There is some mystery as to the actual origins of this uniquely colored sheep. Although several theories exist as to where they came from, the most prevalent is that this 3000 year old breed descended from the herd of speckled and spotted sheep of Jacob in the Bible.
According to the Book of Genesis (Genesis 30:31–43), Jacob took every speckled and spotted sheep that was born from his father-in-law’s (Laban’s) white flock and eventually bred them to keep for himself as his wages.
31 “What shall I give you?” he (Laban) asked. “Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages.
Well, Laban stole all those sheep and gave them to his (Laban’s) sons and put a three day journey between his sons and Jacob. So, now all that Jacob had left was the pure white flock. What was Jacob to do?
37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.
So Jacob took those lambs for his wages and made streaked, speckled, and spotted flocks of his own.
Jacob sheep arrived in America during the 1950s and 1970s.
Besides their coloring, Jacob sheep are also quite striking in that they are a polycerate breed, meaning they are multi-horned. Rams and ewes can have anywhere from 2 – 6 horns, although most commonly they are seen with 4. These sheep are of medium size with the mature rams weighing about 120 to 180 pounds and the ewes weighing about 80 to 120 pounds. When shorn, their fleece is around 3-6lbs with very little lanolin, thus making it easy to clean and spin into yarn. On a scale of the fineness of the wool ranging from “very fine” to “coarse”, Jacobs’ wool tends to fall under “medium” and so can be used for a wide variety of projects.
In England, the Jacob sheep has been altered in body size and shape to create a kind of meat sheep. In America, however, they have not undergone many changes over the years other than breeding for better fleeces. For this reason, they are quite hardy and resistant to many diseases that ail modern breeds of sheep. Jacob sheep are a heritage breed listed as threatened on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website.