Featured Breed: Jacob
The majestic Jacob Sheep is a special addition to flocks throughout North America. Unique, regal, useful, hardy – with their strikingly impressive horns and spotted fleece, there are few breeds that excite the interest of others as does the Jacob.
The American Jacob sheep is distinct from its British counterpart and has not undergone improved breeding to satisfy the commercial marketplace. American Jacobs have a smaller frame and more primitive body shape than the British Jacobs. Known in the distant past as “Piebald” or “Spanish” sheep, there are several historical narratives about Jacob sheep origins, including being direct descendants of the flock of sheep acquired by Jacob, as in the biblical account in Genesis, chapter 30, or that they were washed ashore from shipwrecks during the attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I. The name “Jacob” was possibly introduced in the mid-1800s. Jacobs probably originated in what is now Syria some three thousand years ago. Pictorial evidence traces movements of this breed through North Africa, Sicily, Spain, and on to England where they graced large estates and country homes for many centuries. Jacob sheep were imported into the United States and Canada in the early 1900s for use in game parks and zoos. These early flocks were later bought by private individuals.
The Jacob is a small to medium size breed. Adult ewes range from 80-120 pounds, while rams range from 120 to 180 pounds. Ideally, coloration of this spotted breed should be 60% white with 40% random, distinct, black or lilac (grayish) spots or patches over the body. The preferred facial coloration consists of a pair of colored eye patches and a white blaze extending to a colored muzzle. Legs can be spotted or white, while the hooves should be black or striped. The legs are free from wool, as is the portion of the head in front of the horns.
Jacob sheep are carriers of the polycerate gene, allowing them to produce two, four, or six horns, with both rams and ewes having horns. The most spectacular representatives of the breed are rams with four well-balanced horns often reaching 30 inches or more. Jacob fleeces are a delight for handspinners and connoisseurs of natural color. They are light and open, weighing between three and six pounds with a staple length of three to seven inches. Fleeces part easily, exposing a soft, medium grade wool. Due to the spotting, the wool can be spun into a complete spectrum from white through gray lilac to black. They are easily handled and show a good resistance to parasites and foot problems. Ewes lamb easily, usually with twins, and the lambs are up and nursing quickly. Carcasses are lean and flavorful with a minimum of waste from slaughter to table. The Jacob is ideal for both the small flock owner and the larger breeder.
Be sure to visit the Featured Breed in the Breed Display Barn (Barn 7-8 on the map) while you are at the Festival!
The Jacob Sheep Breeders Association
The Jacob Sheep Breeders Association (JSBA) was formed in 1988 through the encouragement and guidance of the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (now The Livestock Conservancy) and is of prime importance in maintaining this majestic and ancient breed in its present form, as it is considered “threatened” on The Livestock Conservancy’s list. The purpose of JSBA is to ensure the conservation of this heritage breed through inspection, registration, and education. Our community of members have Jacob flocks throughout the U.S. and Canada. For additional information, visit our website at: www.jsba.org.