ethical farming

Green Tourism Canada Certification

We applied for Green Tourism Canada Certification this winter.

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Our bluffs by Lake Ontario

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.

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Young flock moving to new pasture

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

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Syrian Visitors with 2 Canadian babies

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.

WHEW !

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:

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Our ancient, prolific pear tree

  • 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.
Green Tourism Canada Certification

Spending pattern in 2016

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.

Lamb Shanks or Necks Make Great Soup

Buying a half lamb for the first time, with lamb shanks or necks included, can be a challenge to those who usually cook only chops or roasts. (Shanks are the upper part of front legs.)

Lamb Shanks or Necks make Great Soup

lamb cuts poster

One of our lamb customers presented us with this fine recipe, great for winter comfort.

“DOCTOR DOUG’S “CANADIAN” SCOTCH BROTH using lamb shanks or necks

2 meaty lamb shanks or necks
8 to 10 whole cardamon seeds
1 tbsp summer savoury
About 10 litres of cold water
2 medium Vidalia onions, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
About 4 cups of cubed potatoes
6 to 8 cups cubed carrots
6 stalks celery, diced
2 cups pearled barley
Your own broth or 950 ml Campbell’s Beef Broth
¼ tsp celery salt
2 tsp seasoning salt
Fresh ground pepper

In a large covered stock pot, place the first four ingredients and bring to a good simmer for about three hours. You want the broth to be as rich as possible, and you want the meat to fall off the bones.

Remove all of the solids from the broth using a skimmer, strainer, whatever, and put these on a raised cookie sheet or roasting pan, etc to cool.

Sample the great-tasting broth.

Add more water if you wish at this point. I do. Add the remaining ingredients to the broth, bring to a boil (stirring frequently), then back to a simmer, covered, for at least half an hour. In the meantime, remove the meat from the bones, cut it into small pieces about 1 cm cubed or so, and discard the bones and cardamon seeds. Add the meat back into the pot and let the whole soup simmer for another twenty to thirty minutes. The barley can stick to the pot, especially if your stock pot does not have a good thick bottom, so be mindful to stir the pot frequently after adding the barley.

Correct the seasonings (chances are you will need more salt) and serve.Lamb Shanks or Necks make Great Soup

Notes to Chef: all measurements HIGHLY approximate. If you spell cardamon with an M at the end please feel free to use that alternate spelling. And if you like turnip, which I consider a disgusting excuse for a vegetable, by all means throw some in and ruin your pot of soup. The traditional recipe does call for turnip, but what do those folks know!!! Enjoy!”

Lamb Shanks or Necks make Great Soups

Delivering Lamb to Toronto in crammed Freezer Truck

Buy pasture-raised meat year round.  Topsy offers fresh frozen lamb by order from November through early March, providing delivery options once a year to Ottawa and Toronto, and to Guelph. Customers order yearling for late June (grass-fed, about 1 1/4 years old, so no longer lamb). Mutton can be ordered at certain times of the year; young for home eating, or older for nutritious food for dogs. Hallal requests are welcomed.

Subscribe to Interest in Lamb Meat on any page of our website for direct mailing information, seasonally.

Adventure at Topsy Farms on Amherst Island

Our neighbours and friends had quite an adventure at Topsy Farms recently.

Adventure at Topsy Farms

Gord and Lynn are outnumbered

We have about 1000 ewes and over 1200 lambs now after lambing (with one or two waddling pregnant ewes still holding back). So many mouths require lots of food, and we were running out of pasture on the home farm.

Moving the mature girls with their lambs through the woods to fresh pasture was easy. They just know what they are doing.

However, herding 600 one- and two-year old ewes plus about 750 new lambs presented a challenge, creating an adventure at Topsy Farms.

We had to move them more than a kilometer, down our gravel road past flower beds, lanes, enticing bush and other lamb traps to our next quality pasture.

Adventure at Topsy Farms

Setting out with lots of helpers

We sent out an appeal to those householders (keep the dogs in, bring all the visitors out) a family new to the Island, and a few other Island friends. 38 adults and a pack of kids joined us for a brief pep talk and to be assigned yards and flower beds to protect. Several people were chosen to walk behind, carrying 8 ft. burlap wool bags, creating a ‘wall’ to encourage forward momentum and with fleet runners at both sides to turn back escapees.

Ewes want to move forward, seeking fresh grass. Lambs want to move backwards to where they last saw mama. It can be a tough combination.

Our farmers erected temporary fences wherever they could along the route but everyone from a babe in arms to a septuagenarian visitor jogged along, reinforced by our ATVs, to keep the pack moving.

Adventure at Topsy Farms

Later – more people and lambs towards the back

Adventure at Topsy Farms

Oh-Oh – People and sheep going in both directions

One group of over 200 mavericks managed to outmanoeuvre everyone and head towards home. It was an adventure at Topsy Farms to head ‘em off at the pass. The photo (left) shows most sheep and lambs headed to the left; with a ewe and lamb heading right. People are heading in both directions. About 200 more of the pack followed that ewe.

Our desire always is to produce high quality wool products and meat. Our customers value our wool products year round (available here) and the wonderful quality of lamb and yearling. The most important factor in achieving that goal is to provide good pasture for happy healthy animals protected by guardian dogs.

Sometimes it can be an adventure to get there.

Family Farm Outing

Our four foster lambs were hungry, so I went out early, with extra formula. They are tucked into a rebuilt corner of the barn, the ‘Lambs Playpen’, deeply bedded in straw, safely protected from any predators.

Family Farm Outing - Monarch Way Station certification

Monarch Way Station certification

A family farm outing to Topsy Farms includes time to:

  1. interact with young animals and ask questions
  2. visit a Monarch Way Station garden
  3. explore a store with ethically produced natural wool products
Family Farm Outing - lambs sucking on bottle nipples

Eagerly sucking lambs

Table manners don’t seem to be easily teachable to lambs, so the first few minutes are a feeding frenzy until everyone latches on to their own bottle. (I can feed 4 at once, with the help of my knees.)

Wee Lassie is head lamb (eldest by 4 days). She wears a harness, so I attach a leash and we head out as a pack of 3 (youngest won’t follow safely yet) to join my grandsons as they wait for the bus.

Orioles chatter and swoop and Kingfishers rattle as we head down the road to the neighbouring cemetery. Nathan observes that Lassie doesn’t mind mud or puddles so all 5 stomp.

Lassie gets her sip of formula for great behaviour on the leash, and all are freed to romp and explore. They are just discovering the joys of clover blossoms so the romping is brief, milk sloshing in tummies, and they settle to discovering what is edible.

Mike learned his letters on gravestones a few years ago now. We three decipher the aging markers and talk a bit about old Island families and history and which kids now in school might be descendents of the old Irish names.
With the bus due, we close the gate firmly, reattach the leash and head back.

Family Farm Outing - 2 lambs on leash

Lambs on Leash by Wool Shed

The barn swallows dive, and pigeons softly chortle and the grass smells so very green after the wonderful rains.

Another new lamb game is to follow a boy up on the stack of straw bales, with a suck of the bottle reward up high. I think they enjoy being challenged and having the stimulation of new places and things – as long as they feel safe. Much like people.

Families who have come for family farm outings at Topsy Farms express joy at the range of experiences and learning for adults and kids alike.

One home-school mother drove from Ottawa to Topsy Farms on Amherst Island, to visit the Wool Shed and to cuddle lambs. She felt it well worth the time and distance, saying:

“Thank you for welcoming us to your beautiful slice of land on Amherst Island. It was wonderful, inspiring and enriching.
Also, thank you for being so genuinely open, kind and intuitive with our four small children. I’m thinking back of you sitting with them on the lawn answering the many questions that popped into their curious minds. This was definitely a most memorable field trip.
We are cuddling up with our gorgeous new wool blanket and feeling so grateful.
The three year old would like me to tell you “meg wich”!
Thank you for doing what you do and sharing your passion…”

Family Farm Outing - Pretty girl hugging a lamb

Child hugging lamb

Family Farm Outing - parents, two children and two lambs, happy

Baehre family enjoying two lambs

 

Choose us as a destination. Amherst Island is a lovely place to visit.

Ask to sign up for our mailing list for Family Events at Topsy Farms, by writing info@topsyfarms.com.

Investigate our on-line store and wander through our pages of history and stories.

Come visit our two growing lambs (the others graduate to a small free-range farm) and explore our Monarch Way Station garden and our farm world.

Discover the Wool Shed and explore the wondrous pure wool and sheepskin products we offer.

The loons are here, calling.

Family Farm Outing - child in colourful interior of wool and sheepskin shop

Talia exploring treats in the Wool Shed

 

Family Outing to Topsy Farms

Come celebrate spring with a family outing to Topsy Farms. We are on Amherst Island near Kingston – take a ferry ride to arrive at a vital community and a thriving rural adventure-filled farm.

Following the rhythms of the season, our sheep were bred during the late winter. Now they need to be shorn in April for their health and the safety of their lambs.

yarn, wool and sheepskin products on display

Interior of the Wool Shed at Topsy Farms

Their fleeces contribute to the amazing range of wool products available at The Wool Shed at our farm.

For a full range of our products visit our on-line store.

We enjoy making people welcome on our farm, but we need to know when you are coming in advance. Please call or email.

 

Enjoy a family outing to Topsy Farms to watch shearing.

a hearer removing fleece from ewe

Don Metherall shearing at Topsy Farms

  • Monday & Tuesday, April 20th & 21st
  • children welcome; no pets
  • reservations in advance required: info@topsyfarms.com / 888 287-3157 see Contact Us
  • no fee

 

Then in May, the lambs are born directly on pasture – hundreds of them. Occasionally there are birthing or parenting problems, but we rescue those in peril. We have an orphan lamb program, bottle-feeding and nurturing lambs before they move to small farms to be raised.

 

 

You are invited to a family outing to Topsy Farms to visit orphan lambs

  • mid-May through early June
  • children encouraged; pets not invited
  • wear casual clothes and ensure cameras are ready
  • $10/family or carload
  • reservations in advance required: info@topsyfarms.com / 888 287-3157 see Contact Us

    A woman, lamb and child, snuggling

    Happy Family and lamb cuddle

Family Outings to Visit Lambs

I’m writing with a shivering lamb on my lap. Soon he will be one of the gang for family outings to visit lambs.

A lamb can lose its mama for many reasons. Triplets may be born, and the ewe may have only enough milk for two. The ewe might seek shelter in a storm, and the stronger lamb, perhaps older by less than half an hour, will stick to her heels and the younger lamb will get lost. Two ewes might lamb close to each other, then later claim all but one of the lambs for their own. Hypothermic conditions aggravate the vitality of the newly born.

close up of lamb bottle feeding during family outings to visit lambs

Lamb learning to bottle feed

So the shepherds check the fields several times a day and bring to the homestead any who are lonely, hungry and very cold. When a foster lamb is first introduced to the warmed reconstituted ‘milk’ it doesn’t taste right; smell right; feel right. Usually the first reaction is either passive resistance, or ptoooey.

Their instinct is to go under a warm ewe’s belly, to find a full but flexible nipple, to bunt hard if necessary to encourage the milk flow, and to sip often. Instead they are offered a powdered ewe’s milk substitute reconstituted with warmed water, a black rubber nipple & a beer bottle (old ‘stubbies’ which fit nicely in the microwave; they are of strong glass so easy to clean).

children with nuzzling lamb, during great family outings to visit lambs

lamb nuzzling Wyatt

But hunger is a wonderful motivator to accept change; to learn new skills.

We encourage family outings to visit lambs and to discover our Wool Shed. In our urban, disconnected world, people like to have a chance to nurture small animals, and to learn about the source of what they purchase.  Folks prefer to know that some farms care a great deal about their animals.

It is fun for kids to cuddle and bottle feed a lamb.

After a couple of small feedings the lamb’s natural vitality almost always helps it to revive. Cuddling and insulation help. Soon they join the bouncing 3 or 4 day old lambs in their pen, who yell for food whenever someone passes.

Lambs will follow at heel, gluing to the person who is now the source of all good things.

This Spring the lambs have been a wonderful source of entertainment for family outings to visit lambs.

You are invited to pet and feed the lambs. We will keep two fosters on the farm for the pleasure of visitors during the summer. The others go to small farms who are building their flock by bottle feeding orphans, sometimes on goat’s milk.

The one on my lap is shivering less, and starting to holler for food. Perhaps this year’s Lazarus.

Reuse – or Rediculous

Our parents were kids during the Depression, and the examples they set fit right in to today’s philosophy of recycle and reuse and don’t waste.

Sometimes we do that on a fairly large scale.  Our men were offered the job of taking down the two story grain elevator in Emerald in exchange for the wood.  Since it had been built flat board on flat board (instead of edge on edge) we gleaned something like six MILES of mainly useable boards.  We re-floored the second story of our barn, able to reuse most of the wood, and then built a very useful shearing area.  Mezzanines were built which immediately filled with ‘stuff that will come in useful someday’.  The shearing area is storage for our Wool Shed products 360 days/year, and emptied for shearing for 5 days of shearing. 

New compost pile framework using off-cuts

New compost pile framework using off-cuts

Our boys learned basic carpentry, being allowed to reuse the broken or too short pieces building tree forts and platforms.

When Jake rebuilt the barn this spring, there was not one significant purchase needed. Virtually everything was scrounged.

A portable saw mill was hired to cut our own logs into boards for our use. It was satisfying to discover how to reuse the off-cuts to make effective compost containment, turning dead plants, weeds and roots into great compost to feed the garden.

A horse-drawn milk wagon became a tow-able warm-up shack for construction (with an old pizza oven for warmth). Parked in our back yard it was reused as a duck brooder, a boys’ clubhouse, then rebuilt into a sauna with scrounged cedar wood lining and another reused wood stove.

Our Wool Shed was once a milk/ice house, then was farm storage, candle production shed, ATV shed, boys’ music room, and now a neat little outlet shop.

Our water wagon was once the body of a neighbour’s dump truck.  (We haul a huge tank by tractor to the field where it is needed.)Auger holding Purple Martin House; milkcart/sauna in background

One loader tractor is an amalgamation of two elderly tractors.  We are now scavenging an ATV and another tractor for parts to reuse.

Scrap bits of metal have been stored for years, then found to be just the thing for some patch job, welded on.  The pole for our Purple Martin house was made out of a grain auger tube.

Wool Shed in winter - "If we're home and awake we are open"

Wool Shed in winter – “If we’re home and awake we are open”

But sometimes we get ridiculous.  Each bale of yarn for the Wool Shed is wrapped with double thicknesses of string.  For some years, we’ve painstakingly saved those, wrapping them in a knot-filled ball, used for tying newspapers, tomato plants, bundling herbs etc.

Our depression-era parents would be proud.

String used for braiding onions

String used for braiding onions

 

String Ball from yarn bales

String Ball from yarn bales

Lambing and a Foster Lamb then more

Lambing this year resulted in a foster lamb then lots more. At Topsy Farms, our official count was 1457 lambs, born in May and early June to about 1100 ewes.  Despite very regular checking of the 6 groupings of birthing ewes, perfect parenting does not always occur.

Two Hungry young lambs

Two Hungry young lambs

We often have triplets, and some mamas just can’t raise all 3, especially if they are of very different sizes.  Sometimes a ewe ‘loses count’, nurturing the first lamb born and neglecting the second, who becomes weak and hungry.  For those and other reasons, the occasional lamb is brought to the house for bottle rearing, becoming a foster lamb.

 We had just two for the first couple of days – but one evening six suddenly appeared, the result of a bad mama muddle when some ewes moved to new pastures.  We’ve had up to 16 at a time in the outdoor pen.

Feeding Four

Feeding Four

Mama?

Mama?

The foster lambs are bottle fed 4 times a day, with a powdered sheep’s milk formula that approximates ewes’ milk.   It takes surprisingly little time for the lambs to learn to come running, blatting and eager, when our grandsons appear with their bottles.   Some lambs learn quickly to follow at heel, seeking food and play.

A few foster lambs may be adopted back into the field – our shepherd is good at persuading a ewe that this is the one upon which to dote.  The rest stay with us for a few days until strong enough to go to a new home.

We have adoptive families lined up to provide a home for the foster lambs once they are strong and well-established on the bottle.  They will raise a small flock, or just keep them well and happy for the summer.

Cuddling

Funny, Caramel and Trina provide wonderful entertainment for young families visiting Topsy Farms and the Wool Shed www.topsyfarms.com  Please phone ahead if you can:  613 389-3444/888 287-3157.

Local Food Plus

Local Food Plus is a non-profit organization dedicated to “Nurturing regional food economies by certifying farmers and processors for local sustainable food production and helping them connect with buyers of all types and sizes.” Their site is www.localfoodplus.ca.

Topsy Farms passed their rigorous screening with flying colours. We answered about 30 pages of questionnaires which thoroughly investigated our philosophy and practise with regard to land and animals and people and the environment. A representative spent a full day visiting and investigating to ensure we practised what we preach. Now they are doing as they claim, helping us to link with potential customers for our lamb and our wool products.

Here is their blog entry with a recipe for lamb meatballs, and an introduction to Topsy Farms.

Hormones

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.

Foster Lambs at Topsy

Three sleepy lambs on Kyle’s lap, warming up

Rain plus wind plus cold equal hypothermic conditions for newborn lambs. Just as the flock was at its peak of lambing for the first heat cycle, the awful weather conditions hit.

A newborn lamb needs to be licked thoroughly and nudged towards the udder to get a bellyful of warm colostrum in the first half hour, for best survival. If the ewe is birthing twins or triplets, or the ewe is inexperienced, sometimes one or more lambs have to cope with less than ideal mothering. The species has survived through the eons with good instincts.

Unfortunately, one of those instincts is for the mom to save the first born, to put energy into keeping one alive, under cold driving rain conditions.

Its our job to rescue the hypothermic abandoned baby.

Christopher and Jacob and sometimes Ian have been checking each group of the flock, about 5 times a day (which translates into almost constantly, with breaks to deal with problems discovered and for much-needed food for the shepherd.) When they find a lamb that is just too cold, with an empty tummy, they get involved. One technique is to milk the ewe right into a big syringe; stomach tube the lamb; get two or three syringefuls of warm colostrum right into its tummy, then bring it back to the Frame House.

Kyle and Sally are caring for the foster lambs, but others get involved. For the first few days, the big dog cage was in the living room, with a heater and a couple of Rubbermaid containers and a shopping box pressed into service for the coldest lambs as snuggly cribs.

We ran out of old towels, flannelette sheets and old blankets when we were inundated the second evening with a ‘lambalanche’ of cold wet foster lambs. I called a neighbour in desperation. She came rushing over with 10 absorbent towels, sat on the floor in her bare feet and old clothes, and helped rub and cuddle a cold shivery lamb.

She’s an ordained Anglican minister, and as she sat in the midst of our muddle, with Kyle rubbing three sleepy ones to stimulate circulation, and Sally trying to feed a needy one, she said “This is my idea of heaven.”

The mud puddle lamb, having his fourth rinsing in eucalan and warm water

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.