Jacob Sheep have graced the large estates and country homes of England for many centuries. Their impressive horns, black and white faces and spotted bodies have no doubt contributed to their popularity and survival.
Their actual origins are not known. However, documentation throughout history indicates that the spotted or pied sheep may have originated in what is now Syria some three thousand years ago. Pictorial evidence traces movement of these sheep through North Africa, Sicily, Spain and on to England.
There are many romantic stories about the Jacob Sheep being direct descendants of the flock of sheep acquired by Jacob during the time he worked for his father-in-law as mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 30), or that they were washed ashore from shipwrecks during the attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I.Jacobs differ from other British and Northern European polycerates (sheep with multiple horns). They differ from other primitive breeds iin that they have a medium fine fleece and no outer coat. Other primitive breeds are double coated, having a fine inner coat and a coarser, longer outer coat.
Importation of Jacob Sheep to the U.S. and Canada has occurred in small numbers since the early 1900's. These have been dispersed all over the continent and many were crossed to other breeds. These crosses have been referred to as Jacobs, even though many bear no resemblance to the breed except that they exhibit spots and multiple horns. Other breeds of sheep do produce spotted lambs and/or polycerate offspring. Just because a sheep is spotted or may be polycerate does not mean it is a Jacob Sheep.
The American Jacobs are an old world sheep which, unlike many other old world breeds, have not undergone improved breeding and out crossing to satisfy the commercial marketplace. They have a more primitive body shape, are slender boned and provide a flavorful, lean carcass with little external fat. The carcass yield from hanging weight to freezer is high when compared to the more improved breeds.
Due to finer bone structure and less body fat, stocking rates on pasture are higher than the modern breeds with 25% to 50% increases being reported. Ewes require less supplement feed during times of increased nutritional need and lamb easily, usually with no assistance. The lambs are up and nursing vigorously without help. Jacob ewes are included in commercial flock in England due to their hardiness, ease of lambing, strong mothering instincts. Both rams and ewes are easily kept and have a resistance to parasites and foot problems. The fleece is soft and open and light in grease, making it highly sought after by handspinners.
The Jacob is highly marketable as breeding stock. Farm gate sales of freezer lamb, tanned pelts, handspinners' fleeces, horns for walking sticks and buttons, bring the breeder financial return as well as the pleasure of seeing this handsome breed on the farm.