hypoallergenic bedding

“The wool blankets and throws are perfect for our needs – warm, soft, cosy and very well-liked by all.”

The wool blankets and throws are perfect for our needs - warm, soft, cosy and very well-liked by all.

Wool blankets on the line

Wool Wow. I just want to say thank you, Sally & Ian for having such wonderful products from the farm. The wool blankets and throws are perfect for our needs: warm, soft, cosy and very well-liked by all. We will enjoy them for a long, long time!

– Bill, Sherwood Park, Alberta, February, 2015

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.

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

Keeping Warm with Wood Heat

Our two-and-a-half story “Frame House” at Topsy Farms is heated primarily by a wood furnace in the basement.

"Super Skid" on the tractor, carrying a load - note the muddy tires. It is easy to get stuck before the ground freezes.

“Super Skid” on the tractor, carrying a load – note the muddy tires. It is easy to get stuck before the ground freezes.

That’s a huge improvement over the early years, when we had only one wood stove in the living room, where everyone and the laundry hung out. Each time we filled that less-than-airtight stove, it would belch ash and dust into the room. We shared an elderly vacuum between two houses, and getting it meant dressing two toddlers to drive the km each way, so the house was cleaned too seldom. Our boys were active early, so we built a frame around the stove, to pen it rather than our explorers.

Kyle has been the primary wood gatherer for some years, backed up by his dad, Ian. The goal is to have this year’s wood stored in the open-sided shed adjacent to the basement door, and next year’s wood already cut and drying in the back lot. Part of the winter’s work is to begin to cut and gather the wood for the third year. The quantity required varies a lot from one year to the next.

This autumn, before leaf fall, Kyle marked the dead trees. Unfortunately, there seems to be a bottomless supply. Many of the dead elms have been taken down, but with the ash borer threatening, the somewhat overcrowded conditions in our bush, the limbs that threaten our perimeter fence, there is no lack of dead wood to be trimmed.

Some of the pathways through the bush were established years ago, when the sugar shack was in active use. An early wonderful gift from Ian was the clearing and extension of those for Sally and friends to cross country ski, and to give us access to this lovely wooded area. Since we have shallow soil, many of the trees are Eastern Red Cedar, but deeper pockets of soil also support oaks, Beech, maples, Ironwood, Shagbark Hickories, White Pine and spruce. There is also a disturbing amount of Prickly Ash and Garlic Mustard. Sadly, the deer have grazed most of the trilliums and young saplings.

Kyle in the wood shed, handing a manageable log to Mike, younger grandson, who helps fill the wheelbarrow destined for the basement.

Kyle in the wood shed, handing a manageable log to Mike, younger grandson, who helps fill the wheelbarrow destined for the basement.

Ian organized a chainsaw safety training session in our home for the extended family a few years ago, so they have certificates of safety. Patience with sharpening the chains, with recalcitrant motors on cold days, and just dealing with the perversity of inanimate objects is required.

Most days the men take an armload of wood into the basement storage area as they come in from work to shed their duds. Fortunately Don is up early and Kyle stays up late, so the fire in the furnace rarely goes out.

Our home smells and feels good too. We’re even less grubby.

Christmas tree outing – Topsy Farms style

 

Red cedar will make fence posts, with the top a scruffy Christmas tree

Red cedar will make fence posts, with the top a scruffy Christmas tree

Our son Jake wrote this song last year.

These pictures show his dad Ian, and his sons, Nathan and Michael, on this year’s Christmas tree outing down our laneway. This lovely tree gave us two sturdy six foot fenceposts, a few pieces of firewood that may also be used for our aeromatic red cedar squares for storing woolens, and a floor to ceiling tree, perfuming our livingroom.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all from the Topsy Farms folk.

pleased grandsons

pleased grandsons

SCRUFFY RED CEDAR

G Em D C

DECEMBER, MY FAMILY, TROMPING THROUGH THE SNOW

MY DAD HAS THE CHAINSAW, MOMMA HAS MY BROTHER AND ME IN TOW

I’M 9 YEARS OLD, AND I’M COLD, BUT IT DOES NOT BOTHER ME (hang on G)

D C G

THIS IS MY SPECIAL MEMORY, FINDING THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS TREE

D C G

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

WE FINALLY PICK ONE OUT AND DRAG IT HOME, BUT IT’S MUCH TOO TALL

THIS OLD FARM HOUSE, MY HOME, HAS ONLY 8-FOOT WALLS

THE EXTRA, DAD LOPS OFF, IT’LL BE A FENCE POST IN THE SPRING (hang on G)

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

OUR TREE DOES NOT LOOK LIKE ONE YOU MIGHT BUY IN A STORE

SURE IT’S A LITTLE ‘CHARLIE BROWN’, THE CEDAR SMELL I ADORE

WE GET OUT THE OLD STAR, THAT GRAM AND GRANDPA PASSED TO ME (hang G)

D C G

TONIGHT WE PUT THAT GOLD STAR UP ON TOP, OF A SCRUFFY CEDAR TREE

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

A GOOD TWENTY YEARS HAS PASSED BY, NOW I’M A GROWN UP MAN

THIS TIME OF YEAR IS CRAZY, MY WIFE AND I DO THE BEST WE CAN

THIS YEAR FOR DECORATING, NO SPRUCE OF PINE WILL OUR 2 BOYS SEE (hang G)

D C G

WE’LL TAKE A SAW AND THE TOBOGGAN, FIND A SCRUFFY CEDAR TREE

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE X 2

(OUTRO) G D C

TROMPING THROUGH THE SNOW, LOW, LOW, LOW, LOW x 4

© Jacob Murray 2009

Serious Play Time – Breeding

It is breeding time at Topsy Farms – the boys go in with the girls. We have 4 teaser rams (those with vasectomies), 5 very young Suffolk rams of our own breeding, and 22 rams in their prime. We have 413 first year ewes and a mature flock of 820. We don’t want to put the rams to more than about 50 ewes each, increasing the probability that every ewe will be pregnant in the spring.

Christopher says that it takes 4 months 3 weeks and 4 days to complete gestation.

Last year, spring was awfully cold and wet and late, and we are calculating when to put the boys in with the girls, based on probabilities about the weather and pasture growth in early May.

In order to encourage ovulation, the teaser rams have been in with the first year potential mamas, the ‘replacement’ flock. All the hormones are stirred up and the young females are more prepared to stand to be bred.

The farmers have been working steadily in preparation for breeding time, checking each member of the flock for readiness and well-being, and putting new ear tags in the yearlings who lambed this spring for the first time. All the females had to be divided into several different groupings so each smaller group is with the appropriate rams.

Two Border Cheviots, gathering their strength, waiting.

Two Border Cheviots, gathering their strength, waiting.

The first year girls are bred by Border Cheviots, whose lambs are smaller, and have feisty self-sufficient ‘survivability’ characteristics. They also tend to have lower prolificacy (fewer lambs). We hope for an average of one healthy lamb per first year mama. We don’t want them to be strained by bearing or raising too many or too large lambs.

a Suffolk ram, watching the ewes parade by.  Eager.

a Suffolk ram, watching the ewes parade by. Eager.

The mature ewes are divided according to their dominant breed characteristics. The primarily North Country Cheviots (good pasture sheep, big framed and hardy) will be bred by Suffolk Rams (good meat characteristics). The rest of the flock (Suffolk, Dorset, Hampshire, and Rideau Arcott strains still in the mix) will be bred by our North Country Cheviot rams. Three new ones were purchased this year from Quebec. We will subdivide in about 6 groups. Those groups plus the animals in the barnyard make a lot of chores in the next few weeks, and increased challenge for the guardian dogs.

The heat cycle for breeding lasts just 16 to 18 days. After that, almost all of the ewes should be bred. The groups will then be amalgamated and the action, though abated, continues. One of the ways the rams can show overwork is by damaging their front feet as they ‘dismount’ onto hard frozen ground. Their back feet get sore too.

By next spring there will be more pure wool from shearing for our on-line store products and through our Wool Shed on the farm. By next fall, there will be more delicious lamb available for private sales.

We hope for no wild blizzards during that period putting the rams off their stride so to speak.

Recording or Keeping track of who’s who

In the “good old days”, we had a card for each ewe in the flock, recording the number of lambs she’d had all her breeding years. It involved a lot of labour and trying hard to minimize human error while completing the card information during long tiring lambing days.

We used to lamb using the barns to shelter each small family for a few days in individual pens, enabling us to check udders and the wellbeing of each lamb. Two day-old healthy lambs would get an ear tag and tail elastic (and the males would have testicles ringed). The mamas would hopefully have their metal tag from birth, and would get more ear jewellery, a plastic coloured tag in the other ear. (The earlier plastic tags were very breakable, later replaced by others that didn’t self destruct as frequently.) All tags have an alphabetic or colour code identifying year, and a numeric series identifying each individual. Twins or triplets would also have a (washable) colour paint brand that matched their dam’s, so accidental runaways who got lost could be returned home. Recording that data was a part of the daily job.

Christopher can remember long days in the chutes when the animals were older, trying to read the information off the tag, wearing a lamp headset to try to see well worn numbers, licking his thumb to try to wash off enough mud/manure to read the data. One cold person would wait at a table, sorting through the card file to read off that ewe’s history. (That’s if the card could be found.) Others kept the sheep flowing through.

Times change.

Christopher successfully applied to be part of a government of Canada Pilot Project testing electronic ear tags RFID or EID (Radio Frequency Identification, or Electronic I.D.). We also received help to purchase the wand that reads the data.

A poor quality picture (sorry) but showing Christopher checking an udder, Jacob reading wand, and Ian seeking data on the computer.

The pictures were taken in early December, showing Ian on computer and Jacob and Christopher working the chutes.

No more card files, keeping lamb records.

No more licking unspeakably dirty thumbs. This process, while by no means foolproof, is much faster and easier to use, and probably more accurate for recording data. While in the chutes, each ewe is checked for any lumps or abnormalities in her udder, signs of ill health or poor teeth that might indicate a difficulty in raising lambs next season. The wand reading is called out, the computer equivalent found and cross-checked by reading the number in the other ear. The data is entered. Glitches happen, errors occur, tags go missing. But it is a big improvement.

Clear numbers on the wand. The ewe is keeping an eye on Jake.

We have been pasture-lambing for awhile, not using the barns, so we no longer know how many lambs each ewe has birthed. That is a regrettable loss of data, but the ease of this system recommends it.

The goal, as always, is to produce healthy happy sheep and lambs for great wool for our on-line store and Wool Shed, and for our custom lamb sales.

And knowing who’s who? Any great shepherd really does know his flock and the individuals in it.

Jacob and the ewe, communing. Ewes waiting to exit in background.

Going for a walk

November 9th was positively balmy. Ian left on the 7 am ferry, headed for Queen’s University Farmer’s Market. Don was watching the weather reports before heading out to do chores; Christopher was dealing with Ontario Sheep Marketing business. I went for a walk with my grandsons’ dog, Diego.

There were flocks of ducks and geese on the lake, gabbling and gossiping and apparently deciding that migrating wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A Loon call vibrated down my spine. The grass is still vividly green and the hay bales perfumed the air as I passed. (For recent information on Island birds see this blog.)

Weaned lambs grazing in the Wintering Grounds. © Don Tubb 2011

The fields are once again populated with our sheep.

They are in carefully separated sub-flocks. I walked the kilometer or so of roadway west to the end of the road, where our other house is located. I could see the Beacon light flashing and the Picton headland through the mist. I was lucky enough to join Chris as he went for a walk back towards our house. He explained about the flock groupings we passed.

The first bunch were 21 mature rams, resting and fattening up for their mighty task ahead of tupping the ewes. In an adjacent field young ram lambs were grazing, especially bred from our own Suffolk rams and ewes. Their characteristics include really good mothering, and good meat. We intend to keep the best four of the group of 30 or so; will sell one to a neighbour; two will become ‘teaser’ rams with vasectomies and the others will join the market flock.

There are three new rams on the farm, recently purchased from Quebec. Newcomers have to be kept separate from the other rams until they are put with the ewes in season (and much too distracted to battle for position). They are North Country Cheviot rams, purchased to increase that breed strain in our flock. (They came originally from the Cheviot hills in England. During “the clearances”, some were taken north to Scotland, were bred to be larger, and become the “North Country Cheviots”. The ones who stayed are called Border Cheviots. The Borders are generally a smaller ram, and are put to the first year girls. Their lambs have a feisty ‘survivability’ and do well on pasture.)

We expect to develop excellent quality of lamb for customers, and a resilient medium-staple wool with minimum chaff for weavers, spinners, felters and all who enjoy our wool products available through our on-line store.

The ewe lambs that will be bred this fall for the first time are grazing a few fields back, nearer our woods. The mature ewes are still ‘down the road’ getting low on pasture in the rented fields where they have been for a few weeks. They have just started to need hay to supplement the grasses.

As we neared the Frame house, the good sight of the market lambs spread out over a couple of fields, quietly grazing, was pleasing to the eye and the heart.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Guardian Dogs at Topsy Farms

We need our guardian dogs at Topsy.  There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Eat Canadian Lamb: 10,000 coyotes can’t be wrong.” Some seasons it feels as though most of those coyotes have found their way, over the winter ice to Amherst Island. We have three significantly large sheep farms here, and lamb is a favorite food.

When sheep are not stressed and fearful, they are far more healthy and calm. This results in the production of quality lamb and wool for our products, offered on-line and at the farm’s Wool Shed.

We have a variety of methods to try to counteract predation.

Our guardian dogs help keep coyote predation losses down.

We tried donkeys some years ago. We gather they are useful for very small flocks that don’t move often. For us, Golda (named after G. Meir) was harder to herd than the entire flock and a huge hassle when she needed her hooves trimmed.

After trying one very large Komondor dog, Bear, we decided that the long dredlocks were just not suitable for fields with burrs and brambles. Until his old age, he wanted to be a lap dog – not always convenient during picnics. He smelled in his old age.

We’ve tried Akbash and Maremma breeds, liking their general attitude of defensiveness, rather than aggression. There’s lots of variation within each breed of course – lots of individuality. We’re now moving mainly to Akbash, as their coats are shorter, and have less knots and burrs. They live with the sheep year ’round, being fed and patted once a day.

At the moment we have 10 Guardian dogs:

Lucy was given to us, as she was rough on cats in the suburban area where she was first raised. She’s an older dog, somewhat skittish and matronly. She chums with…

Pollux. According to Christopher our shepherd, he’s a ‘portly old gent’. He’s stable and enjoys Lucy’s company.

Marcus is a lovely big, handsome, affectionate dog. We’ll have to watch his food intake as he’ll have a tendency to get too large.

Marcus and Michael

Nichola spends time with Marcus – her brother. She’s much more skittish. We bought both from another sheep farmer. She raised one litter which included Mr. Purple. Don has seen her jump the perimeter fence (over 5 feet).

Leo is an older, quietly affectionate dog – Chris considers him our most useful dog.

Blackie is a much younger dog, bred here on our farm. He’s already reliable at not yet 2 years old, spending lots of time with Leo.

Trixie birthed 2 litters for us, before we decided she should be spayed. She’s the mother of Blackie and Tweedledum.

Tweedledum is a promising young dog who has been slowed somewhat an unfortunate injury last year, breaking a back leg badly, when jumping a fence. The vet bills were impressive.

Jack is Trixie’s brother. He is now top dog. Despite his size, it took quite q while to assume that roll from Marcus.

Mr. Purple is our youngest pup-in-training. He used to sneak bites of food from the older dogs who tolerated it until just recently, when they gave him a sound lesson in manners.

Young pups are patted regularly, though we are cautious to ensure they are more attached to sheep than people. They spend time first with rams who teach them basic manners. Each dog in the field is patted daily when fed, though most are somewhat shy. Their greatest dread is the annual trip to the vet clinic. They are also somewhat uneasy when we move the flock to different pastures. Their ‘backyard’ is now the 250 fenced acres of the home farm.

Our guardian dogs are important workers on Topsy Farms, doing their best to help protect our flock from the coyote predators.

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