Milking Devon Cattle first arrived in America in 1623. The first Devon’s were brought to Plymouth Colony by member of the colony. These first Devon’s consisted of 2 heifers and a bull; they were for draft power with the added benefit of milk for cream, butter and fluid consumption, at then end of their productive life cycle they would also provide a source for meat. As a breed they were noted for intelligence, willingness to work, speed, strength, and the ability to prosper on sparse forages, they also adjusted well to different climates.
Devon cattle were originally from the Devonshire area of Britain, similar breeds could be found in neighboring areas of Britain. The adaptability of the Devon cattle along with their other traits soon found them well established in New England in the 1600’s and spread down the east coast to Florida in the 1700 & 1800’s. Not to be left behind during the migration west they hit the Oregon Trail as one of the oxen of choice for the long arduous journey.
By the late 1880’s Devon’s were mainly located in New England and gradually replaced with Milking Shorthorns that were considered to be a more productive triple purpose breed. This is fairly typical of society to progress to a bigger is better ideal. Devon’s continue to thrive today in New England after dropping to a low in 1970 of around 100 head of cattle. Devon’s are ideally suited to the New England climate and forages the Milking Short Horn is not as thrifty in the same rugged conditions.
In the 1950’s with more farmers moving to mechanized farming the need for triple purpose breeds diminished. As an economic consideration the farmers began to move to a beef Devon selecting their stock with the idea of beef production and not dairy production. This caused a split between those loyal to the heritage of the breed and those trying to “modernize” them.
Today you can find Beef Devon cattle but there has been a resurgence in the dairy line for American Milking Devon cattle. We owe a big thank you to those loyal to the breed that kept it from becoming extinct as a dairy breed. Devon milk is used for clotted cream; butter and cheeses, there are artisanal cheese makers that are experimenting with the qualities of Devon milk to find what cheeses best suited to its fluid makeup (milks vary in fat contents based on breed of cattle, as well as some variation with in a breed).
Devon cattle are a deep ruby red with ivory horns that have black tips. In comparison to other cattle they are medium in size with cows averaging 1,100 pounds and bulls in the 1,600 pound range. Compared side by side with our pair of Milking Short Horn oxen they look small.
As a Mayflower descendent I think it is wonderful to have come full circle and have Devon cattle back in the family.
Our herd size is small and we hope to grow it to about 20 productive animals in the next few years.
Walnut Hill beef is raised exclusively on pasture, supplemented with hay as necessary to provide a total grass fed beef experience. Our Devon cows do NOT get any grain supplements or finishing. The animals are raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones for an all natural grass fed, and grass finished beef.
Our beef is dry aged for a minimum of 10 days at Fauquier’s Finest in Bealton, Virginia.
In 2014 we changed our focus from angus for beef production to American Milking Devon cattle only. We feel the Devon is a more flavorful meat that matches our farm philosophy better.
Devon is a considered a triple purpose breed. Officially known as American Milking Devon, they we originally brought to America by the Pilgrims in 1623. Historically they were used for Draft power, meat and milk. In future years these cows will provide us with milk.
Walnut Hill pork is raised in large pens using a Swedish Deep bedding method. The pens allow for plenty of room to root, rest, farrow and play. We do not use farrowing pens like a commercial operation. The pigs are allowed to root in the bedding, build nests, and create organic matter to use for pasture improvement. The pigs are raised humanely, tails are not docked, ears are not notched and teeth are not clipped.
All pork is fed a balanced ration of hog grower ration from Culpeper Farmer’s Coop. The growing piglets are feed a feed that we get from the Mennonites in St. Mary’s Maryland. There are no hormones or antibiotics added to either feed. Additionally the pigs are fed eggs, hay, fruits & vegetables as available.
All Walnut Hill pork is Tamworth sired which provides you with more flavorful pork. Our bacon and sausage (unless specifically noted) is free of MSG and Nitrates.
Hog Island Sheep have a unique place in the world. As of the last census there were less than 200 known breeding ewes in the world. These ewes are in the hands of dedicated breeders located mainly in the Mid Atlantic States. The breed itself was native to a barrier island located off Virginia’s eastern shore. The Island was called Hog Island and supported a village until a string of storms in the early 1900’s changed the island to the extent that the villagers left for more favorable conditions. Origins of the original flock are not known; some say the stock was English; others question whether Spanish stock may have been in the mix. There have been reports of a Hampshire Ram being introduced to the flock but the genetic testing does not support the Hampshire ram claim. Genetic testing performed by Dr. Harvey Blackburn with the National Animal Gerplasm Program shows the Hog Island sheeps closest relation is the Scottish Blackface Sheep, but even that is a distant relationship.
The current Hog Island sheep are small as a result of adaptation to the harsh island conditions. In a grass based system a mature ewe weighs around 90 pounds; mature rams weighing 125 to 150 pounds, with a grain diet these numbers do increase by 10-20 pounds. Longevity as breeding stock is not known, our flock contains contains ewes over 7 years old that are still producing and raising lambs; one ewe obtain from Mount Vernon had a lamb at age 13; whether these are the exception or the rule remains to be seen. Since we have moved to a more island style of breeding (turning all the rambs out with all the ewes) the health of the offspring appears to have improved.
There are a number of interesting traits in the Hog Island breed: they are one of the few feral breeds of sheep; they show little infuences of other breeds in their genetic markers; they thrive well on a grass based diet and are excellent foragers (too much grain can cause issues during lambing). Hog Island Sheep have anything from a single lamb to triplets, fertility appears to be based upon the availability of the forage; good years produce more multiple births. We have not found consistent cases of triplets but our ewes that have twins are apt to do so frequently. The breeding season starts late summer to early fall when the nights turn cool, and ends December/January. The ewes are good mothers, often watching out for other lambs in dangerous situations, banding together to protect the young lambs.
Both males and females can be Horned, polled or have scurs. Their wool color is a mixture of black to a creamy white, with some having pale color variations in the fleeces. The faces and legs can be dark in color like a Suffolk or speckled in shades from a dark brown to a lighter color that is almost a gray. Fleeces vary greatly in texture; most are of a medium weight and staple length; some have guard hairs, others have a very wiry fleece. We have not noticed a consistency with these traits from mother to offspring. Hog Island Sheep are a fascinating personable sheep with each individual showing a unique personality. We have noticed that the horns can be unique, almost to the point of fingerprints. Some animals have wide open circular horns and others have winged horns. Some horns have a dark stripe that looks almost like a marker was taken to the full length of the horn as it grew. We have also observed that the horn structure of mother/daughter or father/son are very similar in style and pattern.
Here at Walnut Hill Farm we strive to keep the varied genetics of Hog Island Sheep intact as they would have been on the island. We accomplish this by making sure we mix our girls at breeding time, not selecting for any one particular trait.
Hog Island Sheep will flock together when startled yet they will stare down unfamiliar visitors to their domain. We have witnessed rams that take on interlopers with reckless disregard to size difference if they feel the flock it threatened. These occurances have been rare and confined to a ram who is otherwise docile with humans or other members of the flock.
In addition we are working with various organizations to further preserve the genetics of these unique sheep: we loaned the SVF Foundation, numerous ewes and rams over a multi-year program to harvest fertile embryos. We worked closely with Sarah Bowley for the duration of the collection period. Additionally Dr. Stephan Wildeus of Virginia State University has collected semem from various rams on numerous occasions. The semem collected by Dr. Wildeus was sent to Dr. Harvey Blackburn at the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) center in Ft Collins, Colorado to preserve embryos and semen for future generations. In addition we work with other breeders to keep the gene pool diverse through management of blood lines.
Based upon the fiber samples from our sheep the Micron Count was as follows: white averaged 30.5 (more than half was greater than 30) and Black averaged 22.6 (more than 90% was at or under 30 microns). This leads to the thought that the white would be suitable for hats, mittens, outerwear sweaters or heavy blankets, the black could be used for next to skin wear due to it’s finer micron count.
The fleeces are unusually high in lanolin, the high lanolin content would have helped protect the sheep in the weather and harsh island conditions, this also reduces the yield of clean fibers.
Walnut Hill lamb is raised on pasture and the spring lambs maybe supplemented on grain, depending on pasture conditions.
In addition to commercial lamb, Walnut Hill Farm has the world’s largest flock of Hog Island Sheep. Hog Island sheep are a truly unique Virginia sheep at the last census there were less than 200 breeding females remaining in the world. Only males are made available for your culinary pleasure, all females are retained in the flock for future breeding stock.
This Hog Island lamb is truly unique with wonderful flavors not found in commercial lamb. This is a truly special treat when available. Please check for availability
All lamb is raised without the added use of hormones or antibiotics. All lamb is less than one year old when processed.
The matriarch of the Horses is Nellie, she is a retired Belgian Mare and quite the sweetheart! Unfortunately, she only has one eye so you must speak to her when approaching from her blind side. She loves people, children especially, is very gentle and loves apples, she will let anyone join her for a bite to eat.
Kit and Kate joined us in retirement from their previous employment at Mt Vernon in 2014 as companions for Nellie. Kate has become mostly blind so care must be used in approaching her as she can get a little confused as to where you are, again, like Nellie, you need to talk to her so she knows where you are at. Kit is a big attention hog!
This portion of our page is dedicated to the memory of our Wild Burros. Due to an unforunate accident we lost our herd in the Spring of 2013. This year we may try to adopt a few more as they were such an enjoyable part of our equines.
They were very sociable for “Wild Burros” and a big hit with kids and adults alike. I feel they have a possible place as therapy animals.
Stay tuned for future developments in this area.
Walnut Hill Farm meat chickens are raised on pasture and rotated on a daily basis to provide fresh green grass. These chickens are fed a diet that does not include hormones, antibiotics or added flavorings.
At Walnut Hill Farm we start the day old chicks on a 20% protein non-medicated feed provided by Culpeper Coop. At four weeks of age the chicks are switched to a 16% non-medicated feed also from Culpeper Coop.
All chickens are fresh and processed on the farm each week.
Eggs are provided by our flock of Barred Plymouth Rock layers. These laying hens are free ranged on pasture rotated weekly to provide fresh grass and insects.
Can you tell what color eggs I’m going to lay? Hint look at my ears, if they are white I will lay white eggs, so what color do you think mine will be?
We have a small flock that we are attempting to grow to provide fresh goose in the future. At this time all our breeding stock with be kept for the use of Walnut Hill Farm to expand this enterprise.
Excellent tick and bug control, along with the early warning system for things that are not supposed to be there. In addition they make neat decorations in place of gargoyles! They are a very active bird that forages all over the farm for bugs.
Poultry is a key component of the Walnut Hill Farm fertilization program.