Our shearing floor is cluttered. It is piled high, 362 days of the year, with inventory for our Wool Shed. There’s no room for the sheep or shearers.
A year’s supply of natural pure wool bedding, comforters, mattress pads and pillows fluff up greatly.
32 colours of yarn (at last count) in varying quantities fill bin after bin stacked 3 high.
Sheepskins and lambskins, with their lovely loft, don’t just fit in a corner. They take up space too.
And there are many other wool-related items we stash on the usually empty shearing floor, near the boxes of raw honey.
Then 3 days a year the shearing floor must be cleared for woolly sheep and shearers.
We discover a few unlooked-for treasures. We struggle to find places to store things temporarily where we can access them on demand (and remember where we put them).
We invite the public to come to visit and enjoy the spectacle of the annual ‘haircut’ for the sheep – a necessary health intervention. One day in March and two in April, should be enough for over 1000 ewes and rams. The barn will be full of its intended occupants.
How wonderful a cycle, with the sheep, the wool and the wool products, all finding their home with us. That tempting empty space will be refilled with our wool products, created from the fleeces just shorn.
Not everyone would have the ‘gumption’ to tackle washing, carding, spinning wool from a Topsy Farms fleece. Especially an ‘in-the-grease’ fleece, fresh from the ewe. But Carlene Paquette is one of those brave souls. Some weavers come to the farm during shearing, to help on the ‘skirting’ table, and choose the fleece wanted, even getting to meet the donor ewe who was just shorn. When we offered free delivery to Ottawa, Carlene decided to experiment with our breed – North Country Cheviot/Suffolk cross; pasture-raised.
Here’s the process. First she examines the fleece on the floor of her garage, to remove any fecal matter or chaffy bits that were missed during skirting. Ours was proclaimed unusually clean. She also looks for ‘second cuts’ – short bits of wool staple if the shearer went over the area twice. Again, our pro shearers did well. The length of staple is important, as well as whether it is solid. If the sheep has issues in nutrition mid-season, the staple will break in mid-length. She tugged on the wool as a soundness test, and proclaimed it strong.
She then soaks the fleece in a combination of hot water, “Simple Green” (a commercial degreaser) and “Blue Dawn” dish washing soap. Some lanolin stays in; most dirt and smells are removed. Carlene dumps that dirty, oily water on driveway, then rinses again.
Once the clean wool has been spun in netted bags, she finishes drying the wool, spreading it out on clean towels. It has graduated from the garage to the spare room.
Carlene then uses a carding machine to align or comb the fibres, winding them in a soft batt.
Certain fleeces are more curly but this isn’t a characteristic of our wool. Our Cheviot fibre is about 27-33 microns. Mixed with Suffolk it is similar to Corriedale, a popular medium wool for hand spinners with a micron count of 25-31.
She then begins to spin, working a treadle, synchronizing her hands and feet in quiet rhythm. The spun wool is wound on a bobbin. For some reason, this one-ply strand is called ‘singles’ (plural!). She then combines or ‘plies’ the singles into a double strand, creating her preferred density of yarn. She washes the finished skein, then may dye it.
Why all this work?
Why go to this trouble and effort before even beginning to turn the yarn into a product with weaving, knitting, or crocheting?
She finds the entire process of creation, the washing, carding, spinning wool to be relaxing; meditative.
Working with a drop spindle was tedious for Carlene, but once she invested in a wheel, she says she hasn’t looked back. She says her involvement in the skill “sort of spirals out of control. I greatly prefer the creative process of making yarn (to knitting). The skein of yarn is a finished project in my mind. I really like the feel of the fibre running through my fingers. At first my feet had to slow down until my fingers caught up. The process supports my focus on mental and physical health and fitness. Spinning helps me stay away from snacking in evenings and it can be done while watching documentaries or chatting with someone, or listening to music. I even sleep better since I began.”
Who would have thought that our Topsy Farms flock enhances well-being? Anyone who works with our fleece and our yarn, apparently.
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.
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.
- Monday & Tuesday, April 20th & 21st
- children welcome; no pets
- reservations in advance required: email@example.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.