Sheep are smart – don’t let anyone pull the wool over your eyes. Their survival drive ensures they can learn almost anything that matters to them.
People say disparagingly that someone “follows like sheep”. At times that is appropriate. Usually a wise old ewe takes the lead when we move the flock. She follows those who have earned her trust – the shepherd and often the guardian dog too. An individual sheep has no defense against predators except being one of a group, lacking speed, teeth or claws. “Safety in numbers” is wise for the flock.
But they make choices. Ewes will separate to lamb on pasture here at Topsy Farms, finding a sheltered spot, to birth their babes and to bond.
“Black Sheep” is a term used to refer to a problem or difficult person. Why does our society feel unable to accommodate and celebrate differences? We don’t presently have black sheep in our flock, as the shorn fleece must be kept carefully separate when processing. At the moment, there is a high demand for black (or brown or coloured) fleeces in North America – they are too scarce. We could use more Black Sheep in all senses of the phrase.
Recent studies in Britain make interesting reading: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8335465/Sheep-are-far-smarter-than-previously-thought.html
The bible parables of the 99 and 1 have true meaning. A good shepherd knows individuals within his flock. Our shepherd Christopher, kept an eye on each of the nearly 1400 lambs born this spring, and ‘rescued’ those needing extra help.
At the farm, we work with those lambs that need to be bottle fed because of birth trauma, or being the smallest of multiple births of 3 or 4. Their needs and abilities are very individual.
Each lamb must go through a significant learning curve in order to survive. Luckily, sheep are smart.
Their instinct says go under a warm body seeking a fleshy nipple. Instead they must learn to accept and seek a hard black rubber nipple. Their senses of touch and hearing are acute at birth but their eyes are not yet strong. They have to learn to accept and welcome people, to stand and learn to suck and to eat our reconstituted formula that doesn’t taste like mama’s milk. They need to cuddle other lambs for body warmth, lacking mama. All this must happen within about 24 hours from birth. Sheep are smart, and the lambs almost all survive.
Their personalities and quirks develop early as their individualities develop. All sheep are NOT alike, including in their capacity to learn more than the necessary basics.
They communicate very clearly to those who learn to listen. They have a variety of oral sounds. We enjoy hearing the nickering soft mama nurturing murmurs to new lambs. As with people, the subtleties of the sounds vary with individuals, expressing feelings of constipation, boredom, eagerness, curiosity, or uneasiness.
Body language is clear too. New lambs, hungry and cold are desperately droopy, often past shivering or sucking or sometimes even swallowing. A few drops of warm ewe’s milk massaged down a throat will elicit a swallow and soft sound. A hungry lamb, just brought from a mama who can’t cope, will chew on a rubber nipple or sit with it in his mouth, passively resisting – wrong feel, wrong taste. But squeezing a few drops of warmth will often ‘prime the pump’ and hunger takes over and we hear the “I’m going to survive” drive of eager sucking. They even have to learn to coordinate their tongue action. Sheep are smart – it seldom takes long.
Older fosters readily learn to wear a harness and will walk on a leash with a visitor. It is an adaptation of the skill of following mama in the fields.
Book a time to visit us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 613 389-3444/888 287-3157. When you come to visit the Wool Shed, that carries all our wool and sheepskin products and more, this should make the trip even more interesting.
Our sheep are well loved – not just for their brains.
We applied for Green Tourism Canada Certification this winter.
A branch of Green Tourism International, Green Tourism Canada promotes ecotourism by :
• Encouraging tourist-oriented organizations to examine and improve their carbon footprint.
• Helping eco-minded travelers locate and choose their destinations.
The Canadian organization, http://www.greentourismcanada.ca/, is determined to create a sustainable industry that welcomes visitors across the country.
Topsy Farms worked with Green Tourism Canada for a few months, supplying initial data, participating in telephone interviews, then providing documentary and photographic proof of claims.
There were 5 required criteria:
• Sustainability commitment
• Risk management standards especially regarding disposal of toxic substances
• That we know and evaluate our energy consumption, waste disposal, water use, and money spending patterns
• That we establish a Green Policy regarding environmental, economic and social issues
• Creation of a Green Management file, documenting problems and solutions
There are 140 possible measurements of strengths and problems, but the evaluator applied only about 60 appropriate ones to Topsy Farms. We were scored 0 – 5 on each to be evaluated for Green Canada Tourism certification.
The interviewer was supportive and encouraging. The 5 to 6 hours of interviews by phone were both stimulating and exhausting, with a free flow of information both ways.
The staff at Green Tourism Canada was impressed by many things already happening at Topsy Farms:
- commitment to permaculture with the land
- efforts to assist Syrian refugees, First Nations healing, local schools
- support of our local community, including the donation of a lambskin to each Island newborn; producing the Amherst Island newspaper, The Beacon, for over 30 years; participation in First Response since inception; gathering fresh food from Island gardens for Kingston shelters
- welcome extended to the public to visit our shearing and foster lamb operations, educating families about eco-farming practices
- recycling materials used on the farm; repurposing others. (One example: 7 miles of wood retrieved from a derelict grain elevator we took down built the second floor of our barn – now our shearing floor.)
- support of our environment with gardens, Monarch Way Station certification, raising bees and producing honey, mulching with belly wool.
- no chemicals at all are used in the production of our roving, yarn and blankets.
We learned a great deal about ourselves as well as developing ideas for improvement.
We were fascinated by the exercise of drawing a geographical chart, showing where our money was spent in 2016. The pie chart summarizes our proud results. Topsy paid 72% of last year’s goods and services within Ontario, mainly locally. Only 5% was spent outside Canada and we hope to reduce that!
We received a report suggesting areas of vulnerability, making practical recommendations, and stimulating new ideas.
We are proud to announce…
On Earth Day, Topsy Farms was awarded the Gold Classification for Green Tourism Canada.
It is the highest possible standard that a tourism business can receive regarding ecological sustainability.
Of 110 businesses classified in Canada, Topsy Farms is the FIRST farm – one of a very few agribusinesses including vineyards – to receive Green Tourism Canada Certification.
We are deeply gratified that our efforts, our values have been acknowledged. Our wool products are the most sustainable, environmentally friendly anywhere.
We can also clearly see new ways to improve our practices to be even more ecologically friendly.
Do walk or cycle this pathway with us.