illinois.
  3. Mom, Wooz Matthews, pictured with NADA Breed Standard Chairman Don Minto and President Jeff Moore, is the Association registrar and guardian of the purity of the Devon breed. 
  4. Both mother and daughter are veteran Devon breeders on a farm that keeps  the best from history but isn’t afraid to try new things;  for instance, this line bred Rotokawa 688 bull calf.

If  this is your first visit to our website, we invite you to look around, inspect photos of our animals, and make plans to visit us soon to see our excellent selection of all the leading Devon genetics.  And keep checking back for an exciting announcement as we close the circle begun by our Pilgrim forefathers!


 

Thistle Hill Farm….at the grass fed cross-roads….

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Thistle Hill Farm has played host to an unusually large number of visitors recently….some from right around the corner.  But others from around the world. 

These folks were from New Zealand and New York.  Dairy farmers mostly with a little beef on the side.  They were curious about our Devon but more curious about our grass.

We’re still new to this mob grazing business and, frankly, haven’t made up our minds.  But recently we do believe we’re seeing some difference in our grass and soil.  The idea is to put a lot of pounds of cattle on a small area for maximum impact and then move them on quickly.  We already see it will increase our carrying capacity (space for more cows) and provide us with extra forage for winter stockpile.   As for revitalizing and re-balancing our soil organisms:  too early to tell.  And how do we tell?

Meanwhile, as our meat business has continued to grow, we’ve been happy to welcome more and more neighbors dropping in to see how we do things here.  The sold out sign has been up pretty consistently, so if you’d like to experience our beef or pork, we urge you to sign up.  (info@thistlehill.net)  We’ll notify you when the next steer gets close to harvest.  But note: we only provide meat locally and do not ship.  If you live outside northern Virginia, contact a grass fed breeder near you.  We’ll be happy to supply a name.


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We try not to toot our own horn too much but sometimes we can’t resist.   So we’re pleased to report that Thistle Hill Farm IS one of 10 farms selected for a pilot project by Holistic Management International.  The organization is the world leader is all-natural, sustainable agriculture and as step one in the Pilot Project, HMI’s grazing expert, Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa, visited our farm recently as we established a base line for the improvements we plan to make.

Others in the Pilot Project, as well as HMI headquarters training personnel, trooped along to hear all Mitchell-Innes had to say.  The forms and reports we’re preparing are enough to fill a thick notebook and we’re anxious to get started.  For more pictures of Ian’s visit click here


It’s too early to be sure, but this brand new bull calf seems to be an exciting herd bull prospect.  We call him THF 688-1, recognition that he is the son of the great Rotokawa sire, 688.  More than that,  he is the result of an experiment: line-breeding 688 to his own daughter.  In this instance, at least, the controversial technique appears to be a success.  We have four more embryo bull calves…and four females…due in several months.
Our plan is to hold them all and give them plenty of time to develop.  We think it takes about two years to be really certain about a young bull.

This year’s auspicious start comes on the heels of last year’s wonderful calf crop: bulls and heifers by a Rotokawa 974 son (Watson) here at Thistle Hill and by AI, Rotokawa 93. For pictures of our bulls just click here.


Winner of a free, cured ham:  Bridget Chisolm!  Bridget entered our raffle at Hume Day for a 9-pound, smoke-cured Tamworth ham.  Tamworth is the Rolls-Royce of English pigs and they are free-ranged on Thistle Hill pastures.  At least one of Bridget’s holiday meals is now set.

Hume Day Sellout!

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Visitors to our local community fair emptied Thistle Hill’s shelves recently (alright,  be technical, they emptied our five coolers and we even went back at noon to re-stock).  The big appeal was a sample box weighing 13 pounds that was half burger plus a couple of NY Strips as well as pork chops and sausage.  All for about $60.  When those sold out, and we actually had customers fighting over the last ones, we switched to selling individual cuts of both our Devon grass fed beef and our pastured Tamworth pork. 

When it was over, our freezers back at the farm were totally stripped of hamburger.  How often does that happen?

The whole idea was to introduce local people to the fact there was a farm in their midst producing the quality product they had heard about but never sampled.  (And yes, we gave rain checks to the disappointed customers)  A good draw was a raffle of a cured ham.  No purchase required and you didn’t have to wait to be there to win.  We urge you to keep your eye open for similar events….people would rather buy food than “knick knacks”, particularly in this economy!


Ken McDowall, New Zealand breeder of Rotokawa fame, shared the secrets of his success with a large crowd of grass fed beef enthusiasts at our farm recently.  Breeders came from throughout the Southeast....one even came from England.  Thistle Hill Farm was one of just three farms selected by Ken to stage this advanced seminar.  The day began with lectures by Ken and Rotokawa/America Chief Ridge Shinn at a nearby motel; adjourned for Devon burgers at a local market; then to the farm winding up with some socializing under our tent.  We want to thank all the attendees and we're honored to have been able to host this event.  For more pictures click here

 

Thistle Hill Farm · Hume, Virginia · info@thistlehill.net · (540) 364-2090