The Jacob sheep , now seen regularly in fields up and down the country in large and small numbers, and often as a single character amongst hundreds of commercial ewes, is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the world. In fact it takes its name from the Book of Genesis where it states that Jacob became a selective breeder of pied sheep.
The Jacob Sheep came to Britain via the Iberian Peninsula and were well established as a park sheep by the 18th Century. Their number diminished with the decline of the large estates but over the last 50 years their enduring virtues of easy management and pleasing appearance have led to them becoming a popular breed amongst small flock owners.
Jacobs may have ancient origins but it now has a very wide following of young shepherds. The Jacob Sheep Society has met this demand by forming a special club, the Jaclub, for youngsters which is very well supported. The Jacob recently gained national fame and appeared on the Jonathon Ross Show led in by none other than Lady Gaga! If you are thinking of starting a small flock of sheep you are faced with more than 60 British varieties to select from as well as some attractive continental breeds. So why the Jacob?
First and foremost the Jacob is a very attractive sheep to look at and if you are only keeping a few, why not have something which is pleasing to the eye. With this breed no two are ever the same as there is an infinite variety of spots and splodges. Having said that, like any breed there are good ones and not such good ones and the Breed Society standard has ensured that the present Jacob is a most outstanding sheep. To see a good example, it is essential to visit a registered flock. For either a first time sheep keeper, or indeed an experienced shepherd its outstanding qualities make it a sheep worth keeping. To start with: n The ewes are hardy and excellent mothers who milk well; n They regularly have twins or triplets giving a realistic 200 per cent lambing percentage, hence fairly good for the pocket.
A good start for any sheep, but there are even more commercial attractions to the Jacob which have previously been dismissed but now are key characteristics of this breed. Some people keep sheep for meat others for its wool, the Jacob does both. The wool is coloured which does not make it particularly attractive to the Wool Board and this is reflected in the annual price per kg received. However, the fleece has a great appeal to spinners and weavers and the natural undyed colours are used to produce elegant and distinctive garments both in cottage industries, specialised mills and for the top end of the fashion market.
Similarly the meat is sought after by top chefs and restaurants. The finished lamb is tender and lean with an excellent flavour with a good meat to bone ratio. The Jacob Sheep Society has a wealth of information on their website regarding both the outstanding qualities of the wool and meat.
The Jacob Sheep Society, which is a registered charity (Number 1026687), was founded in 1969 by the late Lady Aldington to promote this unique sheep. It is a supportive and flourishing Society with approximately 700 members.
I have kept Jacobs now for 25 years so you could say I’m biased but I also have two other breeds of sheep on the farm, for a number of reasons, but where does my heart lie – with these lovely, caring, sheep who have given me unassuming pleasure both alive and “on my plate”.