There is an interesting discussion going on in the Jacob world at the moment and as I was looking through the archives, it looks like it comes up every year.
I ran across a great list of primitive characteristics that got me thinking. Below is a list of charateristices I see in our flock…
Acrobatics – playing, jumping, leaping, bounding, etc. Even older ewes will get caught up in the fun. They are also very good at jumping fences, especially when they are feeling threatened or cornered.
Diet – enjoy browsing, much like goats. They will eat blackberries, thistles, coarse grass, mixed herbs, etc. They benefit from a nutritious, balanced diet and it drives me crazy when people say they are a scrub sheep and can survive on very little. Sure they can survive, but are they really healthy. They do eat considerabley less then larger, more modern sheep.
Condition – carry little external fat reserves on the back, but tend to store it internally when overfed. We have seen this in several sheep we have butchered ourselves. One was an older ram and the amount of internal fat was amazing!!! He didn’t look overly fat from the outside.
Intelligence – alert, aware of surroundings, investigative, and learn quickly.
Individuality – each sheep has their own idea of what the flock should be doing. They are more difficult to herd than other breeds.
Prolificacy – singles or twins. One or two lambs are much easier to keep up with in the wild. Flushing and diet can have a huge impact on this.
Mothering – quick and strong bond. Jacobs will very rarely take a lamb that is not theirs or one that they don’t perceive as theirs.
Lamb survival – lambs are up quickly, feed early, and are seen playing very shortly after birth.
Hardiness – resistance to parasites, disease, and stress.
Self defense – prepared to defend their lambs against threat. I have a couple ewes that are ready to take me out when I check on their lambs. This is a bit extreme, but I know that they would defend their lambs to a true threat.
When the primitive thread comes up, it is usually in regards to ‘what does primitive look like?’ To me this list includes – triangular head, smaller boned, sloped rump, and narrow (but not cow hocked). It is important to remember that there is more in a gene pool than just ‘what it looks like’ and this is where the list above comes in handy.
If we breed just for looks, then we could be throwing out a lot of other traits that can’t be seen.
For example – these two rams have different body styles. Reno on the left is more primitive, while Wrangler on the right is more improved.
The biggest difference that you can see in these pictures is the structure of their faces – Reno’s is very triangular. In person, Reno has much smaller bone and is narrower. The interesting thing is that Reno’s fleece is what I consider ‘improved’ – too fine for my liking. Wrangler’s is what I consider a truer Jacob fleece. Both of their moms are very primitive acting and Reno’s mom has a trait that I consider very primitive. When her lambs are young, she will put them in a corner at feeding time and she must give them a pretty stern lecture because they stay there until she is done eating. The rest of the lambs are running and playing, but her’s stay until she comes back for them – much like a doe and fawns.
I like both of these rams for different reasons and look forward to what they contribute to the breed.
I love the diversity that the Jacob breed offers and I believe there is room for many different looks and styles.