Babydoll Sheep at The Little Homestead By The Sea

Marina Karastamatis from the Southern California venture tells us about running a homestead that stars an organic vineyard.

by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: Courtesy The Little Homestead by the Sea

“I grew up with animals and have a lot of animal experience from dogs and horses and chickens to exotic animals through my career as a zookeeper,” says Marina Karastamatis, who’s turned her animal-focussed background into raising Babydoll Sheep at The Little Homestead By The Sea in Southern California.

With Karastamatis’s husband bringing a technical interest in areas including solar panels, rainwater collection and firewood harvesting, the duo have combined their expertise into successfully establishing a venture that stars Babydoll sheep alongside an organic vineyard.

Taking time out from hobby farming duties, we spoke to Karastamatis about maintaining the vineyard and chicken coop sizing. We also got into the lawn mowing abilities of Babydoll sheep.

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Little Homestead By The Sea was formed out of circumstance. After Karastamatis’s stepdad passed away, it left the family unsure what to do with their farm (which already included a nascent vineyard).

Also Read: Babydoll Southdown Sheep Are Adorable, Easy To Keep

“Since my husband and I were renting at the time, and were hoping to move somewhere we could have a small farm, we figured it made the most sense for us to move onto the property,” explains Karastamatis. “So we built a second house on the property and began our small farm journey.”

It’s a journey Karastamatis admits has sometimes seemed bittersweet though: “It’s a complicated feeling as I’m grateful for the opportunity to follow our homestead dreams, and I know we’re very lucky to have that opportunity (especially living in a high cost of living area), but I wish it had come under better circumstances.”

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Coop

The Little Homestead By The Sea’s social media presence includes a bio that contains the line, “I don’t actually know what I’m doing.” Building on that earnest sentiment, Karastamatis says that a key early lesson in starting a homestead or hobby farm is to ” plan for what you want not what you have—and be mindful about the choices you’re making.”

Karastamatis adds that she’s spent “so much time and effort arranging and re-arranging things that could have been avoided if I planned ahead.”

For instance, after first deciding that the homestead would benefit from only “a handful of chickens” and erecting a “modest size coop,” the size of the flock inevitably bloomed and required modifying the coop and building a bigger run.

Babydolls As Lawnmowers

Babydoll sheep are a crucial part of the Little Homestead By The Sea. Karastamatis says that they settled on the breed due to a reputation for being “good lawnmowers!”

Tending to an organic vineyard, Karastamatis says they avoid the use of herbicides. “We have a variety of plants that grow between the rows of vines and serve as a cover crop but they need to be cut back,” she explains. “Doing this by hand with a weed-wacker was time intensive or costly to hire out. We wanted to come up with a more sustainable, regenerative method of vegetation control.”

Having heard about Babydoll sheep being used for vegetation management by vineyards in Northern California, Karastamatis learned that the breed’s short stature successfully “allows them to graze in the vineyard without reaching the vines”—although she adds that “some of the youngest sheep will stand up on their hind legs to try and eat the leaves!”

Babydoll Sheep have Personality

When it comes to the personality of the Babydoll sheep at the Little Homestead By The Sea, Karastamatis says that they’re a “really fun and sweet” breed.

“Like most sheep they can be skittish at first and take some time to get used to you,” she says. “I spent a lot of time sitting with them and feeding them grain. Once they trust you, they’re just the sweetest. They’ll follow you around, come up to you for pets and are just generally very chill and easygoing. Sometimes I like to just go sit with them—they’re very calming animals.”

Getting Into The Vineyard

When it comes to the organic vineyard at Karastamatis’s homestead, she says that last year’s harvest was only “okay” due to the abundance of rainfall.

Looking on the bright side, Karastamatis says that while they didn’t accumulate “enough to be worth selling,” they instead decided to make their own personal wine with the year’s humble bounty.

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