||[Nov. 21st, 2011|11:01 am]
Hi everyone! Most of the posts here have been about dogs but I thought I would mix things up and post a brief overview of my sheep. I raise registered Jacob sheep, a rare breed here in America, but fairly common and much more developed in the UK. I currently have 16 in my flock and will hopefully have 5-6 little lambs in April. I also have angora goats but I don't think they're that rare. I can write something up about them too though if people are interested. You can also find more pictures of little sheeps at my farm's website here.|
Jacob breeders, like breeders most animals, like their romantic stories about the breed’s origin. The main one is told in every goon’s favorite book, the bible.
JACOB from THE BIBLE says:
I will go aboute all thy shepe this daye, and separate fro all the shepe that are spotted and of dyverse colours, and all blacke shepe among the lambes and the partie and spotted among the kyddes: And then such will be my reward.
Jacob then breeds a bunch of spotty sheep by making them look at spotty sticks while getting it on. This is supposedly the first recorded case of selective breeding and a lot of Jacob sheep breeders (being religious types) cling to this story as the real and factual origin of the breed. They also tend to name a lot of their sheep biblical names. There is an Isaiah, a Daniel and a Job in my flock’s pedigrees.
Another story is that they came from Spain and washed ashore when the Spanish Armada got was defeated. That probably isn’t true either.
There is evidence of a spotted or piebald breed of sheep in Syria around 3000 years ago and those may have eventually become the Jacob sheep of today. Some theories suggest that they are derived from fat-tailed sheep from Mesopotamia or from short-tailed sheep brought over by the Vikings but there’s really no good evidence to back up either.
What is true is that the Jacob has been in the UK for over 350 years munching on lawns and looking cool. People didn’t ask a whole lot of them but to be spotty, have nifty horns, and to take care of themselves so that’s what they’re good at. In the early 1900’s they started getting shipped to America and Canada to spread their novelty.
As of today Jacobs are considered a “threatened” breed according toThe American Livestock Conservancy, meaning that they have less than 5000 registered purebred individuals. In the UK they are not considered at risk and are much more popular. They have also been breed to be more uniform and commercially competitive where in the US they have been breed mostly for their unique fleeces.
The Jacob sheep is a small to medium sized sheep best known for their spots and multiple horns. Rams are generally 120-150 lbs in full fleece (up to 180 lbs but that’s rare for a US Jacob) and the ewes are usually 80-120 lbs. They are finer boned than most sheep and have very lean, flavorful carcasses when slaughtered, even as mature sheep. One of the big sheep general meetings did a taste test of different breeds and Jacobs ranked the third most delicious.
Jacobs come in black or lilac, a dilute black that ranges from chocolate to gray. The desired ratio in the breed standard is 60% white to 40% color but no one really cares all that much. They are supposed to have white legs with possible black patches, but not black legs. A black nose patch with a wide blaze over the rest of the face is desirable if you’re going to show them.
Rams and ewes can have 2, 4 or 6 horns. It is important that there is flesh between the different horn sets and that the horns are pointing away from the face and neck so they don’t cause problems as they grow. A polled Jacob (no horns) can’t be registered because it means that there has been crossbreeding.
The Jacob fleece is medium fine, the softness of a wool peacoat or suit. When both colors are spun together it becomes a lovely grey tweed color but it can also be divided into black and white wool and spun that way. The fleece can be up to 7 inches long and generally weights between 3-6 lbs at their yearly shearing. It’s especially good for handspinners because it is naturally colored and doesn’t have as much lanolin as a lot of the finer wools.
Jacobs are naturally curious and considered to have “goat-like” personalities. This is similar to cats having “dog-like” personalities because many sheep raised in the right conditions will be friendly and curious. My Jacobs quickly came to know me as the person who brings food and will follow me anywhere. They will investigate anything and are unphased by newcomers to the barn and changes in schedule. This does mean, however, that they tend to get in trouble a lot. Their horns are constantly getting tangled in things and if they aren’t able to get themselves out they can be seriously hurt in their struggles. They also get bored when they have to be penned for long periods (before shearing, during serious storms, when separated in breeding groups, etc) and occasionally try to ram down parts of the barn. Dennis has broken a wall 3 times, a door twice, and sheared a metal bolt in half.
Jacobs have a lot going for them besides being bad-ass looking. Breeders have been careful to maintain a lot of primitive characteristics in the breed such as easy lambing, strong hooves, thriftiness, and resistance to parasites. I also have Angora goats and the differences health-wise are night and day. I do my own fecal testing for worms and when I check even my sickliest older ewe there are never more than 5 oocytes in the sample, compared to my big healthy goat buck who frequently has over 50 even with regular worming. The Jacobs can be wormed 3-4 times a year where most other breeds need to be wormed up to monthly during hot and wet periods of the year. They also generally only need their hooves trimmed yearly and are resistant to hoof rot.
The one unique disease they are known to carry is Tay Sachs, which sucks for them but there is now a Jacob flock being used to research the disease in people. For a while you could get your flock tested free of charge but now the Jacob Sheep Breeders Association has decided that carriers are no big deal and it’s really hard to get individual sheep tested so you need to research pedigrees well if you get into breeding them.
In terms of feed, if the Jacobs are on pasture they do not need additional hay or grain for most of the year. Even right now when my pasture is short and sad and my sheep are huge and pregnant they do just fine with an additional 1/4-1/3 lb of grain each and a couple flakes of hay to share. Most resources will tell you that sheep need a whole lb of grain each during the periods before breeding and again the month before lambing. If you give a Jacob this much you will end up with giant babies that will not be born easily and huge fat ewes that are at risk for pregnancy toxemia. They are very efficient in digestion and really do not need as much as a meat sheep would need.
Lambing is also not usually a problem in Jacobs, as they do not have as large of haunches as many meat breeds and they have been bred to lamb on their own. Some farmers say the only lambing equipment they need is a pair of binoculars. This has certainly been our experience. So far this year we had a 6 year old ewe give us triplet, a yearling with a single lamb, and a 9 year old ewe with big ram twins. All births were unassisted and they all had lambs up and nursing within the hour. I hear about my friend with Icelandic sheep out pulling babies all night and it makes me glad I started with my super easy spotty guys! I’m still up all night but it’s because I can’t stop watching them leap around and play.
All in all Jacobs are a hardy, easy to keep breed without being completely independent and disinterested in people. They make a great first sheep and I love having them around. Plus everyone knows that animals with spots are the best animals.