Canadian Made Wool Products
Topsy Farms products are more fun to buy at the farm; more convenient to purchase on line. However,
Topsy Farms products are available elsewhere too.
Our excellent lamb is carried exclusively in Kingston by the Pig and Olive butcher store, with 2 locations in Kingston, downtown and in the west end. Aussi Al has a supply year-round, more choice of individual cuts than we can offer, and cheerful, helpful staff. They also provide a drop-off, pickup service for smaller wool items requested by Kingston area customers.
Our yarn and Eucalan can be found now in several locations:
• Knit Traders in Kingston carries a range of choice, and has skilled staff ready to advise.
• Lettuce Knit in Toronto will be closing but two of their staff will reopen in October at the same location, renamed
• Yarns Untangled. They have a mini-mountain of our yarn. They say “We love your yarn. So sturdy, warm, and practical for everything in the depth of winter!”
Two new yarn stores in Ontario will be carrying our yarn:
• Ewe Can Knit in Verona, and
• Aberdeen’s Wool Company in Lindsay.
• CloseKnit Quality Yarns in Stratford, ON, has carried our yarns for several years also.
• On a smaller scale, we have someone in Paris Ontario and on the Queen Charlotte Islands who have extra inventory that they will share will friends. (Contact us for more information).
• Purlin J’s is a mobile yarn store in a former firetruck, rechristened L’il Dorothy. Joan Sharpe proudly includes Topsy yarn in her inventory, and has had to restock this year.
Living Rooms in downtown Kingston, offers healthy living choices. Their inventory of Topsy Farms products includes queen blankets and throws, sheepskins and lambskins and Eucalan.
Active Orthopedic Solutions Inc. in Kingston now carry medical sheepskins, single bed cotton-encased wool mattress pads, and a selection of hats for cancer survivors.
Local Family Farms, or Food Less Travelled, is a most interesting store in Verona, which carries blankets, throws, sheepskins, lambskins and adult sheepskin mitts. You can get meat including our lamb in season, and a wide range of other items, including Kim’s
great homemade pies.
In cottage country Fibres in the lovely Haliburton Highlands sells some blankets and throws.
We are pleased that several stores are proud to carry Topsy Farms products. However, you will have way more choice of wool products, yarn, sheepskins, craft supplies, and craft products if you purchase on line or directly at our Wool Shed at the farm. We sell lamb seasonally (November – March) directly to customers in the Toronto to Ottawa areas, yearling in the summer, and mutton on occasion. You save 13% – we pay the HST – when you buy any items directly from our Wool Shed at the farm.
When you come here to the farm, you’ll have more fun too.
“My Canadian wool blanket came today, opened it up and wow! I have it on the couch now, it’s amazing how big it is and how good it looks! Can’t wait to show my girlfriend. My mum wants a blanket as well now…”
– Glenn, Kelowna, BC, January, 2015
Jacob and Ian unloading hay bales up the laneway behind Topsy’s Frame House and Grey Barn. (Kyle’s pontoon boat in background, left.)
Jacob and Ian unloading hay
bales up the laneway behind Topsy’s Frame House and Grey Barn. (Kyle’s pontoon boat in background, left.)
Ian is sniffing a melon in Jacob and Sue’s garden – the ultimate test for ripeness.
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.
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.
THE OLD LOADER AS EXAMPLE
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.”
It is still a challenging time at Topsy. The lambing is winding down, although the flock groups still have to be checked twice a day for problems.
The regular chores include a visual check of each ewe and lamb (it’s hard to see back ends, where most problems occur), as they are always curious, wanting to face the ATV. We have to ensure a constant supply of mineral in feeders and that water is always available. The guardian dogs are fed and patted. Other priorities – the fences need to be checked and repaired. The pastures are constantly monitored and the plan for moving to the next available grazing must be in place. The noxious weeds have to be controlled, as does the growth under electric fences.
Twenty-one foster lambs were sold to two good homes, where some will be raised to form a new flock. In addition, a few were adopted back into our flock.
However, all the lambs need health intervention now, and the field vegetation is suddenly leaping up and demanding to be grazed or cut and baled… all at once.
All lambs are born with long tails plus testicles on the males. If we leave the long tails on when we send the lambs and ewes to summer pasture, the flies will be hugely attracted to the dirt under the tails, will lay eggs, which hatch larvae, which eat flesh. (Fly Strike is an ongoing serious threat for ewes and lambs both, especially in damp, hot weather.) We know that the most humane way to ‘dock’ the tails is to use elastics that gradually cut off the circulation, and slowly wither the appendage. We can’t leave intact males in the flock, because they will become sexually active within a startlingly few months, producing endangered winter lambs.
So Don, Christopher, Ian and Jacob spent 5 longish days in the barn, with help from neighbour Kitsy some days, separating moms and babies temporarily, checking the well-being of each, ringing tails and testicles, and then reuniting the families, and giving them time to adjust . However, the long wet cool spring suddenly morfed into hot dry weather and the field growth needs to be cut before it passes prime. My allergies attest to the fact that the grasses are ‘heading out’ fast.
There are so many chores on a farm, competing for priority in the spring.
Last year we began making ‘balage’ – cutting hay younger, letting it dry only one day, then wrapping it in plastic so it will, in effect, pickle. The ewes eagerly ate last year’s product, and it saved us money as it replaced a lot of the grain. (We are still seeking recycle options for the plastic wrap.) The baling has to be done meticulously, as certain soil microbes can contaminate the silage, making it toxic to the ewes. Being able to start haying while the weather is still unsettled, but the grass is ready, reduces the farmers’ stress.
Further priorities: although all machinery is put away in the fall cleaned and serviced, there are always more mechanical needs in the spring. We manage on very old, rebuilt machinery, avoiding the debts some farmers shoulder for more modern equipment. Ian did the first small cut June 8th to test everything and we’re off.
The final lamb count, after the last group was ringed, was 1304 from 845 mature ewes and 290 replacement ewe lambs (first year mamas). With the rams, that gives us a flock of very close to 2461. “This ensures we will continue to provide top quality lamb for private sales, and to produce wonderful wool products, available on-line and at the farm store, the Wool Shed.
Meanwhile, the gardens are somehow getting planted, the glorious orioles are consuming an orange daily, the loon calls echo on the lake, and the spring entertainment (just watch a newly fledged robin for a few minutes) surrounds us, when we remember to stop and enjoy.
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.