Monthly Archives: July 2011

Flooding in the Wool Shed

3 1/2 inches of rain this morning – over 2 inches in an hour. The photos show Ian bailing water out of the Wool Shed entrance. (Click on the photos for larger versions.)

Nothing was ruined in the Wool Shed, but it was a bit close.

I was in the Shed with 2 visitors when the deluge ratcheted up. One woman kindly used a broom, sweeping at the rain hard after we failed to block the doorway with a garbage bag. (The other lady was happily trying on stuff and drawing my attention in a second direction.) Ian was sound asleep, getting over the previous day’s exhaustion. I hoofed to the house though the wet. The water was up to my ankles in the vestibule and dribbling past the barrier of mat etc I’d tried to construct into the main display area. I shrieked upstairs for him, grabbed the missing credit card machine and waded back. (Wool is warm when wet).

We sell a wide range of pure wool products: bedding, roving, yarn and knitted products at the Wool Shed. They were all in danger (though all products at our on-line store were safe).

The building was constructed just after the turn of the century as an Ice House/Milk House, and is downhill from the laneway. We’ve tried to install adequate buried O pipe drainage, but it blocks. The building is way too low.

Ian brought the mop and pail then grabbed the containers of lamb towels he’d laundered and carefully stored in the barn. We shooed out the visitors with proper thanks, and he bailed in the vestibule while I got up everything I could from the floor level, and mopped overflow with towels. The water was just creeping across the main floor into the storage area for yarn.


Pretty exciting. By that time, my home care helper was waiting for me and thank goodness the rain was starting to slacken. After mopping the floor, I was bold enough to return with the camera to grab the shots before heading in.

Topsy Farms on flickr

In the spring of 2009, Sherri (an avid knitter) came to see us just after the lambs were born and took some photos of her visit. Her Topsy Farms flickr album can be found here.

Our pure wool yarn is soap-washed only to retain lanolin and to avoid chemicals. It is available at the Wool Shed, our at home store, or on-line. We also have fleeces, roving both natural and coloured, cheeses of pencil roving and knitted wool items for sale. Come visit, on line or in person, and take a look.


Maintaining a Tradition

When Jacob was three years old, I took him out in my lovely canoe along the shore of Lake Ontario. He wore his life jacket and his hat, and was eager and interested and already showing his great knack for balance. We went out a few times that summer, and he gained a sense of how to hold the paddle and the basic idea of paddling. The next summer, we’d barely launched when he pointed out with excitement that a huge hunk of the rock wall nearby had fallen over the winter. I carry lovely images of my son when he was older, out alone at sunset, peaceful with his fishing rod.

When Kyle was three, he had his first experience in the canoe too, following tradition. Also a natural athlete, his balance was easy, and both boys learned quickly to alternate sides, watching for fish or interesting lake bottom items. We tried fishing from the canoe that year and the next few – not entirely a success, as one or the other line constantly needed untangling. When Jacob hooked a big one, I insisted he was on bottom (wrong) and then we were all periously leaning over the same side. He landed the fish safely and I learned another humble lesson.

When our dog, Lucky turned three, she’d calmed down enough to learn her canoe lessons too. She loved it, learned quickly to recognize the word (as distinct from bike, walk, car etc) but would insist on riding awhile, then running the shoreline for awhile, then riding again.

Canoe lessons, age 3, tradition maintained.

When grandson Nathan turned three, I wasn’t in as good condition. However, it was important to me to do something special, just the two of us,  and to maintain the tradition, so with help from my grown sons to launch, out we went. The Murray genes made it easy for him and he was intrigued by the strokes and the steering. The summer Nathan was four, Kyle’s pontoon boat was in the water, and he and I paddled out a couple of times, with my comfy chair as baggage, and had a picnic in the evening on the boat. The next summer he was allowed out on the end of a very long rope by himself, paddling and puttering and experimenting.

Now this summer, Nathan’s brother Mike has had his first time in the canoe, again when he was thrrrrreeee. (He has practised that lately.) He was not at all eager, but he wanted to do whatever Nathan and Nana were doing, and we were heading out. So, cautiously he joined us at my feet, sitting on a life jacket on the floor, wearing his own, while Nathan did most of the paddling. Nathan was generously willing to trade his seat in the bow – they passed each other like dancers, so easily balanced. Mike reveled in his position up front, and declared himself quite eager for another outing.

All four boys, and our dog, celebrating new freedoms, age three.

Need Flexibility – No Predictable Days on the Farm

Farmers need flexibility. They plan constantly, but a tree limb down on a fence, an unpredicted brief rain, a tractor breakdown, An Emergency First Response call for Jacob, will put crimps in what appeared to be a clear plan for a day.

Take a recent day for example; Friday July 8th. The 3 full time workers at Topsy, Ian Chris and Don, meet every morning at 7 for about half an hour to pool ideas and discuss priorities for the day. They are now trying to make the best use of the remaining pasture within the Predator Control Fence, as the useful rains appear to have stopped for a time, and the pasture is no longer growing. We hope to keep the lambs protected inside the enclosure, which might mean an earlier than usual weaning, to move the ewes on to other summer pasture. Or not. Another factor is the need to intensively graze a field before it is left to regenerate. Otherwise, the sheep eat the favorite plants first, leaving the least favorite to reseed and take over the area. The need for prolonged rain is already strongly felt.

The constant goal is to raise happy healthy sheep, to maintain our standard of excellence in the lamb we sell and the wool we produce and offer on-line and at the Wool Shed.

They are also juggling where to cut hay next, how much, and when. The priority is to cut first within fenced areas that may regrow later pasture. Ian calculates another 11 hours of cutting will accomplish that step.

We don’t want too much recently cut hay ‘on the ground’ when the weather is unsettled, as it has been often, this season. (It will be spoiled if rained on.) The hay must dry to below 20% moisture content, to slow or prevent growth of mould and bacteria. They calculate about 8 hours of cutting will require about 4 ½ hours of raking (turning the drying hay over to hasten the drying process and line it up for the bailer) then between 4 to 5 hours of baling.

So on Friday, Christopher planned, after checking the flock and feeding dogs, to rotovate (like a big rototiller behind a tractor) a field for one of our landlords and plant buckwheat, as per agreement. However he discovered that one of the large back tires on the tractor he was to use was flat. Several calls to repair or replace ensued. He was also struggling with the computer on the baler. Ian urged him to get help with that – looked out, and saw one of the sheep groups trampling a fence, moving themselves elsewhere. Time out to resettle those girls.  Flexibility in thinking required.

Ian and Jacob had two haybines going, cutting hard and as fast as possible, as the nutritional quality of the forage will not be improving. Jake had a breakdown, tried to diagnose but had to call his dad who was also stumped. They towed that haybine to George our barefoot Island mechanic who made the repair – a new problem that had never before arisen. Later, Jake had to stop in time for one of his other jobs, organizing the first Waterside concert of world class caliber music of the season. He got his kids from the sitter, Ian came back for an hour with them before their mom came home from work in Kingston, while Chris took over cutting. After supper, Ian returned to cut til almost 9 pm. Again.

Meanwhile, Don continued his day of battling the burdocks and other noxious weeds, postponed his planned trip to town to get machine parts until the tire needs were solved, sorted out some discord within the group of guard dogs, and stole a couple of hours to finish the layout of the Island Beacon, a monthly newsletter published from our home for over 30 years.

We are about half way though haying, with 180, twelve hundred pound baleage bales made, and 750 hay bales, each weighing about 800 lb.


On Saturday, July 16th, just after the machinery dealer closed at noon, a bearing went out on our round baler. Sunday morning we rented a tractor and baler from a neighbour and, after about 130 bales Christopher smelled smoke as he ejected a bale. He started looking for the fire extinguisher but our neighbour didn’t have one on either tractor or baler – he hadn’t transferred our hefty extinguisher onto the rented baler. He phoned 9-1-1 and headed for our fire hall which was about ½ mile away. The fire was put out easily and we now have 2 balers to repair – the parts just got here Monday morning.

On Sunday, Jacob, a member of the fire department, got a text message from another fire fighter who is also on the road crew, saying that one of our hay bales was burning. The road crew helped Jacob put water into a couple of the fire department’s grass fighting back packs and also helped him put the fire out. Chris brought the bale home later – we’ll feed out what’s left. We can only assume that the fire was caused by lightning during the thunder storm that rolled through here at dawn.

Two fire incidents in 2 days – pretty low probability.  Flexibility once again called for.

When Things Don’t Work

When the farm was first started in the early 70′s, the members had very little money and no credit.

We had to learn to make do.

We developed the skills needed to repair, patch our patches – both figuratively and literally – and that was a useful pattern to establish. We are still in that mode of thinking (although now allowing ourselves more than an inch of water in a bathtub and a few other ‘luxuries’).

When things don’t work, we really aren’t surprised.

We don’t take systems for granted.

We build in redundancy, so that when one tractor breaks down (one spectacularly broke an axle last week, sending Jacob leaping for safety) we have another that can make do.

We have also developed a range of ‘fixit’ skills, that aren’t pretty but generally work. Christopher has become a skilled vet substitute, and an able mechanic; Ian calls himself a ‘chain saw carpenter’; Don keeps systems for house and farm working, and is an able carpenter. Sally is good at darning and patching; Dianne is a great organizer, and sets limits to our ‘someday it’ll come in handy’ extremes. Jacob has started as an apprentice officially this spring, during our urgent time of year. He brings a fresh perspective, and the wide range of skills he has developed working for his own company (called Turvy, natch). Kyle works hard and fast, and fills in where needed, with fencing, barn work, and other chores. The most important skill for all is an attitude that says ‘well there’s a problem here; probably I can figure out how to fix it.’

The propane hot water tank in the Frame House (where Ian, Don, Kyle and Sally live) stopped working last week – the day before the hydro went out for about 30 hours. We scrambled with generators, having previously set up a wiring system that can minimally keep the freezers cold and water pumped to the flock. Our generator was working poorly, so we were able to take it to the Island mechanic and borrow two generators to provide the temporary power we needed. Pails of water from the lake flushed toilets. Sally’s feeding machine worked by battery the first night, and a neighbour whose hydro still functioned made his power available to recharge the battery.

That Island cooperation is deeply valued and something we nurture and to which we contribute.

The hot water was out for 10 days – a new thermostat had to be ordered – so we were temporarily back to the one inch baths, hauling the hot. But no one got very upset by the snafus, because we don’t assume an entitlement to services. Ian spent his first 5 years on a farm in P.E.I. with no running water, phone or hydro, and learned from his dad the pleasure of systems that work – when they work.

We were fortunate that the sheep didn’t notice the power was out in the electric fences (we kept good pasture in front of them so they weren’t testing their limits.) Neither did the coyotes. We have rechargeable batteries for some of our fences, but not nearly enough for the miles (sorry, kilometers) we use.

We put all our energies towards maintaining a healthy flock of sheep, producing great lamb and wool. (Products available on-line and at the Wool Shed.)

And we are back to clean clothes and deep baths. (Photo of that censored.)

Today I’m a mechanic, yesterday a vet.
The storm is coming closer, 60% chance of getting wet.
Tomorrow it’s construction, repairing that old barn.
Every day is something different, when you wake up on a farm.

Jacob Murray


About 1973, the farm acquired two Allis-Chalmers WD45 tractors, a ’53 and a ’52. One was bought from Islander Edwin MacDonald (Garnet’s father. Garnet died recently in his 80′s). The other, with a broken motor, was purchased from an acquaintance, Lloyd Claire, new to the Island. We bought another engine from a wrecker and ran it for awhile, but eventually combined the two, switching the first engine into the second because it had a loader.

The front end was scrounged from an Allis-Chalmers D17, and George Gavlas (Island mechanic) and Christopher put that on because it had power steering not “armstrong steering”. (George says now he’d never tackle such a tricky job again. Its still working.)

The roll bar Chris made from scrounged metal. Noel McCormick welded it for him.

The external hydraulics and the 3 point hitch and adaptor came new from Princess Auto.

The fenders came from two old stone boats, cut and bolted on, to replace the rusted originals.

The old loader continues as an important part of our ‘fleet.

“My son chose a skein of yarn for socks as did my daughter. I’ll be busy this winter. Your felted hats are beautiful and very creative.”

My son chose a skein of yarn for socks as did my daughter. I’ll be busy this winter. Your felted hats are beautiful and very creative.

Felted Hats, jewel tones

“Ian… showed four adults and three of the children some highlights of your sheep business. We enjoyed our visit to the field and then the shop. My granddaughter found a pair of thrummed mittens and her Mom found a hat to match for Aurora as well as hats for her other two young daughters. My son chose a skein of yarn for socks as did my daughter. I’ll be busy this winter. Your felted hats are beautiful and very creative. Thanks.”
– Pat, July, 2011

“Thank you for the gift of the Eucalan. You know we will take good care of the sheepskin, the lambskin and wool blanket.”

Thank you for the gift of the Eucalan. You know we will take good care of the sheepskin, the lambskin and wool blanket.

Dark lambskin on white sheepskin

“We were blown away that … you opened up The Wool Shed for us tardy Torontonians, showing up 2 hours after closing. We truly enjoyed … learning more about my favourite “miracle fabric of nature”.

Thank you for the gift of the Eucalan. You know we will take good care of the sheepskin, the lambskin and wool blanket (my favourite type of blanket)… very classic style.
Thanks also for the peas, we ate them on the ferry. They were sweet and they did tide us over till we got to Kingston.
Thank you for the story of the new lambs of spring.”
– Mike, July, 2011
Contact Us Today

Local: (613)389-3444
Toll Free: 888-287-3157

14775 Front Road, Stella, ON K0H 2S0

Click Here For Directions to Topsy Farms
Our certification
Kindly Subscribe

Follow Us
Wedding gifts
Canadian wool blankets and comforters make great wedding gifts.
Nous vous invitons à communiquer avec nous en français à, ou par téléphone: 1-888-287-3157. Demandez à parler à Sally.