sheepskins

Canada 150 Plus

Canada 150 PlusCanada 150 Plus recognizes that the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit, predates confederation by millennia. Topsy Farms is proud to have its products used and valued by many First Nations groups and individuals, as well as in events that celebrate Canada’s heritage since 1867.

We are fund-raising for the www.downie/wenjack.ca fund to help heal residential school survivors, to celebrate Canada 150 Plus.

The fund honours the memory of Chaney Wenjack, who died while trying to find his way home.  Topsy designed a sock scarf   similar to the ones worn by Gord in his 2016 series of concerts across Canada. $15 from each sale – $10 from the purchaser and $5 from Topsy Farms – is donated to the fund. We pay most of the shipping costs; coupon word GORD.

We have paid for services from native healers in the traditional way, with a gift of a blanket and tobacco. We provided bouquets for a big wedding, requesting a donation to a First Nations healing group in B.C. in return. Our Throws and Lap Robes have also been used at the South-west Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, Chippawa.

Canada 150 PlusA neighbour on Amherst Island was taught traditional leather hand stitching and beading by her grandmother on the reserve. Using our crafting shearling sheepskins, she has created magnificent mukluks and gauntlets for members of her family. She uses hides, prepared by people on the reserve in Deseronto.

Canada 150 Plus

For many years, Topsy has gathered and donated fresh food produce from Amherst Island gardeners to the hungry in Kingston, through the Partners in Mission Food Bank then more recently, through Loving Spoonful. Once our donation included elderberries, delivered to the Friendship Centre in Kingston. A maker of traditional medicines was delighted to receive them and to use them. That started a relationship with medicine makers from the reserve in Deseronto.

We will give seed corn for Three Sisters to anyone asking, who visits, to celebrate Canada 150 Plus.

Learning from native gardeners over eons, we plant a Three Sisters garden, using traditional corn and beans, though our own squash and pumpkin. The corn, provides height and structure for the Rattlesnake beans, which climb the stalks, and replenish the soil with much-needed nitrogen. We plant the squash and pumpkins in alternate hills to the other two foods, cover ground, controlling weeds and providing shade to the roots, helping moisture retention. These foods complement each other, providing a balanced diet we consume all winter.

Several of our products have been used in activities celebrating the 150 years of Confederation.

Here are two examples using pure wool yarn from Topsy:

Canada 150 PlusKate Munn created the Margaret’s Gift sweater for Canada’s 150th, using all natural pure wool yarn from Topsy Farms. There is a wonderful story behind this sweater design, described here.

The Ontario Science Centre is producing a coverlet using an historic Jacquard loom once owned by John Campbell. (photo) Volunteers are weaving one of John Campbell’s patterns that has not been woven for over 100 years on his loom that dates back to the 1840’s. Canada 150 PlusThe warp is of white cotton; the weft is a combination of white cotton and Topsy Farms red yarn. If you wish to see more of the process, there is a brief video here that describes the awesome complexity of the planning and setup, starting at minute 6. The overlet weaving progress may be viewed all summer at the Science Centre in Toronto.

Wool and sheepskin, weaving and spinning for beauty and practical comfort and warmth have been used since people walked upright. Do discover their joys for yourself.

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.

Morning Feeding on the Sheep Farm

The quality of food the sheep receive is reflected in the quality of the lamb we produce.

The sheep on Topsy Farm seem to think the quality is excellent. Our partner, Don does most of the morning chores (and takes all of the great photos). Here are his pictures of morning chores in seasons when the grass does not grow.

Enjoying the hay

Enjoying the hay

He gives them 4 large round bales of hay first thing in the morning and then Christopher comes up and gives them some grain. So at first you can see the sheep content with their feed of hay..

..that is until Chris shows up when the flock does what flocks do best, and flock toward the ATV.

Yearning toward the 'snacker', delivering grain

Yearning toward the ‘snacker’, delivering grain

This escalates to a general swarming of 800+ ewes encasing it – loudly demanding their ration.

The end result is a long line of ewes feeding pretty noisily on their grain – no more calling… just molars crunching corn and soya beans.

Military line ups... or grain on the ground.

Military line ups… or grain on the ground.

The 5 dogs in the field have learned (the hard way) to keep well clear of the flock during this operation or they will be mercilessly trampled. At any other time, the dogs hold pre-eminence… dog wants to drink, the ewes gives it room… the dog wants to lie on this hay, the ewes eat somewhere else.  Not so with grain.

Readers, you will have to come to visit to get the audio.

Don Tubb does all the layout for the Amherst Island Beacon, a monthly newsletter published by our extended family for over 30 years. Ian and I were away when Don was working to deadline so this is when he wrote the above text.

All photos © Don Tubb 2012.
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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.

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

Queens Farmers Market

Ian took a van load of our products to the Queens Farmers Market at Queen’s University in Kingston. This once-a-month market was requested by some students last fall and has been pretty successful. We were invited to set up a booth for the January event and did ok. The 2 things Ian learned in January were: make sure people know that we can take Mastercard and VISA; and there quite a few young people knitting. So this time Ian put up the charge card signage and brought lots of yarn. Sold 42 skeins of yarn and made 3 credit card sales. All the natural – white, brown, light grey and dark grey – were bought. Three young women, representing a group called “No Sweat” as in no more sweat shops, bought the last of the natural yarn. They intend to learn some knitting skills for empathic reasons, I think. It was nice change from sitting on a tractor and rolling out hay. Don got to do all the chores so he had a busy morning.

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.