Pure Wool Bedding
Topsy Farms products are more fun to buy at the farm; more convenient to purchase on line. However,
Topsy Farms products are available elsewhere too.
Our excellent lamb is carried exclusively in Kingston by the Pig and Olive butcher store, with 2 locations in Kingston, downtown and in the west end. Aussi Al has a supply year-round, more choice of individual cuts than we can offer, and cheerful, helpful staff. They also provide a drop-off, pickup service for smaller wool items requested by Kingston area customers.
Our yarn and Eucalan can be found now in several locations:
• Knit Traders in Kingston carries a range of choice, and has skilled staff ready to advise.
• Lettuce Knit in Toronto will be closing but two of their staff will reopen in October at the same location, renamed
• Yarns Untangled. They have a mini-mountain of our yarn. They say “We love your yarn. So sturdy, warm, and practical for everything in the depth of winter!”
Two new yarn stores in Ontario will be carrying our yarn:
• Ewe Can Knit in Verona, and
• Aberdeen’s Wool Company in Lindsay.
• CloseKnit Quality Yarns in Stratford, ON, has carried our yarns for several years also.
• On a smaller scale, we have someone in Paris Ontario and on the Queen Charlotte Islands who have extra inventory that they will share will friends. (Contact us for more information).
• Purlin J’s is a mobile yarn store in a former firetruck, rechristened L’il Dorothy. Joan Sharpe proudly includes Topsy yarn in her inventory, and has had to restock this year.
Living Rooms in downtown Kingston, offers healthy living choices. Their inventory of Topsy Farms products includes queen blankets and throws, sheepskins and lambskins and Eucalan.
Active Orthopedic Solutions Inc. in Kingston now carry medical sheepskins, single bed cotton-encased wool mattress pads, and a selection of hats for cancer survivors.
Local Family Farms, or Food Less Travelled, is a most interesting store in Verona, which carries blankets, throws, sheepskins, lambskins and adult sheepskin mitts. You can get meat including our lamb in season, and a wide range of other items, including Kim’s
great homemade pies.
In cottage country Fibres in the lovely Haliburton Highlands sells some blankets and throws.
We are pleased that several stores are proud to carry Topsy Farms products. However, you will have way more choice of wool products, yarn, sheepskins, craft supplies, and craft products if you purchase on line or directly at our Wool Shed at the farm. We sell lamb seasonally (November – March) directly to customers in the Toronto to Ottawa areas, yearling in the summer, and mutton on occasion. You save 13% – we pay the HST – when you buy any items directly from our Wool Shed at the farm.
When you come here to the farm, you’ll have more fun too.
The Wool Shed at Topsy Farms is our at home outlet store for beautiful pure wool and sheepskin products.
It hasn’t always been so. It appears to be just a scruffy farm outbuilding, built far too close to the road by today’s standards. However you can’t tell its heart or history by its faded covering.
The Wool Shed was built about a century ago with a double purpose.The south portion was designed to store great blocks of ice, cut by hand from the lake, and stored with layers of sawdust helping to insulate. That supply was vital as the only source of refrigeration in those days. The north portion of the small structure was the milk house, used for cooling the cows’ production of the day, destined to be picked up by horse and wagon or cutter, to be delivered to one of the Island cheese factories.
Two generations of the Eve’s family lived here for many years, planting the huge black spruce trees. (Our older son now lives in the bungalow built next door for retiring mom/grandmother ‘Peachy’.) They had electricity by then; still used the milk house portion for awhile, but eventually the shed was just used for storage.
When Topsy’s first group arrived at the recently abandoned farm, the shed became a crammed storehouse, then a much-needed tractor repair workshop. Some of the machinery couldn’t fit in, but the tools and mechanic/farmer were sheltered.
When the commune amicably dissolved, former members were repaid, and the impoverished remainder were fed one winter, by the candle production housed in the Shed.
Once our new workshop was built, the Shed became a music centre for our younger son and others. It sheltered a drum set and speakers, providing some privacy for teenagers. The budding musicians traveled from high school in Napanee, made glorious noisy experiments, with sufficient autonomy (but not too much) from the older generation.
University years enabled yet another evolution. Four coats of high quality primer and two more paint coats covered most of the music group’s wall ‘creative writing’, and the Wool Shed evolved to its present glorious new life.
It is open any day, all year (please phone first).
About 1200 sheep are shorn annually – the fleece being one of the most renewable resources that could exist. It is transformed in P.E.I. to a high quality, all-Canadian wool made into blankets and throws, yarn, wool, and many hand-crafted products.
The Wool Shed has the largest variety and inventory of pure wool Canadian blankets and throws in Canada.
Visitors love the feel of our sheepskins, either trimmed ‘medical’ skins or luxurious ‘shaggies’. Lambskins are also available: smaller, softer, and ideal for new born babies, or the seat of a chair. Also available is unbleached cotton-stuffed wool bedding, pillows, mattress pads and comforters. These will give you an experience of sleeping on a cloud – or the next best thing. Many hand-crafted items are available from Topsy Farms only by visiting the Wool Shed – you’ll find it worth it. For outing information, see https://topsyfarms.com/uncategorized/great-outing-amherst-island-day-weekend
The heart of this old building beats strongly.
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.
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.
The lambs have been weaned from the ewes. They no longer need the milk and they can be rough on the mamas.
The ewes need a break.
They need to have some peaceful grazing, to rebuild their strength before starting the cycle again.
Lambs being driven from the Grey Barn to west of the New Barn to get them as far from their mothers as we can so as few as possible drift back.
When the farm was first started in the early 70′s, the members had very little money and no credit.
We had to learn to make do.
We developed the skills needed to repair, patch our patches – both figuratively and literally – and that was a useful pattern to establish. We are still in that mode of thinking (although now allowing ourselves more than an inch of water in a bathtub and a few other ‘luxuries’).
When things don’t work, we really aren’t surprised.
We don’t take systems for granted.
We build in redundancy, so that when one tractor breaks down (one spectacularly broke an axle last week, sending Jacob leaping for safety) we have another that can make do.
We have also developed a range of ‘fixit’ skills, that aren’t pretty but generally work. Christopher has become a skilled vet substitute, and an able mechanic; Ian calls himself a ‘chain saw carpenter’; Don keeps systems for house and farm working, and is an able carpenter. Sally is good at darning and patching; Dianne is a great organizer, and sets limits to our ‘someday it’ll come in handy’ extremes. Jacob has started as an apprentice officially this spring, during our urgent time of year. He brings a fresh perspective, and the wide range of skills he has developed working for his own company (called Turvy, natch). Kyle works hard and fast, and fills in where needed, with fencing, barn work, and other chores. The most important skill for all is an attitude that says ‘well there’s a problem here; probably I can figure out how to fix it.’
The propane hot water tank in the Frame House (where Ian, Don, Kyle and Sally live) stopped working last week – the day before the hydro went out for about 30 hours. We scrambled with generators, having previously set up a wiring system that can minimally keep the freezers cold and water pumped to the flock. Our generator was working poorly, so we were able to take it to the Island mechanic and borrow two generators to provide the temporary power we needed. Pails of water from the lake flushed toilets. Sally’s feeding machine worked by battery the first night, and a neighbour whose hydro still functioned made his power available to recharge the battery.
That Island cooperation is deeply valued and something we nurture and to which we contribute.
The hot water was out for 10 days – a new thermostat had to be ordered – so we were temporarily back to the one inch baths, hauling the hot. But no one got very upset by the snafus, because we don’t assume an entitlement to services. Ian spent his first 5 years on a farm in P.E.I. with no running water, phone or hydro, and learned from his dad the pleasure of systems that work – when they work.
We were fortunate that the sheep didn’t notice the power was out in the electric fences (we kept good pasture in front of them so they weren’t testing their limits.) Neither did the coyotes. We have rechargeable batteries for some of our fences, but not nearly enough for the miles (sorry, kilometers) we use.
And we are back to clean clothes and deep baths. (Photo of that censored.)
Today I’m a mechanic, yesterday a vet.
The storm is coming closer, 60% chance of getting wet.
Tomorrow it’s construction, repairing that old barn.
Every day is something different, when you wake up on a farm.
THE OLD LOADER AS EXAMPLE
About 1973, the farm acquired two Allis-Chalmers WD45 tractors, a ’53 and a ’52. One was bought from Islander Edwin MacDonald (Garnet’s father. Garnet died recently in his 80′s). The other, with a broken motor, was purchased from an acquaintance, Lloyd Claire, new to the Island. We bought another engine from a wrecker and ran it for awhile, but eventually combined the two, switching the first engine into the second because it had a loader.
The front end was scrounged from an Allis-Chalmers D17, and George Gavlas (Island mechanic) and Christopher put that on because it had power steering not “armstrong steering”. (George says now he’d never tackle such a tricky job again. Its still working.)
The roll bar Chris made from scrounged metal. Noel McCormick welded it for him.
The external hydraulics and the 3 point hitch and adaptor came new from Princess Auto.
The fenders came from two old stone boats, cut and bolted on, to replace the rusted originals.
The old loader continues as an important part of our ‘fleet.
It is still a challenging time at Topsy. The lambing is winding down, although the flock groups still have to be checked twice a day for problems.
The regular chores include a visual check of each ewe and lamb (it’s hard to see back ends, where most problems occur), as they are always curious, wanting to face the ATV. We have to ensure a constant supply of mineral in feeders and that water is always available. The guardian dogs are fed and patted. Other priorities – the fences need to be checked and repaired. The pastures are constantly monitored and the plan for moving to the next available grazing must be in place. The noxious weeds have to be controlled, as does the growth under electric fences.
Twenty-one foster lambs were sold to two good homes, where some will be raised to form a new flock. In addition, a few were adopted back into our flock.
However, all the lambs need health intervention now, and the field vegetation is suddenly leaping up and demanding to be grazed or cut and baled… all at once.
All lambs are born with long tails plus testicles on the males. If we leave the long tails on when we send the lambs and ewes to summer pasture, the flies will be hugely attracted to the dirt under the tails, will lay eggs, which hatch larvae, which eat flesh. (Fly Strike is an ongoing serious threat for ewes and lambs both, especially in damp, hot weather.) We know that the most humane way to ‘dock’ the tails is to use elastics that gradually cut off the circulation, and slowly wither the appendage. We can’t leave intact males in the flock, because they will become sexually active within a startlingly few months, producing endangered winter lambs.
So Don, Christopher, Ian and Jacob spent 5 longish days in the barn, with help from neighbour Kitsy some days, separating moms and babies temporarily, checking the well-being of each, ringing tails and testicles, and then reuniting the families, and giving them time to adjust . However, the long wet cool spring suddenly morfed into hot dry weather and the field growth needs to be cut before it passes prime. My allergies attest to the fact that the grasses are ‘heading out’ fast.
There are so many chores on a farm, competing for priority in the spring.
Last year we began making ‘balage’ – cutting hay younger, letting it dry only one day, then wrapping it in plastic so it will, in effect, pickle. The ewes eagerly ate last year’s product, and it saved us money as it replaced a lot of the grain. (We are still seeking recycle options for the plastic wrap.) The baling has to be done meticulously, as certain soil microbes can contaminate the silage, making it toxic to the ewes. Being able to start haying while the weather is still unsettled, but the grass is ready, reduces the farmers’ stress.
Further priorities: although all machinery is put away in the fall cleaned and serviced, there are always more mechanical needs in the spring. We manage on very old, rebuilt machinery, avoiding the debts some farmers shoulder for more modern equipment. Ian did the first small cut June 8th to test everything and we’re off.
The final lamb count, after the last group was ringed, was 1304 from 845 mature ewes and 290 replacement ewe lambs (first year mamas). With the rams, that gives us a flock of very close to 2461. “This ensures we will continue to provide top quality lamb for private sales, and to produce wonderful wool products, available on-line and at the farm store, the Wool Shed.
Meanwhile, the gardens are somehow getting planted, the glorious orioles are consuming an orange daily, the loon calls echo on the lake, and the spring entertainment (just watch a newly fledged robin for a few minutes) surrounds us, when we remember to stop and enjoy.
Bailage is hay cut earlier in the season, when conditions are still too wet to dry the cut for hay. It allows the farmers to get out on the land when they are chomping at the bit to get started, but forecasts are not yet for sufficient hot, dry weather.
But because of the moisture, it is vulnerable to rot. The bales once made are immediately transported to Christopher, who is demonstrating below the technique for wrapping bailage bales.
Bailage bales must stay clean and anaerobic, allowing fermentation.
The sheep consider it a huge treat in the fall and winter, and it saves us needing to purchase grain. Thus we continue to produce excellent lamb for private sale, and quality wool products, through our on-line store, and our at home outlet, the Wool Shed.
photos by Jacob
Here’s a video featured on Canadian Geographic talking to the shepherds at shearing time at Topsy Farms.