creative uses of wool

Introduction to Needle Felting

A needle felted Robin, suspended, taught in our needle felting class

Needle Felted Robin

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

Unusual Uses For Wool

Just wearing your sweater, you know that wool keeps you warm. Sheepskin and wool have been used for warmth as long as sheep and people have been around. Wikipedia says “Sheep wool is a natural, sustainable, renewable, theoretically recyclable and totally biodegradable material that does not endanger the health of people or the environment.” Sheepskins add beauty and comfort and can be healing for poorly sleeping infants or bedridden sufferers. These uses for wool are familiar.

Here are a few less usual ways that wool is being used…

Wool is an ideal natural mulch. At Topsy Farms we have an excess of ‘belly wool’ which contains too much dirt, chaff and fecal matter to process for yarn. However, it is ideal to use as mulch around the base of trees and shrubs. It is porous and cooling for plant roots yet impervious to weeds. As a side benefit, the birds in our area often use bits of this mulch to line their nests. They know a good thing when they see/feel it.

Ontario Local Lamb 1 Ontario Local Lamb 2

Tri-Art Audio in Kingston uses our wool for audio insulation in amplifiers and speakers. Their website says: “Wool is an ideal vehicle to dampen out sound. Tri-Art Audio blocks use local, 100% natural sheep wool to control sound frequencies in the cavities of the blocks and the Tuned Acoustic Damper.”

insulating with wool batts from Living RoomsWikipedia again: “Sheep wool is a natural insulator because it has a crimped nature which traps air in millions of tiny pockets.” At Living Rooms in Kingston sheep’s wool is available for buildings in batts, rolls, loose fill, rope for around windows and for use in log homes. Since wool is a natural insulator, wool is also used extensively in yurts in western Canada. It beats the toxicity of fiberglass or caulking and presents no danger to the installer.

 

 

Ontario Local Lamb 4Andrea Graham is a felt maker and fibre artist in Odessa, gaining world-wide fame with her wool felted creations. She uses Topsy washed and carded wool among other sources.

 

Pure wool felts beautifully.  Topsy Wool Shed carries environmentally recommended felted wool dryer balls, hats and purses.

One of our lamb customers has a daschund with damaged hips from too much joyful jumping so he has lived in a wheelchair for the past 5 years. Dominic is now far more comfortable with his chair padded with sheepskin.

Ontario Local Lamb 5

 

Most dogs love sleeping on sheepskin dog beds, they find them cozy and the wool doesn’t hold moisture the way alternatives do, so odor causing bacteria can’t thrive. Cotton-encased wool mattress pads, comforters and pillows offer the same lofty, supportive comfort to people too.

Wool enhances all our lives!
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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.

A “New” Haybine for the sheep farm

We decided we needed an upgraded haybine for cutting hay, as our oldies had been patched again and again, and just were not up to the job. We use them constantly during haying to feed a growing flock, and also to keep pastures trimmed.

(New for us means anything made after 1950.)

Our farm reuses and recycles equipment.

Christopher found a New Holland Hydraswing haybine that was only 15 or 20 years old and bought it. This style (which we term “Gooseneck”) can cut on either side of the tractor, enabling the operator to work up and down each row, and in 12 foot swaths instead of the previous 9 foot. The longer windrows make the raking and baling more efficient too. The challenge was to get it home, considering the dealer delivered to a site relatively near our ferry on the mainland.

Men and machines assembled on mainland, preparing to lift haybine onto wagon

Men and machines assembled on mainland, preparing to lift haybine onto wagon

Men and machines assembled on mainland, preparing to lift the machinery onto wagon for transport.

Chris and Ian rolling wagon underneath

Chris and Ian rolling wagon underneath

Chris heading to the ferry, towing wagon with haybine chained firmly

Chris heading to the ferry, towing wagon with haybine chained firmly

Christopher crossed with one tractor on the 9 am Amherst Island ferry, traveled to the site and towing our new purchase along the road to a large township space to meet Ian and Don. They had crossed on the 10 am ferry with two more tractors, one towing an empty wagon. The haybine is too large to tow onto the ferry; it had to be loaded on its side with the swing arm out of the way onto the wagon to be towed home.

Chris, directing 2 tractors as they lift haybine.

Chris, directing 2 tractors as they lift haybine.

Chris, pulling wagon out from under haybine

Chris, pulling wagon out from under haybine

The photos show some of the steps involved in unloading. Three men, 3 tractors, one wagon and ingenuity, but our new haybine was home by 2 pm.

Christopher, Don and Ian under the swing arm of the ‘new’ haybine

Christopher, Don and Ian under the swing arm of the ‘new’ haybine

Welcome to our newest Topsy addition. May it last into the next generation.

Sheep Have Bad Press

 

Lambs waiting to return to mama

Lambs waiting to return to mama

 

How many disparaging phrases have you heard about sheep?  “Led like sheep to the slaughter”; “The black sheep of the family”; “A wolf in sheep’s clothing”…

“Not fair” says our shepherd Christopher, and we agree.

Sheep’s instinct to herd is their protection.

Lacking speed, teeth or claws, hiding in a group is smart.  It follows that when shepherds want them to go into a pen or through a narrow gate, the sheep understandably feel less safe, and simply don’t want the same thing the people do.  That does not mean they are dumb.

A gang of lambs

A gang of lambs

They are individuals.  A stranger looking at a flock might think they are all alike, but those of us close to the animals can clearly see their personal characteristics.  There are mothers more skilled than others; confident leaders and obedient followers; ones who know the guardian dogs are to be obeyed fast while others are mavericks; the steeplechase jumpers who challenge all fences…

Some breeds have certain predictable traits.  A black-faced Suffolk ewe or lamb will be more calm and steady, whereas a lamb bred by a Border Cheviot will be feisty, almost high strung, with great ‘survivability’ skills.

On the road - photo by Audra

On the road – photo by Audra

Personalities vary also.  We fostered twins from one hour old, and one was far more skilled than the other at finding the food source.  It was first born, probably by just a few minutes, and was more playful and clearly the leader of the two.

Lambs being fostered have a high learning curve.   Their instincts say to go under a warm belly and feel for a firm warm teat, then drink milk of a certain flavour.  When they are fostered, they have to learn quickly to seek a hard black rubber nipple up high, with reconstituted powdered milk that doesn’t taste quite right.  A lamb who has been with a ewe for a few days will initially say ‘ptooey’ to the taste.  However, survival instincts rule, and usually by the second feeding they will move toward not away from the person with the bottle, thumping energetically at knees, seeking food.

Full tummies

Full tummies

Our two older foster lambs know “go for a walk” and “into your pen”.  (They like the first.)  I started to save the last bit of milk in the bottle to reinforce the latter directive. After one repeat they knew what to expect, and now enter eagerly.

The next time you hear someone disparage sheep, do challenge it.  Come and visit Topsy Farms and see for yourself.

Time to Recycle Old Farm Equipment

One of our survival secrets at Topsy Farms is that we don’t purchase new and efficient – and expensive – farm equipment.

We make do and recycle the old.

That translates to all the workers, but especially Christopher who has most machinery know-how, spending hours and hours patching and rebuilding and scavenging parts to eke out ‘just one more year’. One cost of that is occasional breakdowns during haying season, and the frantic rush for repairs and parts. (They never break in winter.)

Chris, deciding where to cut

Chris, deciding where to cut

We are now officially retiring two very-well used machines – the oldest of our old farm equipment. Every bit will be recycled. The combine was purchased from an elderly neighbour. Garnet and his father bought it new in 1950, and was state of the art at the time. We traded hay baling for it years ago. But our shallow-soil sheep pasture just isn’t good grain -growing soil, and we’ve seldom been able to harvest a decent crop. We tried to give this combine away two years ago, but its 10 foot width and the ferry limitations and distance and hauling costs meant it was too expensive as a free gift.

Our first round baler did wondrous service. Ian remembers it arrived when I showed up, over 30 years ago. (I’m not sure which was the most noteworthy event.) We kept it going at least 5 years after it was pretty much worn out. We also wanted to switch to a machine that could use net wrap (that we recycle) on our hay bales. It is well adapted for making silage bales also. The old baler has been retired for awhile now. We salvaged parts we might be able to reuse including the PTO drive train, springs, tongue, wheels, stub axles, and the hydraulic cylinders.

So, we ordered a dumpster, which has a width of 8 feet, to accommodate both – plus other metal flotsam. One form of honourable retirement: every bit will be recycled, and will generate at least a little welcome cash.

The trimmed down machine just barely fits

The trimmed down machine just barely fits

An oxyacetylene torch was used to cut parts off the combine so it could fit, and two tractors manoevered it into position then pushed it in with almost 2 inches to spare on each side. Later, Kyle positioned, pushed and lifted to somersault the baler in front of the combine. Nice fit. Ian had first salvaged the grain-storage bin from the combine with the intention of using it in his new, improved hen house (to protect the grain from scavengers).

tight squeeze

tight squeeze

Kyle is lifting the baler with the forks, to flip it upside down into the bin.

Kyle is lifting the baler with the forks, to flip it upside down into the bin.

The processes for tidying up activities on the farm are a bit different from in your home. However, as everywhere, it feels good to have storage space increased and clutter reduced.

Lots more room for smaller, metal items destined for recycling.

Lots more room for smaller, metal items destined for recycling.

Lots more room for smaller, metal items destined for recycling.

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

Nous vous invitons à communiquer avec nous en français à info@topsyfarms.com, ou par téléphone: 1-888-287-3157. Demandez à parler à Sally.