We first got sheep in 1992. I’d learned to spin, had Angora rabbits and I thought I’d like to have some sheep. Since I wasn’t sure I’d really like sheep, we bought sheep that were nearby with no regard to breed. We wanted sheep that were close to home and these two conveniently rode the 12 miles home in the back of our 1967 VW Van . There were both Suffolk crosses – one Suffolk/Hampshire and one Suffolk/Cheviot. The breeder raised top quality Suffolk, but the previous fall his high dollar Suffolk ram had been too wormy to breed. Red flag as to the hardiness of these sheep? Anyway, Sally and Cindy came home with us and we added a primitive looking two horned ram. The breeder said he was 1/2 Ootiway (that’s not how you spell it, but it sounds like that) and 1/2 “plain old sheep”. So we were set. Sally lambed a healthy ram lamb and then prolapsed. Since no vet would come, my first lambing experience involved replacing the prolapse and stitching her with dental floss. Cindy lambed twins, one that didn’t survive and one that thrived and then Cindy just died four months later. Dave was working out of town. When he got home after dark, I was still digging. Boy, we are not all that thrilled with sheep. I’d done abit of reading since we got our first two and decided that I wanted a smaller, more primitive, and definitely more hardy sheep and that I liked horns. Jacobs and Shetlands were high on my list. A rabbit friend (a person with rabbits, not an actual rabbit) loaned me a fascinating brochure she had received from Ingrid Painter regarding the wonderful Puddleduck flock. Jenny later decided on alpacas rather than Jacob Sheep, but I knew that Jacob Sheep existed. This was way pre-computer for me.
A neighbor mentioned that his daughter had a pretty spotted ewe lamb that she’d probably sell me for $35. Well, of course, I had to go look. And it was indeed a pretty spotted ewe lamb – looked just like the pictures I’d seen of Jacob Sheep. As much as I threatened and begged, I was not able to browbeat the 12 year old girl out her lamb. But, she did sell me the mother. Polly was the traditional “white cap” Jacob cross, although she did have four nubby horns, so was scurred rather than polled. GREAT BIG LETTERS HERE…..no one told me she was a Jacob and I knew she was not a pure Jacob, but I’m pretty sure she was part Jacob. At this point in my sheep adventure, I was not at all interested in purebred sheep and firmly intended to gather an interesting collection of spinner’s sheep and play around with breeding them for color and fleeces.
After the experiences with Cindy and Sally, Polly was a delight! A third the size of either with four times the personality, Polly had suffered a dog attack earlier in her life. She had trouble with one hip at times and had lost most of her udder on that side. With only one side left, she raised twins every year. Polly was never sick, seldom needed worming, and was just an all around hardy sheep. After I sold her, she continued raising twins well into her teens. HMMM… all this and she’s only part Jacob? Maybe I’ll add some Jacobs to my spinner’s flock. Our next addition was a Jacob ram from unregistered stock. He was added for his fleece and his color. The next two were Jacob ewes from two different unregistered backyard flocks. Quality of the lambs was quite variable – to say the least :-). The next was our matriarch Craft’s Ruby’s Belle from a long time registered flock. Polly was only a bit Jacob, but there was something in her hardiness and spirit that made me decide to look into “real” Jacobs. Thank you, Polly. None of Polly’s descendants are on our flock, but I still work to get that hardiness in my flock.
And where is this ramble headed? For the first 10 or so years after going to a purebred registered Jacob flock, I was pretty adamant that newbies should start with registered stock. I was vocal and public with my opinions on the subject. Why start with unregistered/unknown stock when there are registered sheep with backgrounds available? Why go through the years of culling and the disappointment when unacceptable traits show up? When I heard from enthusiastic new owners that had found some backyard Jacobs, I didn’t have high hopes for the success of their Jacob venture. I started this post back when I read the Kenleigh Acres and Mud Ranch blogs on how they started with Jacobs. Neither breeder was looking for Jacobs and maybe not even sheep. I wasn’t looking for Jacobs either. I just sorta “happened” onto some. Lots of people start with Jacobs the same way. They aren’t looking for Jacobs in particular. Maybe they aren’t even looking for sheep. They just end up with Jacobs. This is different from people that have decided on Jacobs and are willing/able to either travel or have sheep transported.
I decided to finish this post after posting to one of the Jacob email lists something about not everyone is looking for registered sheep. Did I really say that??? Me??? When did I decide that?? Yes, me, and I don’t know when I decided that, but as we learn, we get to change our minds. Otherwise, I’d still believe that the flowers on speedwell are fairy shoes. And that there is a weird being that lives under my bed. Actually there is a weird being that lives under the bed, but she’s one of our dogs 🙂
I think I have a pretty nice flock right now. Sure, it took a lot of work and some tough decisions. Am I the only person that can that do the work? or has the judgment to cull out non-Jacob traits? Hardly!!!!! and it was presumptive of me to assume that the person that brings home two Jacob-looking sheep from an unregistered flock or an auction can’t do just as well or better. BIG LETTERS AGAIN… this is not to say that I recommend people go out and find backyard/auction sheep to start their Jacob flocks. This is to say that when I hear from people that just found a few Jacob sheep and are excited about their new sheep, I want to encourage them, not discourage them. Maybe the sheep will not pass registration or will produce JSBA unacceptable offspring (which can happen even from two registered parents). Maybe these people will just give up. Or maybe, with encouragement from Jacob breeders, they will enthusiastically continue working to gather an acceptable flock. How many people can you think of that started with good registered stock and quit breeding sheep after two or three years? Starting with registered stock does not guarantee a dedication to the breed, just as starting with unregistered (or even unregisterable) stock does not eliminate the possibility of a long lasting commitment to the breed.
And there is the other side of buying unregistered sheep. Many, many, many Jacob breeders have chosen not to register for one reason or another. Some of these breeders have been raising quality Jacobs for over 20 years. A reluctance to participate in one of the registering bodies does not mean an inferior flock or an irresponsible breeder. It’s thrilling to me to see these lines being registered in JSBA.
I believe in registering. I think the documentation is important.
Ok, this is a little embarrassing, so don’t spread it around (just between us OK?), but I’m going to go ahead and post a picture of Polly.