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Jacob's Sheep, Hearty ,Heritage Dual Purpose Breed
The History of Jacob's Sheep
Jacob's Sheep are a fascinating breed with a long history. Their origins are shrouded in the past. Rumor has it that this is the breed raised by the Jacob of the Bible, with their spotted and multicolor coats. The story is that Jacob, in trying to outwit his father in law, Laban, agreed to only keep the spotted sheep that were produced. Of course, he had the favor of God on his life and all the best lambs were born spotted!
They well may be derived from that very story, this ancient breed. More recently they were raised on the large manors in England and only in the past 30 or so years have they been bred in the United States. The Jacob's Sheep is one of the rare breeds listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and is still listed as threatened although it is gaining in well deserved popularity.
Characteristics of Jacob's Sheep
The growing popularity of this breed stems from the dual purpose quality of the animal, the ease of care, and the sweetness of disposition. Of all the sheep that I have been around the Jacob's is my favorite. They have a natural energy and curiosity that other breeds of sheep do not. They seem to me to be more like a goat in their ability to reason and interact with humans.
How Do Jacob's Sheep Look?
Jacob's sheep are a visually unique breed. Both male and female sport numerous large horns, often four, sometimes as many as six! We found that those horns come in mighty handy during the spring when it is time to shear! Their fleece is thick and medium length and crimp with a soft hand, considered medium grade. The coat can be spotted in white, and black, and often blends to a color that is almost lavender. There are black spots around the eyes giving the animal an appearance like a badger. Ideal coloration is 40/60 with white being the predominant color.
Ewes typically weigh 80-100 lbs, while rams can get close to 200 lbs. The lambs grow, and fill out rapidly, making them a good choice for homesteaders who desire lamb on the menu.
Easy to Raise
Because of it's largely unchanged genetics, the Jacob's sheep are able to live and thrive on forage. They seem to be able to find graze where other breeds would starve all year 'round. They lamb easily, often having twins, and almost effortlessly it would seem. The ewes are naturally good mothers and the lambs grow rapidly on the rich milk provided to them. This breed is resistant to illness and parasites, and little effort is required in raising them. The feet need only be clipped once or twice a year! We used to do it during shearing as we had the animals caught already.
Meat and Fiber
The meat of a Jacob's is lean and flavorful. There is minimal waste to this meat, and in fact, only rabbit and venison have been found ot be leaner. It is naturally low in cholesterol. Because of the natural resistance to disease and parasites the homesteader that raises this breed will be more likely to be able to do away with unnatural chemicals and medicines all together. The animals dress at approximately 60% of their live weight. With the ease with which these animals are maintained it is truly one of the more inexpensive, organic sources of meat around! Grass fed lamb is truly pasture fed with this breed, they have no need of grain in most situations, at most only a minimal amount.
Jacob's Sheep Have Luxurious Fiber
Fiber is one of the ongoing benefits of keeping these animals. The wool can be separated by color and the home spinner can have several separate colors from the same animal, ranging from white and cream, to brown, to lavender, gray, and black. The Bradford count finds this wool to range from 44-56, with a micron count of 34.-26.. Fleeces weigh from 3-6 lbs and have a huge variation in staple, from 3-7 inches. I found with my own sheep that the staple was often as much as 9 inches but that the average was a very nice 6 inches. The wool is easily spun, and because there is such a variation in color, can be blended into an indefinite range.
Caring For Jacob's Sheep
Jacob's sheep need minimal interaction with humans. Of course the more interaction they have the more tame they are. They are quite the escape artists and you will need good fencing to keep them contained. They can get their horns stuck in the fence so do keep an eye on them.
Do Not Use Barbed Wire
Barbed wire is out- the fleece will get stuck on it and twisted around and the animal can become trapped.
It is hard to disengage a sheep from barbed wire, too! We were not aware that there was an old, unused length of barbed wire on our property when we got our sheep. One day we saw a young ewe limping and when we investigated she had gotten that wire tangled all around her. It took hours and hours of patient work to get her free. Do a check on your property to make sure that there is none and save yourself some frustration.
Make Sure You Have Adequate Pasture
Be sure you have enough property to maintain the amount of sheep you are getting. Overgrazing will cause a bare expanse of dirt where a pasture once was! Talk to breeders in your area and find out what their feeding practices are. Remember that a Jacob's sheep can not eat out of a bucket due to the horns, but must be fed from a box that will allow for them to get their face in without the horns getting stuck.
Lambing is usually done in the early spring and there are few, if any, problems. Do keep an eye on an ewe that seems close to lambing and be prepared in case of an emergency. The Jacobs sheep needs shelter of some sort, although it does not need to be very intricate. A simple two or three sided structure will suffice to keep them out of the rain and cold.
Invest in a Good Sheep Reference Book
Raising this fascinating breed is rewarding. Arm yourself with a good guide like Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep, and buy from a breeder that is willing to answer your questions as they come up. Register with the Jacob's Sheep Breeder's Association and consider showing your flock. Most of all, enjoy owning and breeding a part of ancient history!