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Jacob Sheep Conservancy
WHAT IS A JACOB SHEEP?
A Jacob sheep is a primitive, domestic, multi-horned, black or lilac (deep gray or blue/purple cast) sheep with white spots. The Jacob is an ancient breed, sometimes referred to as a primitive breed. They are small in stature, with mature ewes weighing 80-120 pounds, and rams weighing 120-180 pounds. Seen from a distance or after shearing, observers often remark that Jacobs look like goats.
Both males and females are horned, generally one or two pairs, with some rams and ewes having up to six horns. The ram has larger and more striking horns. The two-horned ram has the classic horizontal double curled horn; the four-horned ram has two vertical center horns, which may be up to two feet or more in length, and two smaller side horns, which grow down along the sides of the ram's head. The horns on the ewe are smaller in diameter, shorter in length and appear more delicate than those of the ram.
Both rams and ewes exhibit the black markings, some of which are breed specific and some are random. Breed specific markings occur as black patches on the muzzle, around the eyes, nape of the neck, ears, pasterns, knees and hocks. The desired Jacob face is often referred to as "Badger-faced" with black cheeks and muzzle with a white blaze down the front of the face. The skin around the eyes and nose should be black. Random spots occur on the rest of the body and legs. The color pattern is approximately 50% black to white, though a great variation in the amount of black occurs. Each Jacob has distinctive markings which enables the shepherd to identify specific sheep at a distance. In addition to breed specific markings, there may be evidence of markings that are common in particular lines: large muzzle markings, lack of leg markings, lack of muzzle marking, etc.
The Jacob fleece is open, soft and light with little grease (lanolin). The black wool grows out of black skin and the white wool grows out of white or pink skin, though mottling of the skin and freckling of the wool is common. Black wool may sun-bleach to a spectrum of browns. The white and black wool may be blended before spinning to form various shades of gray and brown. The colors may also be separated after shearing to produce various shades of yarn from a single fleece. The fleece generally weighs 3-6 pounds and varies in crimp and fineness. Staple length is generally 3-5 inches and may be up to 7 inches. The wool is considered to be a medium grade (Bradford count 46-54). Jacob sheep also have varying amounts of white, kinky, coarse wool (kemp) in their fleece. More primitive lines still have lambs that are born with guard hair that is shed at 3-6 months. The hairy birth coat is protective against rain and cold.
Jacob ewes generally cycle in the cooler months of the fall (cooler weather also restores the potency of the ram) and have one or two lambs (triplets are not rare) in the spring. Ewes will begin to cycle during the first fall following their birth and most often the ewe's first lamb is a single. The Jacob ewe is an excellent protective mother. Because of her primitive anatomy with a low tail dock, she is a very easy-lambing ewe. The lambs will exhibit their spotting and horn characteristics at birth, with the horn buds more readily apparent on ram lambs. Lambs may be weaned at two months of age, but many shepherds to not separate lambs and allow the ewe to wean the lamb at about 4 months of age.
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