Our shearing floor is cluttered. It is piled high, 362 days of the year, with inventory for our Wool Shed. There’s no room for the sheep or shearers.
A year’s supply of natural pure wool bedding, comforters, mattress pads and pillows fluff up greatly.
32 colours of yarn (at last count) in varying quantities fill bin after bin stacked 3 high.
Sheepskins and lambskins, with their lovely loft, don’t just fit in a corner. They take up space too.
And there are many other wool-related items we stash on the usually empty shearing floor, near the boxes of raw honey.
Then 3 days a year the shearing floor must be cleared for woolly sheep and shearers.
We discover a few unlooked-for treasures. We struggle to find places to store things temporarily where we can access them on demand (and remember where we put them).
We invite the public to come to visit and enjoy the spectacle of the annual ‘haircut’ for the sheep – a necessary health intervention. One day in March and two in April, should be enough for over 1000 ewes and rams. The barn will be full of its intended occupants.
How wonderful a cycle, with the sheep, the wool and the wool products, all finding their home with us. That tempting empty space will be refilled with our wool products, created from the fleeces just shorn.
Ever heard of therapy lambs?
This year Topsy Farms invited the public to bottle-feed and cuddle our baby lambs that needed help. (They were the smallest from 3 or even 4 lambs born to 1 ewe.) People came, spread the word, and we were booked, 11 hours per day for more than 3 weeks.
We knew our own time spent feeding, cuddling the most needy lambs of about 1400 born, was peaceful, calming, quality time.
We soon learned how much our therapy lambs were helping others.
Sure, it is a joy for young families to introduce tots to a tiny, needy animal, to help them learn about the natural world.
Yes, it was a balm for a teacher under stress to sit quietly with her ‘virtually’ adopted lamb, and stroke and hum and rock gently, and bring her overloaded mind and heart to a more quiet level, able to cope once again.
Then we had a family with a girl who turned vegetarian very young, clearly having an unusually link with animals. The lambs flocked to her wonderful energies and reinforced her love. Her autistic sister responded really well to the action.
A woman came in a wheelchair, not yet at peace with her immobilized state. She poured out her frustration and grief quietly, cuddling the therapy lamb which fell sound asleep in her arms. Her body didn’t change, but her mind was less fraught.
Paula Chisholm, in the midst of chemo therapy treatments for a very tough cancer, spent over an hour in meditative link with the wee woolly animal snuggling up to her neck. She wrote us to describe the huge healing impact on her heart and soul. “[…] I relaxed so much and allowed myself just to be in the moment. I truly believe that animals give the best therapy…they don’t expect anything from you but to be loved. Cuddling and playing with them allowed me to forget everything else going on in my life…it gave me a positive purpose and I left your farm feeling so happy and relaxed.” And who knows – maybe it helped her body too?
Niall Hartnett, blind from birth, came to visit on a rainy day. He sat quietly in a chair in the 3-room ‘playpen’, his sensitive hands softly exploring the lamb. The tiny animal responded, feeling safe.
A few Syrian families came to visit, still struggling to adjust to their new world, to the absence of violence, to the low-key warm welcome in Canada and at Topsy Farms. The strained faces relaxed into laughter and joy.
One child who came has a rare illness that prevents her from playing with other children or groups of people. Her family carefully booked a time when she could be alone with the lambs. She has only recently been able to hear, thus speak, but after a few minutes, she was chattering away with the lambs, touching and exploring. Her mother and caregiver were thrilled that she had a ‘normal’ happy hour, playing like any child, anywhere.
A family with an older child who was severely autistic now have a young daughter with the same challenges. The older boy was helped when two of our lambs moved to his farm. Frustration and anger melted away. Two new, sturdy, affectionate lambs moved there last year, and again this healing happened. Their interaction is helping the five year old begin to use language and to socialize more freely.
Topsy thought that people were rescuing lambs but it turned out that the therapy lambs were rescuing us.
Want to host a kids party – animals and action? Learning by doing!
Small animals to cuddle! Space to play! Boat ride! Picnic! How can you beat that?
Enjoy an outdoor venue at Topsy Farms in spring. Children can visit shearing in March or April (specific days only) or play with baby lambs, romping and bottle-feeding the weakest babies rescued from the fields in May and early June.
Two young lambs at the kids party – animals and action – will feed from hands or walk on a leash.
On weekdays from May 16 – June 3 every year, small groups are welcome to organize a party to help nurture our most vulnerable lambs, rescued from the fields. (Weekends are for families to visit lambs; too busy for parties). We have indoor and outdoor spaces so rain or shine your families and friends can have a good time.
Our new Adopt a Lamb program has already provided unusual birthday gifts. That present includes a photo of the lamb, a choice of its name, and information about the lamb’s needs and future.
We hosted a birthday party for 2 year old twins during shearing. A small day care, a group of home-school families, and Derby Girl families have come for picnics and play.
The twins family said:”The entire team at Topsy Turvey was wonderful from start to finish. Planning our daughters second birthday celebration was easy and execution was seamless. An afternoon on the farm was a wonderful way for us to include all ages of family and friends and learn while we were there too! Everyone had a great time seeing the sheep, learning about shearing, riding the ferry, and enjoying snacks and outdoor fun!”
Medically-challenged individuals with families can be welcomed.
If you want your kids to have their party on Topsy’s Sheep Farm, we request:
• a high proportion of adults to children
• a maximum of 10 children to ensure quality hands-on experience
• casual country clothes and thinking
• you bring and take all food and beverages and serving requirements. (A neighbour on Amherst Island take orders for cakes; enquire of us.)
fee to be discussed.
The ferry leaves once an hour on the HALF hour and costs $9/vehicle. You’ll leave the farm a little after the half hour to catch the return ferry ON THE HOUR.
Guaranteed your special people will have a joyful experience they’ll remember.
Discover the many reasons why folks love to visit Amherst Island. It’s an old-fashioned traditional rural community, with lots to see and to do.
It’s easy to visit Amherst Island.
A 2 – 3 hour drive from Ottawa or Toronto will bring you to our ferry. See contact us for detailed directions. Our ferry leaves the mainland on the half hour from 6:30 am to 1:30 am. For more information click here.
For information for sailors, there are government-maintained docks and excellent harbours for mooring your boat.
You can choose where to stay when you visit Amherst Island.
Your hosts will offer some meal options or you can choose housekeeping and bring your own food, supplementing from Island gardens and kitchens. (Our pie is renowned). The community-run diner, The Back Kitchen offers meals Thursdays through Sundays or holiday Mondays in spring and fall, and daily in summer. The Women’s Institute has a bake sale Fridays of each long weekend. Allen Farms has a veggie stall (by the ferry) Archibald’s Farm Fresh Eggs are available and Terry McGinn from Maplemarsh Farm and Barb Reid have produce at the weekly Saturday market.
There’s lots to do when you visit Amherst Island.
- explore over 40 miles of bicycle trails on the Island, most by waterfront, as well as many in the nearby area.
- enjoy our birding wealth, envied throughout North America
- have fun at our seasonal events: orphan lambs or shearing at Topsy Farms, Canada Day Parade, Fantastic Island Fiesta, Back Kitchen Talks, Women’s Institute Bake Sales, Fish Fry, Percheron wagon rides, Annual Cow Count, Dances, St. Paul’s Garden Party, Amherst Charters fishing summer and winter, The Wooly Bully race along the shoreline, The Fall Festival, and the Parade of Lights. An International Dry Stone event took place September 2015 with many free activities for kids and adults, with more workshops planned for 2016. For information on the above check www.drystonecanada.com, the Beacon or CJAI radio, on the Amherst Island website. Or get a self-guided tour book at the Museum or The Wool Shed.
- St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, St. Albans Anglican Church and St. Bartholemew’s Catholic Church welcome you. (At present there are no regular services at the latter.)
- public sand beaches, and quiet corners with water and rock are here for your quiet pleasure.
Music abounds when you visit Amherst Island
- Waterside Music Festival attracts top international performers
- Emerald Music Festival is a joyous bluegrass and country Island event
- Our “Islanders” informal music group entertains at many events.
There are places to go when you visit Amherst Island
- The Neilson Store Museum and Cultural Centre
- The Weasel and Easel, Fine Art and Handicrafts Gallery
- The Wool Shed at Topsy Farms, offering lamb, sheepskin and wool products, and some garden produce and cut flowers, seasonally
- Shirley Miller at email@example.com has Watercolours Etc gallery in her home where she also offers classes
- Island Gallery at 125 MacDonald’s Lane is open seasonally by appointment. call Woody Woodiwiss at 613 384-0887
- Paper/Scissors/Stone at 12485 Front Rd is open seasonally by appointment. call Elizabeth Barry or Don Newgren at 613 389-7782
Media blankets Amherst Island
- CJAI 92.1FM Music from the Barn also broadcasts on the internet, with many live eclectic shows
- The Beacon, Amherst Island’s monthly 20 page (or so) newsletter is free on-line and has been published for close to 40 years.
There’s lots more too for you to discover when you visit Amherst Island.
You’ll enjoy the fact that there are far more sheep and cattle than people; that there are many services and a great deal of mutual-aid caring on our Island; that you can trust our ferry crew to guide you. Most of all, that when you visit Amherst Island we all wave at each other, confidently expecting you will wave back.
VISIT FOSTER LAMBS FROM MID-MAY UNTIL EARLY JUNE
May 14 to June 5, 2016
Bring cameras, big and little kids and casual clothes
Cuddle or bottle-feed a lamb
See hundreds of lambs in nearby pastures
PHONE/EMAIL IN ADVANCE FOR AN APPOINTMENT
613 389-3444, 888 287-3157 firstname.lastname@example.org
These foster lambs have been rescued as their moms can’t raise them. One may be smallest of triplets; another a twin of a young mom with insufficient milk. Please come to help us nurture them.
Adopt a Foster Lamb to help a baby lamb survive and thrive.
Our flock of 1000 ewes birthed over 1400 lambs last year. About 30 – 35 lambs can’t stay with mama, and must be cared for. Otherwise, they’ll die.
Will you help save a baby lamb?
Do you want to be a (virtual) foster parent?
The cost is $45 before March 1st, 2017. After that, it will be $50.
For that donation you will:
• Name the lamb – we’ll use your chosen name from then on
• Receive a photo of the lamb so you could find yours in a group
• Learn all we know of its birthing history and reasons for needing to be fostered
• Be encouraged to come to the farm to help cuddle and bottle-feed during the time that it is here
• Learn about health care and needs of small lambs
After a week or so, most lambs ‘graduate’ to small farms where they join small free-range flocks.
• You’ll get a report of your lamb’s progress as it learns to become a sheep.
By registering and paying, you will be on a ‘first come first served’ priority list to adopt. Contact us at email@example.com.
You do NOT take your lamb home.
People who don’t want to adopt can reserve a time to visit. If you wish, use our site to subscribe to the mailing list for Family Visits.
The males will live on pasture in their new homes for the summer then will go to market; the females will stay with the flock, bearing babies of their own for years to come.
If you adopt a foster lamb, you will help a caring, busy sheep farm nurture the most vulnerable to enable them to survive.
Syrian Refugees reaching shore in Lesbos – photo by Sergey Ponomarev
Kingston region expects about 600 Syrian Refugees to arrive by February.
The Syrian Refugees need to be welcomed with warm clothes as well as warm intentions.
Topsy Farms is all about wool, and warmth and food, and welcoming visitors. We admired the momentum in other communities to mobilize craftspeople to create warm items of apparel (https://www.facebook.com/25000tuques/ and http://www.ravelry.com/groups/1000-stitches-for-syria).
But nothing was happening in Kingston.
So we helped start KINGSTON STITCHES FOR SYRIANS campaign.
Knit Traders, our Kingston yarn outlet store, and Jean Sweezie, a Kingston knitter, are the team making this happen. Others, including the mobile yarn store Purlin J ‘s (who also carry Topsy yarn) and Rosa’s Café are promoting the idea. More will soon follow.
The goal is to encourage all knitters, crocheters, weavers, and sewers to contribute hats, mitts, scarves, socks/slippers, toys and blankets. Warmth matters. The newcomers will be traumatized and cold. Our yarn is wonderful for hats and mitts and we’ve offered some at cost for this purpose.
We are asking the creators to attach a label with a simple message of welcome, and their first name, and to provide some guidelines for those sorting the donations.
On Amherst Island, bring your donations to the Wool Shed at Topsy Farms. In Bath, please go to Rosa’s Café. In Kingston, drop your donation off at KnitTraders or at Minotaur Games and Gifts at 78 Princess. In Napanee go to Ellena’s Café. We will be seeking other locations in regional towns and villages. A group of folks who crochet in The Great Waterways have joined us. We are approaching seniors residences and groups. Knit Traders sent their blog to over 800 knitters. And we are coordinating carefully with the overall refugee aid groups.
A kind donor has given $100 to purchase Topsy yarn at discount for this purpose. Our coordinator who is visiting Seniors Centres to encourage involvement in Kingston Stitches for Syrians, may now offer our yarn, free.
In your community, seek the networks that may exist. If nothing is happening, start your own, and link with us for more information.
Please encourage friends and neighbours to join in. Remember, no donation is too small or too big, whether it’s a small beginners’ scarf or a family sized afghan – we need them all.
Two foster lambs entertain visitors to the Wool Shed at Topsy Farms each year.
This year, from spring until Thanksgiving (when they retire to a smaller free-range farm) Wee Lassie and Littlefoot have helped make a visit to our farm and to Amherst Island more interesting. Here’s how.
In spring, when about 1300 lambs are born at Topsy Farms, there are always a few problems. The ewe forgets she had two, or she may have 3 or even 4 babies, and just can’t raise them all successfully. That’s where the Rescue Program for foster lambs fills the gap. Cold, hungry lambs are brought to the barn ‘playpen’. The lambs are cuddled and warmed and fed a powdered ewe’s milk substitute. As the lambs thrive, they move on to small free-range farms whose owners are building a flock (but can’t afford adult sheep).
This year, Wee Lassie came to us, May 14th. She was about 10 hours old when she first warmed up under my sweater, ate well, then fell asleep in my lap. She came just in time for the Victoria Day flood of visitors, winning hearts and teaching young people about the realities of baby animals on a farm. She was joined over the next while by about 30 fosters, all of whom found new homes except Littlefoot, chosen as her companion.
The public is invited to come and participate during the spring nurturing season.
The lambs grew fast and learned new skills. They enjoyed playing king of the castle on a big rock with grandsons and visitors, and nimbly climbed straw bales, stacked for bedding.
They adapted easily to wearing dog harnesses and walking on a leash – we just reinforced nature’s instinct of sticking close to mama’s heels. They even managed to walk in the Canada Day parade.
They can quickly distinguish peaceful people, enjoying massages and armpit rubs especially. Wee Lassie even put this visitor to sleep!
They adapted early and easily to visiting dogs deemed safe. Some interactions were a great pleasure to watch.
Even wee children can ‘take a lamb for a walk.’ It’s a pleasurable experience for all, as ‘the girls’ get to graze and explore a new area.
We’re saying goodbye to them after the Thanksgiving weekend however. They’ll retire to one of the great free-range farms we know. They will be the most chubby and affectionate lambs in the flock.
Watch a 6 second lamb and child interaction at a daycare picnic at https://youtu.be/kb7cH7slmDM
Amherst Island has one of the largest concentrations of historic Irish dry stone walls in Canada, many over 150 years old. Skilled Irish craftsmen no longer working at the Rideau Canal wandered Eastern Ontario, seeking work. Our upcoming Irish Canadian Dry Stone Festival is designed to celebrate and to continue that good work.
Our Island ancestry is strongly Irish, many original settlers coming from the Ards peninsula, so it was natural that some of the stone workers found their way here. Our mainly limestone, shallow-earthed Island felt like home.
We understand that in some cases glorious walls, and one set of stone pillars were built just in exchange for room and board.
Our Women’s Institute honoured that history and skill, hiring a Kingston dry stone waller and mason to train a group of volunteers on the Island a few years ago. They spent three summers rebuilding the walls of the Pentland cemetery, our oldest one, and those of a private home.
In 2014, visionary Andrea Cross initiated the work to truly honour and preserve, restore and build many other stone walls on the Island. Several were certified ‘heritage’. She spearheaded Island fund-raising to send Jacob Murray, an important member of the family at Topsy Farms, as our emissary to the first Irish Dry Stone Wallers weekend workshop in Co. Donegal.
She invited the Dry Stone Canada Association to come to the Island, and they were hooked. They ran a very successful weekend workshop in September, 2014, rebuilding a stretch of very old wall at the home of descendents of original Irish settlers.
And now we are proud to announce the following:
Dry Stone Canada and the Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland are holding the first ever Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival, on Amherst Island from September 25 – 27th.
Free Events will include:
1. Children’s Workshop – learning to build with items lighter than stone
2. Displays of stone structures in the Community Hall
3. Watching the building of two new dry stone structures
4. Two women stone carvers will demonstrate their art and craft
5. Harvest Fest – traditional Island farm event
6. Irish music and dancing throughout the weekend
7. A storyteller will relate the history of Irish settlers coming to the Island
8. A self-guided dry stone tour brochure
9. A guided walking tour of Stella (our ‘downtown’)
10. Displays at the Neilson Store Museum
Two-Day Stone Wall Workshop under the direction of world-renowned dry stone wallers from Ireland: Patrick McAfee, Sunny Weiler and Ken Curran. More information and registration is available at www.drystonecanada.com . Information also at: www.facebook.com/drystonewallingassociationofCanada
VIP list includes His Excellency Dr. Ray Bassett, Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, author Jane Urquhart who wrote “Stone Carvers”, Norman Haddow, The Queen’s Own Dry Stone Waller for Balmoral Estate, and so many other expert dry stone builders and carvers. Our Island will also welcome two musicians from Ireland, Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue as well as Irish-Canadian groups.
The Irish Canadian Dry Stone Festival will build two stone structures.
1. An Irish Sampler Wall showcasing a variety of dry stone construction techniques, with stones donated by Island residents. Special events will take place Saturday evening with participation of Jane Urquhart, the Irish-Canadian ambassador, and musician Cyril O’Donoghue.
2. A structure using 200 tons of stone, donated by Upper Canada North, will be designed after the creations of the Celts and Mayans. The intent will be to frame the setting sun Sunday evening to highlight a special item of significance to the Irish and to Canadians.
For further information please contact www.drystonecanada.com, www.facebook.com/drystonewallingassociationofCanada, or Andrea Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, while you are here on the Island, discover Topsy Farms’ Wool Shed too.
Our neighbours and friends had quite an adventure at Topsy Farms recently.
We have about 1000 ewes and over 1200 lambs now after lambing (with one or two waddling pregnant ewes still holding back). So many mouths require lots of food, and we were running out of pasture on the home farm.
Moving the mature girls with their lambs through the woods to fresh pasture was easy. They just know what they are doing.
However, herding 600 one- and two-year old ewes plus about 750 new lambs presented a challenge, creating an adventure at Topsy Farms.
We had to move them more than a kilometer, down our gravel road past flower beds, lanes, enticing bush and other lamb traps to our next quality pasture.
We sent out an appeal to those householders (keep the dogs in, bring all the visitors out) a family new to the Island, and a few other Island friends. 38 adults and a pack of kids joined us for a brief pep talk and to be assigned yards and flower beds to protect. Several people were chosen to walk behind, carrying 8 ft. burlap wool bags, creating a ‘wall’ to encourage forward momentum and with fleet runners at both sides to turn back escapees.
Ewes want to move forward, seeking fresh grass. Lambs want to move backwards to where they last saw mama. It can be a tough combination.
Our farmers erected temporary fences wherever they could along the route but everyone from a babe in arms to a septuagenarian visitor jogged along, reinforced by our ATVs, to keep the pack moving.
One group of over 200 mavericks managed to outmanoeuvre everyone and head towards home. It was an adventure at Topsy Farms to head ‘em off at the pass. The photo (left) shows most sheep and lambs headed to the left; with a ewe and lamb heading right. People are heading in both directions. About 200 more of the pack followed that ewe.
Our desire always is to produce high quality wool products and meat. Our customers value our wool products year round (available here) and the wonderful quality of lamb and yearling. The most important factor in achieving that goal is to provide good pasture for happy healthy animals protected by guardian dogs.
Sometimes it can be an adventure to get there.
Our four foster lambs were hungry, so I went out early, with extra formula. They are tucked into a rebuilt corner of the barn, the ‘Lambs Playpen’, deeply bedded in straw, safely protected from any predators.
A family farm outing to Topsy Farms includes time to:
- interact with young animals and ask questions
- visit a Monarch Way Station garden
- explore a store with ethically produced natural wool products
Table manners don’t seem to be easily teachable to lambs, so the first few minutes are a feeding frenzy until everyone latches on to their own bottle. (I can feed 4 at once, with the help of my knees.)
Wee Lassie is head lamb (eldest by 4 days). She wears a harness, so I attach a leash and we head out as a pack of 3 (youngest won’t follow safely yet) to join my grandsons as they wait for the bus.
Orioles chatter and swoop and Kingfishers rattle as we head down the road to the neighbouring cemetery. Nathan observes that Lassie doesn’t mind mud or puddles so all 5 stomp.
Lassie gets her sip of formula for great behaviour on the leash, and all are freed to romp and explore. They are just discovering the joys of clover blossoms so the romping is brief, milk sloshing in tummies, and they settle to discovering what is edible.
Mike learned his letters on gravestones a few years ago now. We three decipher the aging markers and talk a bit about old Island families and history and which kids now in school might be descendents of the old Irish names.
With the bus due, we close the gate firmly, reattach the leash and head back.
The barn swallows dive, and pigeons softly chortle and the grass smells so very green after the wonderful rains.
Another new lamb game is to follow a boy up on the stack of straw bales, with a suck of the bottle reward up high. I think they enjoy being challenged and having the stimulation of new places and things – as long as they feel safe. Much like people.
Families who have come for family farm outings at Topsy Farms express joy at the range of experiences and learning for adults and kids alike.
One home-school mother drove from Ottawa to Topsy Farms on Amherst Island, to visit the Wool Shed and to cuddle lambs. She felt it well worth the time and distance, saying:
“Thank you for welcoming us to your beautiful slice of land on Amherst Island. It was wonderful, inspiring and enriching.
Also, thank you for being so genuinely open, kind and intuitive with our four small children. I’m thinking back of you sitting with them on the lawn answering the many questions that popped into their curious minds. This was definitely a most memorable field trip.
We are cuddling up with our gorgeous new wool blanket and feeling so grateful.
The three year old would like me to tell you “meg wich”!
Thank you for doing what you do and sharing your passion…”
Choose us as a destination. Amherst Island is a lovely place to visit.
Ask to sign up for our mailing list for Family Events at Topsy Farms, by writing email@example.com.
Investigate our on-line store and wander through our pages of history and stories.
Come visit our two growing lambs (the others graduate to a small free-range farm) and explore our Monarch Way Station garden and our farm world.
Discover the Wool Shed and explore the wondrous pure wool and sheepskin products we offer.
The loons are here, calling.
Topsy Farms invites people, young and old, to help nurture orphan lambs at our farm on Amherst Island.
We will have over 1000 lambs born in May and early June in the neighbouring pastures. You and your family are welcomed to watch from the road, the bonding between mama and baby. It is a joy to see the ewes gather peacefully while the young ones frolic in a pack, bounding happily.
But there are always a few birthing accidents, or multiple births that the ewe can’t manage. In nature, those lambs often die.
At Topsy Farms we do our best to nurture orphan lambs.
After a few weeks, these lambs move on to young farmers who wish to build their flock but who can’t afford adult sheep. Those farmers will continue to feed and care for the lambs until they can be self-sufficient on grass.
We invite your help to care for the newborn babies.
WHEN: daily from May 16 – June 7
WHERE: 14775 Front Rd, Amherst Island
HOW: email firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 888-287-3157 for appointment
HOW MUCH: $10 per family or carload
WHO: kids encouraged, but no pets please. Accessible on lawn. Old and young invited. Please wear casual clothes.
WHAT ELSE: Ensure your camera batteries are charged for impossibly cute family photo opportunities. Bring Hand Wipes.
Why visit Amherst Island? There are lots of places to stay, to feast, to laugh, to walk or bike or sail, and there are harbours for your boat or for your soul. Topsy Farms invites you to come.
What To Do On Amherst Island? Come to Topsy Farms.
We pay the tax on items purchased at the store, saving you not only the HST but also the extra costs of urban retail outlets. The wool is processed in a traditional manner, using only soaps, not chemicals, so people who seek true quality are pleased.
Topsy Farms invites you to come to shearing events at the farm in March and April.
Topsy Farms invites you to help nurture our orphan lambs in May and June, a fully accessible activity.
Tamed foster lambs interact with visitors throughout the summer, and participate in playful Island events like the Canada Day parade.
We publish the Amherst Island Beacon monthly and have done so for almost 40 years. Many Island resources and activities are listed at amherstisland.on.ca .The advertisements at the back of the Beacon include information about rental accommodation available in addition to The Lodge and Poplar Dell. For those choosing to rent housekeeping options, we sell individual lamb cuts at the Wool Shed. There are fresh food sources at the weekly market, and sometimes at Topsy. We intend to offer fresh cut bouquets this year for your table.
Island women’s pies are reputed to be the best you can eat, available through the Presbyterian Women at the annual Garden Party, or from the Women’s Institute on the Fridays of long weekends at the corner in the village.
Another fine source of information is the radio station CJAI 92.1FM, ‘radio in the barn’ which helps keep people informed through their live morning broadcasts, their website, and their facebook site. The Presbyterian Church maintains a calendar of events on Island, and they and the Anglican Church welcome Sunday worshipers.
Topsy Farms is a certified Monarch Way Station. To those who care about the environment as we do, we give out free samples of seeds for nectar flowers which are supportive of honey bees. The raw natural honey at the Wool Shed is gathered by our Island chiropractor and one of our sons.
For those who care about birds, we sell nesting materials – belly wool with colourful scraps of yarn at cost. The Island abounds with wonderful land and water birds, and many folks will advise you of some of the best viewing options.
Topsy has some wonderful examples of new and traditional dry stone walls. This year September 27 – 29 there will be an Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival on the Island, with free music and activities for kids and adults. We are honouring our heritage by linking with Ireland, the source of many of our original settlers.
The creativity doesn’t end there. Samples of creative work of our writers, our weavers, needle felters and potters are available for sale at the Wool Shed, most using materials from Topsy Farms. The Weasel and Easel is another outlet for Island creative skills, open seasonally in the village of Stella.
Music abounds. Our older son is stage manager for the Waterside Music Festival and has contributed to the Emerald Music Festival. An earlier incarnation of our Wool Shed housed our younger son’s band.
We have an Island rich in people and natural resources. Topsy Farms invites you to come to visit us and our community.
Following the rhythms of the season, our sheep were bred during the late winter. Now they need to be shorn in April for their health and the safety of their lambs.
Their fleeces contribute to the amazing range of wool products available at The Wool Shed at our farm.
For a full range of our products visit our on-line store.
We enjoy making people welcome on our farm, but we need to know when you are coming in advance. Please call or email.
Enjoy a family outing to Topsy Farms to watch shearing.
- Monday & Tuesday, April 20th & 21st
- children welcome; no pets
- reservations in advance required: email@example.com / 888 287-3157 see Contact Us
- no fee
Then in May, the lambs are born directly on pasture – hundreds of them. Occasionally there are birthing or parenting problems, but we rescue those in peril. We have an orphan lamb program, bottle-feeding and nurturing lambs before they move to small farms to be raised.
You are invited to a family outing to Topsy Farms to visit orphan lambs
There are so many reasons why people enjoy a great outing to Amherst Island. It’s beautiful, with bountiful nature and water on all sides. It is a warm community, with an ‘old-fashioned’ feeling of people mutually supportive and closely interacting. There are many stimulating, interesting events taking place, places to go, a choice of accommodation, places to eat, public parks by water with picnic benches, and peaceful beaches. And there is a multitude of birds and animals.
The Island is very easy to access from Highway 401, points east or west, or for a day trip locally. It is about 2 hours from Ottawa to the ferry dock; 2 1/2 from Toronto; 1/2 hr from Kingston. See contact us for details or call us at 888 287-3157.
In the privately owned Owl Woods,
chickadees will perch on your head or hand to feed.
The public is given free access, asked to be respectful, and offered treats of sighting new species. The Ontario Field Naturalists own a good stretch of shoreline where many other bird species may be seen. As we are on a main flight path, we’ve had some unusual avian visitors all over the island. Photographers abound.
It is a fine cyclist destination also, with miles of shore road with limited traffic beyond the occasional tractor in working season.
Other creatures may be visited. Percheron wagon rides may be booked while thoroughbred trotters watch curiously from fields. We’ve several beef farms and one active dairy farm where one can see young calves in spring. The only known ‘cow count’ spotters in Ontario went out by horse wagon last year, gently spoofing our birders. We’ve had llamas and donkeys and goats. One of our neighbours even has a pet, litter-box trained, pig – named Kevin Bacon. The Island has free-range pigs too.
For a great outing experience, visitors may bottle feed and cuddle tamed foster lambs at Topsy Farms
all spring and summer. Later, the bigger galoots still enjoy an ear scratch in autumn. Contacting firstname.lastname@example.org will guarantee your being on a mailing list for invitations to shearing, to foster lambing and other specially planned events. See https://topsyfarms.com/seasons/family-outings-to-visit-lambs
Summer events pile one atop another. Canada Day is celebrated with a wonderfully wacky parade followed by games, strawberry shortcake and truly impressive fireworks. We have Fish Fries, and Spring and New Year’s Dances and others ‘just because’. Our Island museum recently had its first annual Island Fiesta, a day of over 20 workshops offered by a wide variety of talented Islanders. The St. Paul’s Garden Party is an annual joyful event, with renowned A.I. pie for sale by the slice or whole and many ’boutiques’ and events. The Wooly Bully race along the shoreline in August, http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/WoolyBully/ includes a 1 k for kids, as well as 5 or 10k distances. The Fall Festival, once a 4-H event, is still rooted in the rural active farm tradition. A Parade of Lights heralds Christmas, as does the ecumenical carol service.
Music is a vital part of our existence. The Waterside Summer Series www.watersidemusic.ca/ brings top caliber classical performers to the beautiful setting of St. Paul’s Church. The Emerald Music Festival http://www.emeraldmusicfestival.com/ in August provides informal camping facilities and an impressive lineup of Bluegrass, Country and Celtic music performers for a 3 day event. The older generation of Islanders grew up learning to dance with an Island band; we now have a group called The Islanders that performs at many big gatherings.
There are places of interest to visit. Topsy Farm’s Wool Shed https://topsyfarms.com/wool-shed
has the largest selection of pure wool blankets in eastern Ontario
as well as many sheepskin and other products hand-crafted of wool, as well as marvelous supplies for weaving, knitting and felting with wool. One of our venerable former stores has a new life. The Neilson’s Store Museum has professionally designed displays of our history, hosts Back Room Talks monthly on a wide range of topics, and houses our Weasel and Easel quality shop for hand created products. Artist Shirley Miller has recently published a book of her work, and welcomes visitors to the gallery in her home. She teaches painting to many eager students.
An additional service from Islanders to Islanders and visitors alike is the Internet Café, where expert computer assistance is available for a toonie donation.
Stella’s Café is a joyful informative oasis for visitors and hungry farmers alike, with some food locally sourced. Boaters who use our safe, deep harbours and fine public docks dine there. The owners fill their space with history and present day places of interest to visit, people to see, and a Friday night feast and singalong.
For a small population (about 450) our service groups abound. Visitors may enjoy the Women’s Institute bake sales on long weekends; the Amherst Island Men’s Society-sponsored weekly market; the Recreation Committee food, available at many events that pays for our Canada Day fireworks; the three churches services and wonderful feasts and bake sales. The Emergency First Response Team train intensively to provide quality support in an emergency ensuring safety for all.
Honouring our history, the W.I. trained volunteers in Irish traditional stone wall building. The group beautifully restored 5 walls. In Sept. 2014, the first of several planned weekend stone wall building workshops took place. In September, 2015 a Dry Stone Wall International Festival will happen.
CJAI, www.cjai.ca/ our local radio from a barn, features a vivid range of programming. It operates 24 hours/day, staffed entirely by volunteers. The Island Beacon, http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/Beacon/index.htm a monthly newsletter published by Topsy Farms, has been in production for over 40 years, bringing good news and sad news (but not bad news) to Islanders. Both are excellent sources for additional interesting activities for visitors.
A couple of things to remember if you are visiting: trust the ferry crew, they are skilled at their job. Have a wonderful time exploring but please – wave back to us.
Introduction to Needle Felting
Topsy Farms, outside the Wool Shed 14775 Front Road, Amherst Island, ON
Sat. Aug. 23 10:15 am -11:45 am $20 adults, $15 teens
(10 year old minimum – the needles are very sharp)
Needle felting uses a barbed needle which causes wool fibres to bind or fuse together. It is easy to learn and fun to do. You’ll be introduced to the shapes and methods needed to create many small figures.
Supplies provided (foam pad, two needles and wool) are yours to keep.
Create a small bird by the end of the workshop.
Taught by Lynn Wyminga of www.lynnslids.com
TO REGISTER, CALL TOPSY FARMS: 613 389-3444
for needle felting kits see http://store.topsyfarms.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=96_106_110
I’m writing with a shivering lamb on my lap. Soon he will be one of the gang for family outings to visit lambs.
A lamb can lose its mama for many reasons. Triplets may be born, and the ewe may have only enough milk for two. The ewe might seek shelter in a storm, and the stronger lamb, perhaps older by less than half an hour, will stick to her heels and the younger lamb will get lost. Two ewes might lamb close to each other, then later claim all but one of the lambs for their own. Hypothermic conditions aggravate the vitality of the newly born.
So the shepherds check the fields several times a day and bring to the homestead any who are lonely, hungry and very cold. When a foster lamb is first introduced to the warmed reconstituted ‘milk’ it doesn’t taste right; smell right; feel right. Usually the first reaction is either passive resistance, or ptoooey.
Their instinct is to go under a warm ewe’s belly, to find a full but flexible nipple, to bunt hard if necessary to encourage the milk flow, and to sip often. Instead they are offered a powdered ewe’s milk substitute reconstituted with warmed water, a black rubber nipple & a beer bottle (old ‘stubbies’ which fit nicely in the microwave; they are of strong glass so easy to clean).
But hunger is a wonderful motivator to accept change; to learn new skills.
We encourage family outings to visit lambs and to discover our Wool Shed. In our urban, disconnected world, people like to have a chance to nurture small animals, and to learn about the source of what they purchase. Folks prefer to know that some farms care a great deal about their animals.
It is fun for kids to cuddle and bottle feed a lamb.
After a couple of small feedings the lamb’s natural vitality almost always helps it to revive. Cuddling and insulation help. Soon they join the bouncing 3 or 4 day old lambs in their pen, who yell for food whenever someone passes.
Lambs will follow at heel, gluing to the person who is now the source of all good things.
This Spring the lambs have been a wonderful source of entertainment for family outings to visit lambs.
You are invited to pet and feed the lambs. We will keep two fosters on the farm for the pleasure of visitors during the summer. The others go to small farms who are building their flock by bottle feeding orphans, sometimes on goat’s milk.
The one on my lap is shivering less, and starting to holler for food. Perhaps this year’s Lazarus.
Lambing this year resulted in a foster lamb then lots more. At Topsy Farms, our official count was 1457 lambs, born in May and early June to about 1100 ewes. Despite very regular checking of the 6 groupings of birthing ewes, perfect parenting does not always occur.
We often have triplets, and some mamas just can’t raise all 3, especially if they are of very different sizes. Sometimes a ewe ‘loses count’, nurturing the first lamb born and neglecting the second, who becomes weak and hungry. For those and other reasons, the occasional lamb is brought to the house for bottle rearing, becoming a foster lamb.
We had just two for the first couple of days – but one evening six suddenly appeared, the result of a bad mama muddle when some ewes moved to new pastures. We’ve had up to 16 at a time in the outdoor pen.
The foster lambs are bottle fed 4 times a day, with a powdered sheep’s milk formula that approximates ewes’ milk. It takes surprisingly little time for the lambs to learn to come running, blatting and eager, when our grandsons appear with their bottles. Some lambs learn quickly to follow at heel, seeking food and play.
A few foster lambs may be adopted back into the field – our shepherd is good at persuading a ewe that this is the one upon which to dote. The rest stay with us for a few days until strong enough to go to a new home.
We have adoptive families lined up to provide a home for the foster lambs once they are strong and well-established on the bottle. They will raise a small flock, or just keep them well and happy for the summer.
Funny, Caramel and Trina provide wonderful entertainment for young families visiting Topsy Farms and the Wool Shed www.topsyfarms.com Please phone ahead if you can: 613 389-3444/888 287-3157.
First foster lamb eager for a warm, full tummy
Lambing on pasture is natural but can be fraught with difficulties that can result in foster lambs, so we check the several fields of ewes four times a day. Often we discover a small problem that could become serious if not caught soon enough: a ‘cast’ ewe (flat on her back); a ewe whose udders are so swollen the lambs can’t get their first suck; a newborn who has gotten though an impossibly tiny hole in the fence and can’t find mom. Rescues are deeply satisfying.
Jake found two very hungry lambs in his noon checking. Apparently a ewe birthed twins and simply lost track of one – or possibly chose to reject one. One of the foster lambs was still strong enough to stand and suck, and took readily to the lamb replacement formula that we feed. (We use stubby beer bottles, as they can fit in the microwave for quick reheating. We buy black rubber nipples designed for lambs.)
The other foster lamb couldn’t even lift its head. It’s a pretty black and white marked baby, and was just a few hours old. I milked the nipple, dribbling a few drops at a time down its throat. A few hours later he was up and yelling for more. This year’s Lazarus.
Another possible reason a lamb might become fostered is if a ewe has triplets and the smallest one can’t compete.
When possible Christopher sets up an adoption with a ewe if she’s lost a lamb at birth – but so far we’ve had few of those. Otherwise, we send them to a new home where they’ll be raised. We just got a report that one of last year’s foster lambs birthed a lamb last week. Our other potential home has a child with ADD, and the farming parents want the nurturing, tactile experience for the child. It’ll be lovely for the lamb too.
We’ve had 8 foster lambs so far with 6 already in their new home. We have a few weeks to go yet.
These pregnant ewes are on their way to the barn to be shorn. Their instincts to protect their young lambs from bad weather is enhanced by mamas having thin coats too. Shearing time is the most challenging few days of the year for our farm: we can’t shear wet sheep. The weather can be dry (as it has been this spring) for weeks on end, but lo and behold, when the inflexible shearing dates approach the forecasts are full of wet and cold doom and gloom. Why is this such a challenge? The shearers we hire to do the job are popular guys this time of year: they are booked solid in advance and shearing must happen, regardless of weather.
Do sheep have to lose their coats? Yes, ewes have to be shorn yearly for their health and well-being. We believe that the best time is in the spring, just before they lamb, when (hopefully) the weather is warming, but before the lambs are born. That way, after they have babies in tow, they’ll seek shelter if it is windy or cold. They don’t feel the weather if their coats are still on.
We invite families to visit shearing.
It rained steadily all Saturday, and despite our best efforts, 68 of the 1250 sheep to be shorn got wet. Fortunately the shearers are finishing a job elsewhere on the Island, so will return on Tuesday. There is a glory in the teamwork activity however. There are 3 shearers and 6 “roustabouts” working in the upstairs barn shearing area, with another three people backing them up.
The ‘rousies’ pick up and fling and skirt fleeces, and sweep floors. The space is purposefully snug, so people and animals aren’t travelling more than necessary. There is an almost ballet-like quality to the flow of action, with people keeping an eye on what is needed and who else is moving where, as they back each other up. The shearers finish each fleece in about 2 ½ minutes; nudge the animal out one gap so they can descend a ramp to the outside; click a counter to keep track of numbers; get their next ewe or lamb from their individual holding pen and start again. Meanwhile someone has to pick up the fleece in just the right way so it can be flung, right side up, on the skirting table. Someone else has to sweep the area so it is cleared for the next fleece, while not interrupting the movement of the shearer. It’s a dance. In the adjacent space, the fleece on the table is “skirted” with any dirty bits removed, then roughly bundled and put into an 8 ft hanging burlap bag, that is being solidly packed, then sewn and hauled up by block and tackle, then replaced by an empty one. A metal frame with ladder and a suspended bag takes the flow of fleeces while this is happening. Jacob or Kyle have been doing (or helping with) this job since they were about 5 or 6 years old. Meanwhile, Dianne prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner at her place and hauls hot water, coffee, tea, and snacks to the barn for mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.
These are the ‘Bare-Naked Ladies – a variation on the theme – after shearing. Don and Ian keep the flock fed as well as moving unshorn sheep up the ramp into the holding pens on the second floor of the barn. They also moved the shorn sheep down the road to the shelter of our new barn. The action starts each day about 6:30 am. On the final night the men finished at 8:15 pm. Today, as forecast, there is rain and wind, mixed with snow – just an additional challenge. We do the best we can, providing barn shelter and wind-protected fields, and all the food they want.
Topsy Farms produces beautiful washable wool products including sheepskins, six point wool blankets, wool for knitting and felting, and some of the finest local lamb in Ontario.
When a foster lamb is first introduced to the warmed reconstituted ‘milk’ (called lamb-o), it doesn’t taste right; smell right; feel right. Usually the first reaction is either passive resistance, or ptoooey.
The foster lambs instinct is to go under a warm ewe’s belly, to find a full but flexible nipple, to bunt hard if necessary to encourage the milk flow, and to sip often.
What they are offered is a powdered ewe’s milk substitute reconstituted with warmed water, a black rubber nipple, a beer bottle and people. (The beer bottle is used because we have a collection of old ‘stubbies’ which fit nicely in the microwave. Thanks to one Islander we have a lifetime supply.)
Here are our techniques to feed a reluctant lamb.
Hold the lamb under an arm, snuggled closely to the body. (It is easier on the lamb to not have struggle options.) Use the same arm to support the chin, using the thumb to open the mouth gently, and support the chin in line with the neck. Insert nipple. Wait patiently. Sometimes, Kyle baaaas gently, trying to find the note that mama might use. When the first trickle slides down the lamb’s throat, it may be all that is required for the lamb to start sucking eagerly. However, it often takes a lot of patience during the first feeding, occasionally squeezing the nipple to release a little more milk, just to get enough into the lamb to warm and encourage it. We are as gentle and comforting as we can, but it is obviously a foreign and scary experience. However, hunger is a great teacher, and most foster lambs are eager for the bottle (though still unskilled at finding it) by the next feeding. Ideally within a day or two, the lambs throng out of their nighttime cage, thumping eagerly at the knees of the person holding the bottle, and stand on their own feet to suck a bottle dry in no time.
What a difference a week makes.
We were all delighted to move the foster lambs operation out to the screened front verandah and wash the living room floor for the last time. We have two big dog cages on the porch; one for special needs. We change the newspaper bedding several times a day, and feed them four times a day – roughly every 5 – 6 hours. (Sally is up early; Kyle stays up late.) We also have a large outdoor pen for a ewe and twins, and a smaller fenced area for the fosters lambs to romp on the grass.
Although we lost a few foster lambs to illness, five fosters have now gone to one good home, and five more left yesterday. Some have been adopted back into the flock to a needy ewe, if Christopher can find one. Only one is at home at the moment, eagerly following the heels of anyone carrying a bottle, puppy-like.
Rain plus wind plus cold equal hypothermic conditions for newborn lambs. Just as the flock was at its peak of lambing for the first heat cycle, the awful weather conditions hit.
A newborn lamb needs to be licked thoroughly and nudged towards the udder to get a bellyful of warm colostrum in the first half hour, for best survival. If the ewe is birthing twins or triplets, or the ewe is inexperienced, sometimes one or more lambs have to cope with less than ideal mothering. The species has survived through the eons with good instincts.
Unfortunately, one of those instincts is for the mom to save the first born, to put energy into keeping one alive, under cold driving rain conditions.
Its our job to rescue the hypothermic abandoned baby.
Christopher and Jacob and sometimes Ian have been checking each group of the flock, about 5 times a day (which translates into almost constantly, with breaks to deal with problems discovered and for much-needed food for the shepherd.) When they find a lamb that is just too cold, with an empty tummy, they get involved. One technique is to milk the ewe right into a big syringe; stomach tube the lamb; get two or three syringefuls of warm colostrum right into its tummy, then bring it back to the Frame House.
Kyle and Sally are caring for the foster lambs, but others get involved. For the first few days, the big dog cage was in the living room, with a heater and a couple of Rubbermaid containers and a shopping box pressed into service for the coldest lambs as snuggly cribs.
We ran out of old towels, flannelette sheets and old blankets when we were inundated the second evening with a ‘lambalanche’ of cold wet foster lambs. I called a neighbour in desperation. She came rushing over with 10 absorbent towels, sat on the floor in her bare feet and old clothes, and helped rub and cuddle a cold shivery lamb.
She’s an ordained Anglican minister, and as she sat in the midst of our muddle, with Kyle rubbing three sleepy ones to stimulate circulation, and Sally trying to feed a needy one, she said “This is my idea of heaven.”
Some photos post shearing:
Don, unrolling hay for “ewe lambs” – they were lambs last year; now hopefully pregnant
Newly shorn lambs, crossing in front of our yard in evening light, on their way to shelter
The first 3 sheep were on their bottoms on the shearing floor Friday morning at 8 am. (That is the position for shearing to begin – belly wool removed first.) We had a lovely day to get started, although forecasts warned us to be prepared for nasty weather to come. We’d prepared the best sheltered pasture with water, grain and fencing for the almost 500 sheep that were to be shorn the first day. Instead of pasturing, we decided to snuggle the newly naked ewes in the “New Barn” the first night. Cold, wind and rain are potentially hypothermic conditions to be avoided. The sheep yet to be shorn were all accommodated inside the “Grey Barn”, to keep them dry for the next day.
The top shearers can completely shear one sheep with no nicks in less than 3 minutes.
They direct the completed ewe through a swinging door that leads to a ramp down and outside. Each shearer has a catchment area, so they click a counter for one sheep done, grab the next, set her on her bum and start again. Meanwhile, a roustabout has to grab the fleece in a particular way so it can be flung right side up on the skirting table. Another ‘rousie’ has to sweep the shearing floor, keeping out of the way of the shearer. This, for all three shearers, each producing another fleece in less than 3 minutes.
It is active out there during shearing.
The fleece is ‘skirted’, i.e. all dirty bits removed and separately bagged. The fleeces are then bundled into an 8 ft bag suspended below the floor. Carl packs them firmly by climbing in and bouncing, then sews up the filled bags with baler twine and a sharp curved needle. He hauls each one up with a block and tackle, laying it on the floor. While he is doing this the skirted fleeces pile up, so we have a second overflow bag suspended on a frame. Anyone available climbs the ladder to dump in the mountain of accumulating fleeces until Carl is ready to accept more. The filled bags are each manhandled out the door and down to the farm wagon below. Once the wagon was filled, it was tarped and another moved in.
We loaded 3 wagons with a total of 80 bags.
Each bag weighing about 140 lbs. This included some of last years’ wool clip that wouldn’t fit on the truck when we shipped last year.
Dianne provides 5 meals a day. The shearers and Christopher get a hearty breakfast before going to the barn just after 7:30. She hauls hot water for washing, as well as coffee, tea, water, juice, fruit, and 3 kinds of home-baked snacks to the barn (upstairs) twice a day for mid-morning and afternoon breaks (called ‘smokos’ by those down-under). She provides a hot dinner for all the helpers and shearers at 1pm; and dinner for the shearers and Chris in the evening. That is very much part of the shearing labour.
Don, Ian and Jacob move the sheep up into the shearing holding pens before 8 am, add more sheep during each break, and move those already shorn to their destinations in the middle of the day and the others after shearing ends at 6pm. The days are long and active, as each smaller holding pen has to be watched and kept replenished.
Saturday poured all day. April showers bring shepherds headaches. We managed to keep the sheep to be shorn all under cover, and to provide shelter for the newly shorn sheep. We finished Sunday mid-morning.
We invite the public to come to watch shearing at Topsy Farms for free.
I wish I could send a sound track with this little story. Sheep are quiet when grazing, but quite vocal when disrupted. They have an impressive range of alto to deep bass voices. The guardian dogs too, are uneasy when routines are disrupted, and hang around, tails tentatively wagging but foreheads furrowed.
At the end of the day, when all were tucked away, our teenage dog, required to stay in the barnyard as he is too rambunctious, sang his mournful dirge to the sky.
Sheep have to be shorn once a year. It’s as regular as taxes. In earlier years the clip could provide a good income for a farm, but now represents a significant health expense. Ian initiated the Wool Shed to sell our wool as yarn, and blankets. All products are now available on-line too. We were facing yet another cost increase, and hoped that by selling our own wool and wool products, we could balance. That has worked – if you don’t count labour.)
The ewes are shorn while pregnant but not too close to birthing time.
(We don’t want to cause miscarriages.) If they are nearly naked when the lambs are born, they are more likely to seek shelter on a cold windy wet day, thus protecting their lambs. We also want to avoid the danger of a ewe with a thick wooly coat accidentally rolling on a small lamb without being able to feel its presence. For these reasons and others, we plan shearing as late in April as possible, since lambing is due to start after the first week of May. We hope by then it has warmed up.
We invite the public to come to watch. We hope they are hardy souls.
Since we seek the best shearers available, and they organize their touring geographically, we take what timing we can get. This year we thought it was to be the few days before Easter weekend, but now apparently, it is to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’ll celebrate rebirth our own way, I guess.
One big advantage of that change of timing is that the forecast for Wednesday was heavy rain.
Shearers cannot, will not, shear wet sheep.
Think of the logistics of keeping about 1100 sheep dry (also fed and watered) on rainy days before shearing. It is our most stressful time of the entire year.
It takes quite a team of ‘roustabouts’ to support the activity of the three shearers during shearing. Changing the dates to include Easter weekend may cause ructions. It is flaming cold and windy and wet this week, 5 days in advance. We’re watching the forecasts avidly – as though there was much of anything we could do. All shelters are prepared.
The shearing area is empty 362 days of the year, so that’s the storage space for the Wool Shed. Ian has spent the last few days, checking inventory, amalgamating boxes, topping up the Wool Shed supplies, and cramming the inventory into Don’s woodworking room. Life on the farm is not dull.
One of the rather glorious aspects of being the caregiver for foster lambs, is that it requires me to sit quietly outside, morning and evening and just take in the world. (The daytime feedings are often more hectic with lots of visitors or events on the go.)
At six in the morning, during this stretch of high pressure calm weather, the birds are trying to outdo each other with the mating calls and rituals. We have at least two nesting orioles and two nesting house wrens, and their music alone is spectacular. Yesterday, a loon calling in the lake nearby brought me quietly down to watch 3 young loons, diving and skittering on the surface, and already showing an impressive capacity for underwater time and distance. Then a big water disturbance in the cove proved to be very large carp, mating.
The foster lambing experience this year has been quite different.
The warm calm days are magnificent for tiny wet lamb survival – although it is creating nightmares for the farmers who are increasingly concerned about pastures and hay production.
So, we’ve so far had way fewer fosters than in any previous year I can remember. (One rather over prolific year, with triplets the norm and quads and even surviving quints not unknown, I had 162 foster lambs to raise.) So far, I’ve handled 5 lambs, of whom three found adoptive ewe mamas. That of course is the ideal. If the lamb isn’t raised by a sheep, it doesn’t know the flock behaviours, and just won’t thrive if returned to the flock.
The lambs raised for meat must be top quality, so they will have been raised by their mamas, not by me.
Our policy has always been to find potential homes for them first, then set that limit to the number we could raise. (In the foster lambalanche year, we had a goat farmer who weaned her kids just in time to pick up our lambs to be raised by the goats. That worked beautifully.) This year, we have had requests for 14 lambs, and it doesn’t look as though I’ll be able to meet that number. That of course, is good news for our flock – that most are being raised by the ewes.
There is such a variation in the skills shown by each lamb.
It has to adjust to the foreignness of rubber nipple, powdered milk (designed for their digestion), and being held. (It would be better for the lamb to learn to eat standing on its own feet, but my back can’t cope with that.) I try to move gently and speak softly around the little guys, warm the ‘milk’ just so, and snuggle them up. I hold them comfortably under my left arm, with my left hand supporting the chin and if necessary opening his mouth (just by sliding my finger in the corner of his mouth a bit). My right hand guides the nipple in, and supports the chin, so the milk flow is all lined up. For some, that first warm taste of food is enough – they are sucking eagerly, if inefficiently. (I had to change a nipple for a much smaller opening for one scrawny little guy, who was trying to drown or choke, he was so eager.) In other cases, I have to gently squeeze the nose to push in a few drops, stroke the throat, tickle rub the back of his back (the area a nursing ewe can reach.) One female took an hour to consume less than 2 oz. Occasionally, the ewes can detect that there is just some developmental problem in the one of the three they reject, and we are slower to discover that difficulty.
The ewe and twins who are living in the front yard are pleasant company for the fosters, who live in a smaller cage (so I don’t have to chase them) inside the much larger penned yard area. The ewe will emit her soft nicker when I first bring them outside in the morning, will check them out, but knows they aren’t her responsibility. Her twins were almost certainly sired by two rams. One is very Suffolk-y – with lovely patch brown/black markings all over. The other, almost for sure, is Canadian Arcott. (That name is derived from Agricultural Research Centre, Ottawa). The former tend to be calm steady mothers; both have excellent meat conformation. Anyway, they are feeling full of the joys of spring; in the morning and evening especially, they cavort, boinging straight up, all 4 legs stiff, leaping and tumbling occasionally and just expressing the joy of being alive.
Our shepherd, Christopher, says that the gestation period for lambs is 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. We calculate when to put the rams in, based on when we want the birthing to begin. (Ideally, once the weather has warmed and there is sufficent pasture to keep the flock groupings well fed – the second week of May.) However, that turned out to be on the weekend that was very cold – there was snow in Ottawa and Kingston – and the ewes appear to be able to ‘cross their legs’ – holding off the birthing for a day or so. Its a wonderful survival skill in the wild.
So, the first year lambers, called ‘replacements’, started lambing first, and a few days later the mature ewes followed their example. Ideally, we hope a first year mama willl raise a good sized single lamb, and the mature ewes will raise an average of two each. (Some are able to raise triplets successfully; others only have a big single.)
Sometimes a ewe will choose to nurture one or two, and will ignore one, for no apparent reason. Very occasionally, a lamb is stillborn. Chris does his best to arrange an adoption. If a lamb is hungry and there are no prospective adoptive mothers, or if an adoption fails, the lambs will come to me to foster.
The first lamb was a big, hungry beauty. His large frame splayed off both sides of my lap, no matter how we tried to cuddle. He didn’t recognize either the black rubber nipple, the stubby beer bottle, the sounds of comfort I was trying to make, nor the initial taste of the formula on his lips. But once the nipple was inserted and he got the first glug, he certainly recognized food when he tasted it! The enthusiastic sucking made me tighten my grip on the bottle. He came up once for air, then didn’t know how to find the source again. With help, he was able to find what he wanted and downed the entire bottle. His tummy was no longer concave. He slept for the night in a big dog cage on our front porch, then after another enthusiastic feeding, spent the day outside in a small wire pen, enclosed within the larger pen for the ewe and twins due to arrive.
He thrived on the four feedings a day, filling out visibly. He was calm enough to take a feeding from my 5 year old grandson Nathan, with “help” from his brother Michael. Once solidly established, our shepherd put an elastic ring around his tail and testicles. It is the most humane way to dock and castrate, as the circulation is gradually cut off, and the part atrophies and falls off, unnoticed. He also received the required ear tag.
After a day of quiet recovery and lots more food, he was picked up by his doting new owner who will raise him in company with a few other sheep and a llama.
Unexpectedly there was a few lambless days interval, which was welcome as I was preparing lots of pots of plants for the Island long weekend market.
With perfect timing, the second male lamb was brought to me on Sat. of the long weekend. He was rejected by his first mom, then had a failed adoption, so he’s a little weaker; a much less assertive eater. He is very quiet to hold, but doesn’t yet seek the nipple. Fortunately we now have company for him, as a big ewe and her twins are in the big front yard penned area. She sounds the quiet protective nicker each morning when I bring him outside, ensuring he’s alright – but knows he isn’t hers. He’ll eat half a bottle at a time. I’m trying to give him small amounts, more often, until he feels stronger.
Why the beer bottle you might ask? The old ‘stubbies’ fit nicely into the microwave if the formula, a powdered lamb milk replacer, needs to be warmed. Whatever works, on a farm.
We have three healthy foster lambs now. (We lost a couple, and 6 have gone to another home on the Island where they will be raised all summer.)
They stay in a big blanket-covered dog cage on the verandas at night. The wind still blows cold off the lake, and this gives them warm cuddle space. I move out there about 6:30-7 am, with my coverall pockets stuffed with warmed milk replacer, and my balaclava on my head (almost the end of May!).
When I opened the cage this morning, two lambs jumped into my lap in the big old scruffy armchair. The whiteface lamb is a Cheviot cross, whose sire breeds smaller lambs than the others we seek. We always put him to the first year ewes, for easier birthing. Another characteristic of this breed is their feisty, eager life force. This little guy sucks so hard he tends to aspirate the liquid, so I had to change to a new hard nipple with a tiny hole to keep him from drowning. He is thriving now, and almost too eager to get what he wants. After a few minutes intense pushing, he settled down on my lap, downing his bottle.
The black faced lamb is a Suffolk cross. They tend to make good calm mothers, and are very steady. A Suffolk lamb tends to be a bit dozy at first, slow to learn to recognize the nipple, and to open his mouth. Once I convince him that this IS what he is looking for, he’s like a steady little vacuum.
The third lamb this morning was new yesterday. Mom had three, and he just wasn’t getting enough milk. (That’s our most common reason for getting fosters.) He didn’t recognize me or the bottle yet as the source of all good things, so I had to burrow into the cage to lift him out. The best position for feeding a lamb is to tuck him under your left arm (if you are right-handed) with your hand under his chin, and thumb lightly around his nose. Usually I have to tuck a finger into the side of the mouth of the learner, as the rubber nipple doesn’t feel right to his instincts. Nipple inserted, I hold his muzzle gently but firmly, so he can’t lick or chew, but has to suck. Sometimes I’ll squeeze just enough to trickle a bit of milk replacer into his mouth. Today, that did it. He was off and sucking, and downed the entire bottle.
The other two meantime were kicking up their heels on the veranda, cavorting in that utterly joyful lamb-like way.
The three are outside now, wind-protected, enjoying morning sun. They’ll be calling for more in a couple of hours.
During lambing at Topsy, we often have ewes who birth triplets-potential foster lambs. Some ewes who are in great shape and have lots of milk, are able to raise all three. This only works if the lambs are of similar size. If one is much bigger, or more frequently, much smaller, one must be taken away for the health of the others. Chris, our main shepherd, has been very successful in arranging adoptions with a ewe who only had a single lamb. Occasionally, a small hungry lamb has no acceptable mother. So, our son Kyle and I are back in the foster lamb business. One Mother’s Day present was sitting with a blatting baby curled up on my lap (butt end wrapped in an old blanket) learning to suck, then proceeding to do so, busily. I started at 5:30 am on a gorgeous spring morning, sitting outside, listening to the dawn chorus of birds and watching their busy mating rituals and (for the early birds) nest building and/or feeding squawkers. There is so much COLOUR right now. Our huge wild plum tree is a mass of white flowers, that are just starting to scatter its confetti-like petals when the breeze hits. We have a big wire dog cage set up on the front verandah for overnight warmth for the foster lambs, and put the babies outside in the daytime in a small pen with the front yard ewes and lambs nearby. The second day, a couple of three year olds and their moms came to visit the Wool Shed. Kyle gave them all bottle-feeding lessons, then they trailed after him, Pied Piper-like, as I visited with their moms in the Wool Shed. Grandson Nathan was leading the tour to visit the egg-laying hens, but stopped at the highest point of interest, a parked tractor, and announced “that is the Alice Chalmers 185 but we don’t climb in it as it has a tippy seat.” (He just turned three.) Day three, we have 5 healthy fosters.