Farm Girl - Cathy Wilkinson
NEW GLASGOW – Most large sheep producers and sheep owners overlook, underestimate and know very little about this fascinating, handsome and hardy breed of sheep.
© Cathy Wilkinson
Dale Hill of Merigomish is shown with his purebred Jacob Jam. Hill has 17 Jacob Sheep and says the meat is good and the wool is very good for spinners.
The Jacob Sheep is one of the oldest and most rare sheep breeds. They are descendants from an Old World heirloom breed, meaning from the Bible.
It is said that Jacob the son of Isaac was the first person in recorded history to practise breeding of the sheep. He tried to outwit his father in law, Laban, and agreed to keep only the spotted sheep that were produced.
Of course, all the best lambs were spotted. They may have originated from his story, but it still remains somewhat of a mystery. More recently, they were imported from Syria to England. In England, they raised them on a large pasture land and than from England in the 1950s, they were imported to the United States. The Jacob sheep went to games, parks and roadside zoos. They were kept as pets and ornamental animals. In the 1970s, they came to Canada in small amounts. This breed is still listed on the livestock breeds Conservancy as threatened. There are only 5,000 record globally.
Jacobs are (piebald) which means coloured with white spots and carry the polycerate gene meaning (multi-horned). The Jacob sheep can have up to two, four, five, or six horns. The male have four strong thick horns as where the female ewes have up to six defined horns. The horns are normally back but can be striped with white.
They are hardly dual purpose (meal and wool) low-maintenance breeds. They are considered to be “unimproved” has not undergone extensive cross-breeding and selective breeding or change in their genetics in more than 100 years. Their unimproved anatomy and low tail dock makes lambing very easy to the Jacob.
Resembling a goat with their triangle shaped face and natural sweetness of disposition, the Jacob sheep are ideal for the small flock farmer. They thrive in extremes of heat and cold and have very good foraging capabilities. They have a primitive body shape, are slender boned and provide a flavourful lean carcass with low external fat. The ewes require few supplements and nutritional need and lamb very easy without assistance.
They have a strong attentive and protective mothering instinct and the lambs are up vigorously and nursing within minutes of birth. They are seasonal breeders and cycle in the cooler months. The first lambing is usually a single lamb. The lamb is born with a special coat that is shed after three to six months. This coat helps protect the lamb from rain and cold weather.
The Jacob breeds have a resistance to illness, parasites and foot problems. The fleece is soft, springy and open and light in grease (lanolin) that makes it ideal for hand spinners. Cowboy hats, rugs and coats are a few items made from the hide and wood.
Every day I have the pleasure of flock of Jacobs on my farm in Broadway, Pictou County. I feel they are truly a very unique breed. You can see them thinking and they are extremely smart. Although, this breed may not do well at sheep shows. The judges may not see a high square back or large square legs like other sheep. Only when lambing time comes can you really judge the sheep because they rarely every lose a lamb and that makes them a winner in my books. If you ever want to catch a glance of these rare sheep, just take a drive to Broadway and through Merigomish.
Cathy Wilkinson of Broadway, Pictou County, teaches 4H in the county and has a small hobby farm she tends to when she isn’t working as a corrections officer. Her monthly columns will focus on farming community as well as 4H activities.