When we moved our family back home to Southern Illinois, finding a property with room to grow was key. My husband and I both grew up on family farms. And we shared a strong desire to teach our children responsibility and a strong work ethic. After purchasing our home, we spent a lot of time renovating the interior. We had already embraced a DIY lifestyle, and we decided to tackle our outdoor spaces as well for our hobby farm.
For the Family
We wanted to cut down on grass and weed control, so we decided to start a hobby farm. But also, life among animals would be such a wonderful way for our kids to grow up. Not only would interacting with the animals teach them communication and patience, we thought it would provide a positive model for future human relationships as well. For us, we really took our time researching the types of animals we wanted. Our hobby farm has just evolved naturally over time.
Before we were able to bring any animals home initially, we knew we would have to prepare our property for farm life. Fortunately, when we purchased our home, it came with an outside storage barn. During our first year, we gave our barn a makeover, and last summer my husband added onto it and enclosed a new area to offer protection for our animals against the elements. We also added welded wire fencing and several gates.
Adding Farm Animals
For any hobby farm, most experts recommend getting animals in twos so they will have a companion. But we wanted to start small and considered a number of different farm animals. We quickly fell in love with the Olde English "Babydoll" Southdown sheep. They met our need for grass and weed control, and we loved how their small size would be much easier to handle. Also, they are known for their docile disposition, making them perfect for our young girls.
As far as care, Babydolls require the same care as other sheep breeds. They need hoof trimming, worming, vaccinations, and yearly shearing. However, the handling facilities and feed are not as costly as with larger breeds. We would love to add more Babydolls to our hobby farm over time.
After our lambs settled in, we went back to researching various types of small farm animals. We decided we wanted to add a few ducks, and Pekins were the most commonly recommended. Pekin ducks are great foragers and a friendly duck breed. With keeping our “start small” mentality in mind, we added two jumbo Pekin female ducks to our farm. They were very messy at first, but now that they are fully grown and outside with the sheep they have been much more manageable. Pekins are too heavy to fly and we love that they can free range. They are also consistent egg layers. It is amazing how well the ducks get along with our sheep!
With smaller farm animals, safety has always been the upmost importance. My husband and I built the fencing ourselves and while we felt it was secure, we knew we should also consider adding a large guard dog or llama to the farm. Did you know that llamas can instinctively bond with other animals and provide a high level of protection from predators like a coyote? After talking to other sheep owners, we decided a llama would be the best option for us. We loved that they would eat the same food as our sheep, and we were lucky enough to find a llama who had previously been with Southdowns. We may be new to “llama life,” but have quickly come to appreciate their quiet, gentle and affectionate demeanor.
Our new llama has stolen our heart. To our surprise, he doesn’t take a lot of work to maintain, and for an outdoor animal, he doesn’t smell bad either. He has instinctively stepped up to his role as a protector, and I often find our sheep and ducks huddled up with him.
Family Hobby Farm
I hope this gives you a glimpse into our "why" for starting a hobby farm and how we've prepared for them along the way. In our area it is definitely not common to raise babydoll sheep, ducks or own a llama, but we wouldn't have it any other way. It seems like our favorite days are ones spent outside watching the animals interact or our girls helping care for them. We are always learning something new. And I love that we get to do it together as a family.
They say birds of a feather flock together. Check out how Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame loves to hang out with his duck, Charlie. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!
Amy Mings, an entrepreneur and former accounting professional, is the creator of Maison de Mings, a DIY & lifestyle brand. Inspired by the timeless elegance of Provence, Mings continually strives to bring a bit of France to her rural country life.