Breed Study: Jacob
Jacob sheep are a primitive breed, highly recognizable due to being polycerate (having 4 horns), and piebald (spotted / multicolored). Both the ewes and the rams have horns - typically 2-4 in number, but occasionally 6. They are a rare breed (as classified by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy), mainly found in the UK, Europe, and North America.
They are finely boned, but very hardy sheep, with easy births and good mothering instincts. They also have a resistance to parasites and foot problems.
Staple Length: 3.5-6 inches
Jacob wool is a medium quality wool, from a single coat open fleece (most primitive breeds are double coated). Fleeces have very little lanolin, moderate crimp and luster, and are notable for their multicolored spots. The sheep are primarily white, with patches of black, brown-black, and sometimes a grayish color referred to as “lilac.” There is a great deal of acceptable variation in character and quality among fleeces, but they are generally considered to be strong, durable, and versatile fibers.
Excellent for handspinning and felting. Appropriate for outerwear and blankets but not generally considered to be soft enough for garments worn next to the skin. Jacob can be dyed, but it most often used for its variety of natural colors.
The origins of Jacob sheep are unknown, but the breed was named from Chapter 30 of the Book of Genesis, which tells a story of Jacob building a flock from the multicolored sheep given to him by his Father-in-law. While there is no confirmed genetic link to those early sheep, it is widely agreed that the Jacob sheep most likely originated in the Middle East, before being brought to Spain by the Moors and reaching the UK in the 16th century.
Despite having little commercial value, they were kept in England for centuries as ornamental sheep on large estates. They started being imported to the US in small numbers in the early 1900’s, and now live all over North America, often crossed with other breeds.
The English Jacob sheep were bred to be more commercially productive in recent years, so today they are somewhat larger than the American Jacob sheep, whose smaller stature more closely resembles their ancestors. The British Jacobs also seem to have more variation in color, but are sometimes a bit coarser and have more kemp than the American variety, which are more selectively bred for fiber quality. Because there is considerable variation, this is a fiber where the source can make a considerable difference in the fiber characteristics.