Canadian wool bedding

Dreaming about Wool Pillows

Wool Pillows enhance sleep. There are lots of reasons for that claim:

• Wool breathes. It traps lots of air, so it is actually cooler in summer as well as warmer in winter. It helps the body temperature stay at a comfort level, unlike fibrefill or other artificial petroleum industry by-products.
• Washed wool fibres have a tremendous resilience – a ‘boingability’ to coin a phrase. It naturally rebounds to its own shape, so it doesn’t need constant fluffing.
• The lanolin in wool actually repels dust mites, unlike feathers.
• Wool pillows are hypoallergenic.
• Sheep fleece is also fireproof. It will not burn. Hopefully that will never be important to our pillow customers.

Our wool pillows are also washable. No need for dry cleaning.

Dreaming about Wool Pillows

Wool pillows are really natural

Wool pillows are natural; renewable.

It is vital for body comfort to choose a pillow that is the right density. When lying on your side, your neck should be supported sufficiently so that your head neither sags down nor is pushed up.

Choose between a standard or firm wool pillow, depending mainly on the size of  your shoulder.

Dreaming about Wool Pillows

Choose a pillow that keeps your spine straight

Your spine should lie in a straight line when sleeping on your side.

Wool pillows also come in 2 dimensions, both standard and Queen size.
A choice for all!

Our customers certainly agree:

Lisa: “I was looking have more natural products in my everyday life esp. while sleeping and to help with eczema problems around the ears. I am allergic to (chemically processed) wool but in my research, wool without pesticides and more natural wool would not affect me so I gave it a try. These worked great! My eczema was gone because the wool was breathable and it was very comfortable. I use the wool wash that I bought as well since there was a bit of a smell when the products arrive. But after washing it, it was fine. I’m glad I took the risk and bought these. Will buy more products from Topsy Farms down the road. Thanks so much for offering such quality products!”

Jen: “You can feel the difference from the standard, some nights you just need that little extra bit of fluff! Best pillows ever, so comfortable. Amazing service as well.”

Honey-Lee: “I have been using a Topsy Farms standard wool pillow for 2 years now. It is the best pillow I’ve used after many years of trying and discarding various types. It is a great all-round pillow for someone who rotates from side to back through the night. It does not get too hot in summer and to refresh it, I will either put it in the dryer for a bit in winter or lay it on my lavender plants in summer. Wool also is a more humane filling. Down pillows are most often made using down that is live-plucked from geese and ducks, causing them great distress, and let’s not even talk about synthetic! I would highly recommend bedding from Topsy Farm, which by the way is just across the lake from my house, so very local.”

Àngela: “So happy with our pillows! We’ve had them for about 6 weeks now and love them. We have them on each bed and we sleep so well. My 6 year old has asthma and allergies and simply changing his pillow has made a huge difference. We will certainly be investing in more wool bedding soon. Also, the customer service has been kind and wonderful. I look forward to trying to make time to visit Sally and the farm with my family.”

Ruth: “Have struggled with pillows and this wool pillow is ideal! Fantastic. Soft enough and yet firm enough for support. No more allergy headaches either.”

Mona: “I bought these pillows and my kids absolutely love them! They felt the difference from down/synthetic pillows and only want to use the wool ones now. Very happy with this product!”

Greg: “This pillow is exactly as described, a simple wool filled pillow with cotton covering. None of the frills that I find too many pillows today suffer from, just a soft wool pillow that helps me get to sleep at night.”

Jen: “Can’t decide which pillow I like best so I have a standard and a firm and I switch them up depending. LOVE them both!!!!”

Bethany: “I love my new pillow! So soft, yet still supportive (I got the regular fill). I could smell the faint scent of animal, but I like it, it’s natural. It feels good to know that I’m resting on and breathing something that is healthy. I look forward to being able to order more of these pillows and other bedding. I think one of my little dogs wants to sleep on this pillow, as well. I may need to order another one sooner than expected.”

Asel: “I bought two of these pillows. They are wonderful. The big thing for me that they are hypoallergenic.”

Mayo: “I gave my daughter the gift of a wool pillow from Topsy. I offered to do the same for her husband, who was not at all interested. He was skeptical that a wool pillow would be comfortable, cool in summer, etc. Within a few weeks he was ‘stealing’ her pillow! I remedied the situation by getting him one of his own. Now there’s pillow peace.”

Sweet dreams.


Wool Bedding Promotes Sleep

Sleeping on wool bedding, cotton-covered, is as close to sleeping on a cloud as you’re ever likely to experience.

Why does wool bedding help you sleep?

  • cool in summer, warm in winter
  • hypoallergenic; chemical-free
  • natural resilience gives cushiony comfort
 Wool Bedding (pillows, mattress pads and comforters) promotes sleep

Wool Bedding at at Topsy Farms’ Wool Shed

It has such a natural resilience, that it does its own fluffing. All the fibres trap masses of air pockets making the insulation factor amazing. Somehow, wool keeps you cooler in summer (akin to switching to a cotton instead of nylon shirt). It breathes. It also wicks moisture away from a person’s body – no sweaty boggy feel. It is gently warm in winter, not requiring many layers or the press of weight. Each of those characteristics in our wool bedding promotes sleep.

The cotton covering is unbleached, with a thread count of approximately 200. It is cotton “sheeting” which breathes better than ticking (a higher thread count.) It provides the casing for the pillows, mattress pads and comforters.

Cotton-covered Wool Mattress Pad promotes sleep

Cotton-covered Wool Mattress Pad

The wool bedding uses prairie wool, cleaned without using sulphuric acid, fire retardant or bug repellant.

There is no need for that toxic stuff.

The natural lanolin that remains in the wool after washing acts as a deterrent to dust mites and other microscopic ‘critturs’ that can proliferate in bedding. An added bonus is that wool is fire resistant – you can’t burn it. It is also hypoallergenic, and as renewable a resource as you could get. Topsy Farms is able to offer a special service of vinegar rinsing products for people with extreme sensitivities.

Instead of sleeping on a petroleum by-product as in all artificial fibres, your body will relax into sleep more readily if sleeping on an unbleached cotton-covered wool mattress pad.  Just click for more details or to purchase this on line.  The mattress pad has been stitched in such a way that the wool cannot shift, even after many washings. The wide elastics firmly stitched at the corners keep the mattress pad in place.

A high density wool pillow interior - the bedding promotes sleep

A cross-section of a high density wool pillow interior

 Cotton-Covered Wool Pillows promote sleep

Two standard-sized, Cotton-covered Wool Pillows









Then at the Topsy on-line store, add to your cart the pleasure of a cotton-covered wool pillow. For a comfortable sleep you need to be able to keep your spine aligned when on your side, with your neck not pushed up or sagging down. Topsy has two choices of density for those with big shoulders or for those who prefer a firmer feel. Both are available in Queen as well as Standard dimensions too.

Then top it off with a cotton-covered wool comforter  also at the store. The comforter is comfortably warm, but not hot or sweaty. The amount of wool has been determined as the ideal volume to drape over you softly. Any more filling would make it stiffer, creating cold air pockets.
All these products are washable, using Eucalan and Topsy’s  “Care and Feeding” instructions .

A great sleep is a gift.

Wool blankets on the beds – and wool blankets in the tent when camping; could not be more pleased!

“Thanks for staying in touch! The throws are on couches and are used daily – wool blankets on the beds – and wool blankets in the tent when camping; could not be more pleased!

Fabulous stuff this wool is!”

– Bill, BC, June, 2014

Wool Blankets on the beds - and wool blankets in the tent when camping; could not be more pleased!


Shearing Season on the Sheep Farm

"Traffic Jam"

“Traffic Jam”


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.

Three shearers and 'roustabout'

Three shearers and ‘roustabout’

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.

Post shearing food and relaxation

Post shearing food and relaxation


Topsy Farms is located on scenic Amherst Island, west of Kingston, in Lake Ontario. Our sheep farm has been owned and operated for over 35 years by 5 shareholders, and involves 3 generations of the Murray family. Our flock of about 2500 sheep graze on tree-shaded pastures, protected by over 20 miles of fence and numerous guard dogs. Natural farming methods without spraying pesticides, or using growth hormones, chemicals, or animal by-products, produce animals of the highest quality.

Winter on an Ontario Farm: Yes, the Sheep Are in the Field All Year

Ewes avoiding the big puddle in the laneway though the woods on Lot 64.

Our sheep stay outside all year.

They are actually their healthiest in the cold weather – no flies, and internal parasites are not an issue. Not to mention, wool is both an excellent insulator and wool also dries out quickly, which is good for the sheep and excellent for our made in Canada wool blankets. We roll out large round bales of hay and silage every day for them. There are always a few days above freezing when there is a bit of mud but it’s not usually a problem. It is different when warmer weather arrives.

Nathan and Michael waiting for their grandfather to put away the camera and get mobile again. Christopher coming along behind.

The frost coming out of the ground in late winter or early spring is the best of times and the worst of times. The best is the hope of spring in the air: warmth; frogs revving up; ducks and geese on the lake; snakes coming out of the ground; clothes on the line. The worst is the MUD. The time when the ground softens as the ground water turns from solid to liquid is always a problem. Until the ground is too soft, the feeding tractor carries a bale on the front and the back. The distance from where the hay is stored to where it is unrolled can be up to 600 ft. Feeding 6 bales a day and carrying 2 at a time takes a while. With soft ground, we can’t carry a bale on the front without getting stuck; so 3 trips becomes 6 trips. All the ruts have to be levelled out when the ground dries enough or the haying equipment takes a beating. The frost coming out also means that it is harder to find dry areas in which to unroll the hay.

The ewes, in their new home, can be seen on the far left. These are ruts that we don’t want to make worse. The hoof prints of over 800 sheep can be seen.

When the serious mud arrives and the fields are mostly wet, it is time to move the sheep to a drier field much nearer hay so there’ll be fewer ruts. So, on March 18th, it was time to move the mature flock from their wintering grounds on Lot 64 back to the home farm – Field 4-2. Christopher, Don, Nathan, Michael and Ian on 3 ATVs herded the sheep on the Lot 4 laneway through the woods and 4 fields to the field where they will stay until the pastures have grown enough for them to start grazing.

These are the ONLY RUTS that we’ll have to go through to feed the sheep . We hope that there will be some dry weather – but not too dry. The farm house and farm buildings can be seen in the background. Note the mud on the ATV’s tires. The ATV is in front of some of the hay that will be fed to the ewes in the next few weeks.

It was a beautiful morning and everything went as well as we could have hoped. The only wrinkle in this operation was the sheep moving off the laneway to avoid a large puddle of water – sheep do not like to get their feet wet.

Story and photos by Ian

Topsy Farms is located on scenic Amherst Island, west of Kingston, in Lake Ontario. Our sheep farm has been owned and operated for over 35 years by 5 shareholders, and involves 3 generations of the Murray family. Our flock of about 2500 sheep graze on tree-shaded pastures, protected by over 20 miles of fence and numerous guard dogs. Natural farming methods without spraying pesticides, or using growth hormones, chemicals, or animal by-products, produce animals of the highest quality.


Filling our 'snacker' with the appropriate grain mix

Filling our ‘snacker’ with the appropriate grain mix

At Christmas, long weekends and other holidays, farmers don’t take much time off. The animals need daily attention. Always. On Christmas Day, two men each spent about 2 ½ hours in the morning doing chores, then 3 men worked in the barn in the afternoon for a few hours too. We don’t resent it – it is just part of the rhythm of our days.

Here is a picture of the daily chores, autumn through spring.

This applies to the three main groups of sheep. (Chores become far more extensive during the breeding season, with 6 or 7 groupings).

The sheep eagerly approach at the sound of the ATV

The sheep eagerly approach at the sound of the ATV

The 3 men meet at 7 am in our home for a half hour or so to discuss weather, problems, plans, concerns, goals, finances and ideas. Each has his area of special knowledge, and they pool thoughts. Then they head out for about 4 man hours/day.

Christopher typically visits every group of sheep every day, checking for any issues or problems. If a sheep needs attention he’ll deal with it there if he can, or will mark her so she can be found readily. (The other day he found a lamb standing knee deep in a stream, with her head thoroughly stuck in the paige wire! The water was wetter on the other side?…) He’ll visit with every guard dog (8 at the moment) and will feed them. He’ll load grain into our ‘snacker’, pulled by the ATV, and will run a trail of corn out on the snow for the replacement lambs, due to birth for the first time next spring. That gives them extra energy.

Eating hay, unrolled on the ground

Eating hay, unrolled on the ground

Meanwhile, Don visits every group of sheep. He’ll unroll round bales of hay on the ground, spreading it out so all can eat at the same time. Then he unrolls baleage bales for the breeding flock. It has a sweetish fresh damp grass odour, and the sheep love it. Unrolling the hay and baleage feeds the land as well as the sheep. The uneaten remnants and the sheep faeces fertilize the fields (and feed the earthworms). Don also keeps an eye out for any problems with the animals; he has a special affinity with the dogs. He’ll take a tractor with a grain bin out to keep the grain feeders filled for the market lambs that need the extra protein and energy help to grow during our winters.

Our animals are healthy and thriving and content, largely thanks to the regular attention and care they receive. Healthy, happy animals produce great wool and quality lamb.

Treat time - eating grain after hay

Treat time – eating grain after hay

Our 40 Year History

Leah, Ian and Randi’s daughter, is probably the reason our history began. When she was on her way, her parents wanted her to be raised by an extended family; by a tribe. However, relatives were scattered, and they had other friends who were interested in living communally, so on December 31st, 1971, some of our property was purchased for the unheard of Island sum of $40,000 by five original owners.

In front of barn, August, 1972: David, Dylan (on Dick's shoulder), Dick, Joanna, Alice, Marilyn, Randi in front of Ian and Ross. Photo by Bill

In front of barn, August, 1972: David, Dylan (on Dick’s shoulder), Dick, Joanna, Alice, Marilyn, Randi in front of Ian and Ross. Photo by Bill

A significant amount of work was done to make the house habitable, and by spring, 1972, massive gardens were prepared and planted and mulched with old hay from the barn, and ambitious plans were debated. The original thought of tearing down the barn and using the wood to build a geodesic dome was discouraged by an Islander, disturbed by the proposal of destroying a sturdy, hand built structure. He also just happened to have several heifers to sell. Someone else had a tractor we could buy.

That began the ‘slippery slope’ of farming.

By this time there were a number of members and more visitors, and lots of enthusiastic labour. Thus, the early days of our history.

In the snow, February, 1973: Joanna, Dick, Dylan (upside down) Judy with Shannon, Ian, Kitsy, Bill, Alice and Alan. In front is Randi with Leah, and David. Photo by Patrick

In the snow, February, 1973: Joanna, Dick, Dylan (upside down) Judy with Shannon, Ian, Kitsy, Bill, Alice and Alan. In front is Randi with Leah, and David. Photo by Patrick

Then Christopher arrived, seeking to emigrate from Britain, to a place where he could raise sheep and eat well. For a time the farm had both cattle and sheep then chose to focus on the latter. We started with a flock of 50 head of sheep from Manitoulin Island.

When the commune broke up, reasonably amicably, on June 30, 1975, those who stayed were determined to repay debts as quickly as possible to those who left. The latter were kind enough to wait for repayment, allowing the farm to survive. We are still in touch with many of those who left, and they are still our friends. We are proud of that part of our history.

Over the next 36 years, we have been creative in finding new ways to make mistakes, but we’ve learned from them. Our five shareholders: Ian, Christopher, Don, Dianne and Sally each contribute as we are able, and have found an amicable tolerance for each others’ foibles, and respect for each others’ strengths. We raised another barn and children and now contribute in raising their children. We have 4 gardens and are starting a fifth. We and our children now live in 5 homes on the Island. We started the Wool Shed and this website store to use our wool byproduct more productively and that is growing too. We have sold lamb privately to satisfied customers for over 35 years.

We contribute to our community in a wide variety of ways, especially with the production of the Island Beacon, our monthly newsletter, which just recently passed the 400th edition.

The flock has increased from the original 50 to a breeding flock of 1100 and 1300 lambs in 2011. We were whammied by Scrapie in 2008, having the government ‘harvest’ all but 670 pregnant ewes in order to remove those who were potentially ill. (There is no live animal test.) We are recovering from that, though the financial picture still is difficult.

But we are still proudly here with a good reputation. In farming, that’s a success story.

Photos courtesy of Don Tubb.

Moving through the woods to wintering grounds photo by Don Tubb

Moving through the woods to wintering grounds
photo by Don Tubb

Belly Wool

When our flock is shorn each spring, the skilled shearers follow the same routine with each sheep. First the ewe is positioned on her bottom, leaning back and looking very relaxed, while the electric shears clean off her belly wool and the area around her udder. That wool tends to be contaminated by fecal matter, soil, burrs etc so is tossed in a separate place by the wall, before the rest of the fleece is removed, all in one piece. When the roustabouts gather the wool and sweep the area, the belly wool is moved and bagged separately. The fleece is flung onto a skirting table and any chaff-filled or mucky bits are removed and tossed towards the belly wool bag.

When we ship all our best fleeces – packed in eight foot bags – to P.E.I, the poorer-quality belly wool stays in the barn taking up space.

Frankly it is a nuisance.

I’ve used a good quantity of it for outdoor mulch in areas where I don’t plan to turn over the soil. It is great under hedges and beside the Wool Shed entrance, under flower pots. Nesting birds in the spring appreciate it greatly. We haven’t otherwise found use for it.

Once a year, it’s just a necessary clean-out barn chore to haul the belly wool to The Canadian Wool Growers in Carleton Place (near Ottawa). I believe they sell it for felting and carpets. The wool bags that filled the trailer and truck contained 1593 lbs of wool. Christopher says we will be paid enough to cover mileage.

As you see by the photo, we haven’t yet taken the brute strength and lugging out of all our farm chores. Don upstairs dragged the bags to the edge then lowered them to Ian and Chris who packed them carefully into Jacob’s truck and the farm trailer. Once well tied, they made the trip safely.

So, we are now all cleaned out and ready to do it again.

Caretakers of our land

At Topsy Farms, we are caretakers of our land.

We work in many small ways to save resources and protect animals, people and the environment.

You’ve already heard the story of changing tractor tires, and of our old Allis-Chalmers tractor, rebuilt from many scrounged bits. Here are some other miscellaneous activities.

Living and working as a co-operative for over 35 years, with five adults (in two houses) is an efficient way to pool skills and thinking. The fact that three of the next generation have chosen to live here, and contribute their abilities helps enormously. The grandsons (3rd generation) already help wind wool skeins, herd sheep, talk with farm visitors and dig and delve in the gardens.

The Wool Shed  and the on-line store were conceived as an attempt to cover the rapidly rising costs of shearing in the face of the very low price of raw wool. It accomplished that long ago, and now helps to contribute to the good name of our farm. We sell woolen products , created from our own fleece, as well as cotton-encased wool bedding and sheepskin products. We have also sold top quality fresh-frozen lamb by order for over 35 years.

Our three-story farm house is heated almost entirely with a wood furnace in the basement. All wood is harvested from our own farm, culling dead or dying trees only.

The farm uses a very small pickup truck, and wherever possible we drive the ATV’s rather than tractors or other vehicles, as they are far more fuel efficient.

We have our own egg-laying hens, which consume the kitchen garbage from three houses, produce enough for us to sell the excess in the summertime, and for our consumption during the months with less light. We barter our eggs, receiving homemade bagels and yoghurt from Ian’s daughter Leah’s home.

Our meat poultry is raised free-range, and we sell the extras to more than cover the costs.

The string that binds our bundles of yarn from MacAusland’s Woolen Mills yarn is saved and used for many purposes, including tying up newspapers for recycling or staking energetic tomato plants.

Our yard is certified as a Monarch Way Station by the University of Kansas, which encourages the planting of a variety of host and nectar plants enjoyed by the Monarch and other butterflies. This growing season the sufficient rain has produced an abundance of milkweed in the fields.


I grow a ‘green screen’ on the large south-facing window of my room. The intense summer heat is reduced, so I rarely need a fan. The hummingbirds and bees cluster to the Scarlet Runner Bean flowers. We eat some beans, and save the seed for next year. We eat some beans, and save the seed for next year.


Both homes grow significant gardens, and preserve the produce, contributing extras to Kingston’s soup kitchen, Martha’s Table, or as trade to the local café, for credit for snacks.

We are certified by Local Food Plus, a group that establishes extremely high standards for care of environment, people and animals, while producing healthy local food. A 40 page questionnaire and an all day on-site investigation were rigorous, but we easily qualified for their endorsement.

We started very poor, needing to save money and resources. By tackling problems and learning to repair and to ‘make do’, we’ve avoided much waste. By caring deeply about our animals and wanting our partnership to succeed, we became caretakers of our land.

Kyle, building the next compost pile frame




The ewes are getting feisty and the rams are banging foreheads – sure signs of increased hormones.

In the spring, the females are “anoestrus”, i.e. they do not ovulate. About 6 to 8 weeks after the summer solstice as the days get shorter, the cycles start again. They cycle every 16 to 18 days, and are fertile for about one day each time.

The rams meanwhile, have been building up strength all spring and summer. Their hormones too are preparing them for breeding season. Purebred rams are chosen for their breed characteristics to produce great lamb on pasture. Of course healthy happy sheep also produce high quality wool. Our wool products are available on line and at the Wool Shed at the farm.

Gestation takes 4 months, three weeks and four days … approximately. Since we want our ewes to start lambing in early May, once the pastures are greening, the rams will go into the flock groupings on a selected date in December.

Meanwhile, the cooler weather adds to their bounce too.

The ewes are getting feisty and the rams are banging foreheads – sure signs of increased hormones.

In the spring, the females are “anoestrus”, i.e. they do not ovulate. About 6 to 8 weeks after the summer solstice as the days get shorter, the cycles start again. They cycle every 16 to 18 days, and are fertile for about one day each time.

The rams meanwhile, have been building up strength all spring and summer. Their hormones too are preparing them for breeding season.

Gestation takes 4 months, three weeks and four days … approximately. Since we want our ewes to start lambing in early May, once the pastures are greening, the rams will go into the flock groupings on a selected date in December.

Meanwhile, the cooler weather adds to their bounce too.

Loading the hay wagons, one bale at a time

Ian is able to transport 29 round bales of hay at a time from the fields to where they are to be stored. He puts 28 on the wagons, two abreast and two high, and one on the rear tractor tines.

Gathering 2 bales

He locates the wagons in a field on high ground (as we’ve had a fair amount of rain lately, and it takes a lot of traction to pull that weight). As described in the previous set of pictures, he approaches the wagons with two bales of hay. He drops the rear one, lifts the front one, then places it carefully and accurately in position. It only looks easy. He then reverses, shifts forward, picks up the hay bale from the rear tines, and adjusts that in place too. He then goes back out in the field, seeking two more.

preparing to load a bale

Use your imagination – we have about 1750 bales scattered over a good part of 2/3rds of the Island; Ian can haul 29 at a time; if he’s fortunate he’ll manage two loads a day. Once or twice a season, he manages three. If he’s less fortunate, and becomes stuck, he has to unload until there is sufficient traction to pull the wagons through the low area. The men are working on repairing another wagon in hopes that we can get a tractor freed and the labour to get someone else hauling.

The sheep will be fed. The lambs will thrive. Our fresh-frozen lamb will be eagerly sought after 35 years experience. Our quality wool products will continue to be available on-line and at the Wool Shed.  All thanks to the hay.

Life on a farm.

In positionWagons almost loaded




Flooding in the Wool Shed

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Need Flexibility – No Predictable Days on the Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wool: After Shearing Challenges

After shearing we had 80 eight foot bags (from this year and some left from the previous year) packed firmly with quality wool, and 15 bags of belly wool and off cuts.

The next task was to get the wool bags to their destinations.

The first group to P.E.I.; some bags for landscape mulch; and the rest to the Canadian Woolgrower Co-operative in Carleton Place, Ontario.

Trucking costs a great deal, and over time we’ve tried lots of alternatives. We’d hoped it would be straightforward to find a potato-hauling truck heading back to that other Island, empty. Wrong. We’ve hired trucks ourselves and tried sharing space with our neighbours. One truck that had hauled cattle showed up unwashed, festooned with souvenirs of the previous load. We’ve had drivers phone us from 15 minutes away on the 401, expecting tractors, wagons and at least 3 helpers to magically materialize on the mainland. This year we hired a company from Quebec, and the results were the best yet.

Wool on the trailer on the way to the ferry

But there were glitches.

Ian made arrangements to park our wagons with the wool carefully tarped at the Township Roads depot, where there is space for wagons, tractors and a transport. On Wednesday, he hauled one wagon by tractor to the ferry and then to the Township site. He waited for the next boat then returned on the tractor. He next brought two wagons in tandem to the ferry and, with help from the crew, got them both onto the deck then off and rehitched, thence to the depot. It was a long day, but a relief to have the wool all on site, waiting. The trucker was due on Friday.

However, Thursday was the day of very extreme winds (sufficient to blow the doors off two cars, locally). We received a call saying our tarps were tearing off the wool bags. Kyle and Ian rushed for the boat to find out that the eight foot waves were preventing docking on the mainland side.

We could not get to the mainland to save our wool.

Kyle sat in the lineup for hours, calling a friend on the mainland for emergency help. That friend somehow managed to wrestle the tarps in that heavy wind over the wool to give it some protection. It could have been destroyed if soaked then left sitting. The ferry was back in action later in the day, and Kyle managed to cross, and join his friend to anchor the protection securely.

Ian and Jacob joined Kyle the next morning off the 7 am ferry, and met the trucker, who showed up on time and with a clean trailer. He was unilingual francophone, but the language of smiles and helpful hard work is universal.

We’ll hire that company again.

Ian’s favorite picture of the year is the sight of the full truck, departing for its destination. (Sorry, I can’t show you – they were too busy to click.)

Most of our wool is shipped back to us according to our order as roving (washed and carded wool), either dyed or natural, cheeses of pencil roving, yarn, (30 colours and 4 tones of natural) and blankets and throws.  All of these and much more are available at the farm store, the Wool Shed, or on-line.

Now, to deal with the 15 bags….

Shearing at Topsy Farms – The Action

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.

Jacob, Jean and Caroline working the skirting table

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.

Jacob and Nathan bagging wool

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.

Most of the wool will be returned to us as ordered, as roving, blankets, throws, yarn and much more, available at our on-line store or at home at the Wool Shed, where we pay the tax.

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.

Shearing at Topsy Farms – Getting Ready

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.

The Pleasures and Challenges of Spring

Walking our roads in the past few weeks has been, well, interesting. The gravel seems to have been entirely swamped by mud, alternating with ice and ruts. It is hard to watch my feet though, as there is so much to see and hear and smell right now.

The cold weather until recently caused the ice on the lake to continue its booming, vibrating expansion. There was the occasional loud zing, as another pressure crack provided more room. Two weeks later however, the colour is changing rapidly from silver to dark grey and it no longer looks safe. The next big wind may give us liquid waterfront once again.

The Robins and Redwing Blackbirds arrived in hoards heralding spring.

The males come first, battling and complaining. They joined the squawking legions of Blue Jays and the nearly silent, diffident Mourning Doves near our feeder. The Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers (Don is convinced we have an ‘Uppy’ too) enjoy our homemade suet cakes from range-fed pork fat, as does my grandsons’ dog Diego, who comes to lick the bottom of the container on rainy days. I get chills from the wilderness sound of the geese gossiping in their V’s overhead; spring returnees.

The deer regularly come near the roadways, gleaning food.

We occasionally have grain spills on the north side of the barn, when we auger our grain mixture from various bins into the hopper on the tractor, or the ‘snacker’ pulled by the ATV. (That’s a royal ‘we’ there – Don and Chris do almost all of the grain feeding.)

Each morning Christopher reports deer, fox and rabbit tracks in the snow – now in the mud.

One morning I was about to set off for a walk, but paused, so as not to scare the 3 deer, calmly enjoying the treats of a grain spill. Soon they will disappear again, as more food become available in the woods.

As I’m writing this, a pheasant just took a stroll across our yard, then posed peacefully under our grapevine. (I tried to sneak up behind our old sauna to get a picture, but no luck.)

Drainage here in spring is a constant problem. We’ve put in a lot of labour and money, trying to deal with the fact that the gardens and barn and barnyards and our shop are downhill from the land.

The wool and sheepskin products in the Wool Shed (also available on-line) are threatened by the spring flooding.

I’m told that the culvert is frozen solid, so our careful drainage efforts have resulted in water flowing in the south door of the barn, mainly freezing solid, then trickling out the north door. Don has rigged an ingenious siphon, which has made quite a difference. Sump pumps in basements are working overtime.

The sheep and dogs are thriving this winter. We just brought the main flock of ewes back through the woods from the wintering grounds. We constantly battle hoof rot, so want them to be on higher, dryer ground. Hopefully they are all pregnant, due to birth starting the first week of May. We’ll be shearing all the sheep on the farm in the last week of April. More on that later.

The scent of warming earth stirs the yearning for the garden within me, giving the necessary boot to get me sorting last year’s seeds, putting in a new seed order, and starting the first flat of ‘plant them indoors and early’ types. Finding indoor space for them all will be the next pleasant dilemma.

Meanwhile the snowdrops are in full bloom.

“I had the best night’s sleep in my bed ever using your woolen blanket and bedding system.”

I had the best night’s sleep in my bed ever using your woolen blanket and bedding system

pillows, comforters and mattress pads

“I set out for a Sunday adventure to find a warm woolen blanket and ended up buying a full bedding system from Ian. Not only did I find a warm blanket but my heart was warmed as well by the generous hospitality you all showed me. The willingness of each of you to share your time with a wandering American working in Canada is appreciated. It was an extraordinary day.  I had the best night’s sleep in my bed ever using your system. Congratulations on great products!”

– Gardner McBride, October, 2006

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