British Sheep Breeds

The Jacob

The Jacob sheep is one of the few polycerates sheep breeds still existing. These primitive breeds have multiple horns. The Navajo-Churro, an ancient American breed, is another example of a polycerate. However the Jacob has a single fleece of medium fine wool whereas most other primitive breeds have an undercoat of fine wool and a top coat of guard hairs which are longer and more coarse in texture.

Jacob Sheep 2Credit:

The Jacob is sometimes known as the piebald sheep because of its black and white coat. Unlike many breeds, it carries a dominant gene for black so it is actually black with white patches.

It is believed the Jacob came to England via Syria, through North Africa, Sicily and Spain. It found its way to America around the turn of the century with more imports arriving in the 50s and 60s. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy lists the Jacob as 'rare'.

The Jacob Sheep Breeders' Association was formed in 1988 with the first flock book being printed the following year. In 2006, there were upwards of 10,000 sheep registered with the Association. The Jacobs in America tend to be lighter and smaller than their counterparts in England. With their long bodies, thin legs and sloping rumps, the American Jacob is more akin in appearance to a goat.

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In its home country, the Jacob is a great attraction on large estates and country homes. This has probably helped in their survival and the Jacob is not listed with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

The Jacob is a dual purpose breed. It is as tough as old boots, rarely needing professional care. They are economical to keep and easily handled, with good resistance to internal parasites. They rarely suffer from foot problems. There are seldom any problems when lambing and the lambs are vigorous at birth.

They are a good choice for a smallholder but equally suited to the larger breeder. The meat is flavoursome and lean with little waste. The wool is of high quality and the horns provide products such as buttons and walking stick handles. The hides are very attractive when tanned.

The Jacob has a small to medium frame. Rams may reach 200 pounds but ewes are more in the 80 to 140 pound range. The ram is more thickset. Black or lilac spots appear randomly on a white body. For exhibition purposes, each colour must account for at least 15% of the coat. Black patches should be well-defined and for an animal to be perfect, the skin should also be patched, being pink under the white patches and black under the darker patches. Usually the head and neck are black. Another desirable feature is a pure white blaze from muzzle to poll with even black cheeks. The nose and eyes should be dark with large, symmetrical eye patches extending to cover the cheeks. The ears are small and erect. The eyes are clear and bright and may be brown, blue or mottled. The legs are white with no (or very little) black.

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The head is slender, triangular in shape and with a straight profile. There should be no wool in front of the horns and the legs should be free of wool below the knees and hocks. Wool should be free of kemp.

The body is long and quite muscled. The back is straight and level, the thighs well developed and the ribs well-sprung. The rump slopes off. The scrotum of the ram is free of wool as is the udder of the ewe. Both the scrotum and the udder are closer to the body than is the case with more modern breeds.

The tail is broad, reaching almost to the hock. The neck is strong and of medium length. The animal stands well balanced on black or striped hooves.

There may be up to six horns. The horns of the ram may grow to 30 inches or more. The horns should never be positioned where they interfere with the vision or impede normal grazing. If there are two horns, the bases of the upper horns should be separated by flesh. Horns should not touch the cheeks.

Jacob SheepCredit:

If there are four horns, the top pair should grow upward. There should be space between the pairs of horns. Genetically linked to the multiple horn characteristic is the 'split eyelid'. The eyelid may show a 'peak' and in extreme cases the eyelid may be split in the middle. While this is not painful and does not impact on the animal's vision, such sheep should be culled or at least not used for breeding. While black horns are preferred, they may also be striped. The horns should be smooth and balanced. The lower horns sometimes grow in a spiral shape.

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Fleeces are keenly sought by hand-spinners. The colour and quality produce a very attractive yarn with a natural lustre and a soft springy quality. The fleece parts easily and contains little grease. It is light, weighing only 3 to 6 pounds. The random colouring gives a yarn which covers the complete colour spectrum from white to black with attractive greys and lilacs also appearing. The length of the staple varies from three to seven inches. The different colours may grow to different lengths with one sheep having white wool longer than its darker wool and vice versa.

Overall the Jacob is alert and active. It becomes tame with regular handling but can become skittish if not handled for a time. They make great pets and generally mix well with other livestock. They can be handy with their horns and are best not kept with polled animals in confined spaces. Horns can become entangled in fences. It is not really in the nature of the Jacob to stay together in one flock.

Being such good doers, ewes need very little supplementary feeding when nearing lambing. Indeed, it is more likely that problems will occur because if an excessive amount of grain is fed. Shearing takes place once a year, breeding is seasonal and multiple births common.

The Jacob is an attractive breed for a hobby farmer and the multiple horns are a great talking point.