New Critters on the Homestead!

Well, amid all the craziness of the past couple of weeks, our homestead has grown a bit...which is a joy.
Nearing sunset on our homestead.
First, my husband brought home two rabbits. To be clear, these are pet rabbits. Did I mention my kids already have four pet rabbits? And now my husband has brought home two more. That's six pet rabbits. And did I mention that the doe is likely pregnant? And that the newbies are Flemish Giants, which get really big? Like 15 to 20 lbs. big. Like, as big as a dog big?

Giant Flemish rabbit
Flemish rabbit vs. dog. Courtesy of Stamatisclan and Wikipedia Commons.
When I asked why he brought them home, my husband said his friend had been given them, but his friend's wife wouldn't let him keep them. Hmmm...
The good news is, they are beautiful and sweet. And, to be fair, I've known for years that my husband wanted a Flemish giant rabbit. They are pretty neat and have an interesting history dating back to the 16th century. I think we've settled on the names Fido and Fiona. (UPDATE: After doing some research, I've learned these are not pure Flemish giants. They are in fact a mix of mostly meat breeds.)

I've also known for a while that our next "big" critter addition would be sheep. In fact, in 2017, I posted something about why even small homesteads might want sheep. It's just taken a while for us to get prepped for them. (Trust me, there are always more ideas for the homestead than there is time, energy, and money!) Thankfully, our property already had some sheep fencing installed, so "all" we had to do (and by that, I mean all my husband had to do) was repair certain breaks in the fencing, add three livestock gates, and build a sheep shelter.

My husband has been so slammed with work on the homestead that when his dad recently asked him to repair his vehicle, my hubby made a barter: I'll fix your vehicle while you build us a sheep shed. I think the sheep shelter turned out beautifully - and except for some lumber, it was all made with upcycled materials, including an old truck bed liner we found on the property and pieces of the old metal roof from our canning kitchen. Redneck ingenuity, my friends! My dad-in-law did a fabulous job, and there's no way that shelter is going anywhere, even during a typhoon.

Upcycled sheep shelter.

For a while now, we've known we wanted a few things from our sheep. Namely:

* They had to be excellent brush eaters. If they loved our invasive blackberry vines, all the better!
* They had to be low maintenance and hardy.
* And we preferred a hair breed, so we wouldn't have to shear them.

Then we met a neighbor who said she had Soay (pronounced "so - ay") sheep and needed to sell some. Perfect! Soay met all our criteria, and then some! They love brush and blackberry vines. They require hardly any maintenance and are hardy enough they don't require assistance when giving birth. They are also hair sheep who naturally shed their wool, so shearing isn't necessary. They also happen to be on the smaller side, which makes handling them easier (although ours, right now, are pretty flighty, fleet, and "wild"). Plus, they are so pretty and always look like they are smiling.
Our Soay sheep.
I'm loving the history of Soay sheep, too. They are a very, very old breed (just how old is a matter of opinion) named after the island of Soay in the St Kilda Archipelago, about 40 miles from the Western Isles of Scotland. ("Soay" is Norse for "sheep island.") In fact, Soay sheep still live wild in Scotland. (To give you an idea of how self-sufficient and rugged Soay sheep are, most domestic breeds cannot even begin to survive in the wild.)
Shannon getting her bells put on.
And so, we have Shaun (my kids named him after the cartoon "Shaun the Sheep") and Shannon. (Apparently, we like alliteration.) They are only about a year old and still have some growing to do. We are also trying to "tame" them a bit, since right now they are pretty distrustful of humans. They grew up on hay and grain (which is healthy and just fine), but they seem thrilled to have lots of fresh forage now.

We love hearing their bells tinkling in our "pasture." And one of these days, I'll take a video of them running...because they look more like gazel than sheep, my friends!
Shaun and Shannon in their shelter.

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