Jacob sheep are one of the most unique breeds of sheep. They have several interesting features that make them different from other breeds of sheep. For starters they often have multiple horns, even in ewes. Another trait is that Jacob sheep are spotted, in fact they are sometimes called “piebald sheep” in reference to their spotted patterns.
Jacob sheep are a very old breed, their origins are obscure but they are considered an heirloom breed, one that has been unchanged for hundreds of years. Numerous stories about their origin exist but in reality we just do not know.
©by author 3 month old ram lamb - Jacob cross, note how large his horns are already.
Their name, Jacob, goes back to a biblical reference from the Old Testament, where “Jacob”, took specked and spotted sheep and started a breeding program for them. Of course there is no evidence to trace this breed to that story and the name was not applied to the breed until the 1900's.
Jacob sheep are considered small to medium size by today's breeding standards. They average just over 120 pounds (54 kg) for rams, and just under for ewes.
Jacob sheep are often black and white, but can be lilac and white. The color should be on the sides of their face and nose, with the front of their face being white, their ears should be colored. Ideally they have 60% white and 40% colored areas (they must not have more than 85 % of either). Some breeders prefer sheep with white legs, while others prefer them to have colored spots on knees and ankles.
Jacob sheep can have many horns, four, or even six, horns are not uncommon. Horns are ideally black or stripped but may also be white. Lambs start growing horns as soon as they are born, with rams growing longer, thicker horns, that may require them to be weaned early or they will damage the ewe's udder and cause her serious discomfort.
Jacob sheep are considered a dual purpose sheep (wool and meat), but they are often kept as a novelty animal for pasture control. Their size makes them ideal for petting farms but their horns can be dangerous.
Jacob sheep are normally sheared in the spring, the fleece is considered medium grade and is desired by hand spinners; it contains very little lanolin.
©bu author - as seen at auction.
Jacob sheep breed in the fall and are pregnant for roughly 5 months. Twins are common, but they can have triplets. The ewes usually have no problems lambing (unless bred to a ram of a larger breed), and are good mothers.
Their size makes them ideal for hobby farms but their horns can be a problem if snagged on fences.
One of the health problems associated with the Jacob sheep is actually a genetic condition linked to having multiple horns – the eye lid is sometimes split. Animals with such problems should not be bred.
Authors Note: I have kept several unregistered Jacob sheep, and find them an ideal size for the hobby farm. My only concern was the horns on the rams would often get stuck in the fence. I still have a ewe, she has 5 horns.