Poplar Spring Farm
New Hampshire Ave.,
|Home to the Brighton flock of Jacob Sheep, Poplar Spring Farm is a small farm located in the rolling suburban countryside north of Washington, D.C., only twelve miles from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.|
available, please contact me for more information. Roy Deppa.
The primary goal of our breeding program is to conserve the Jacob breed in its original form. We support the goals of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Jacob Sheep Conservancy. Roy strongly supported the JSC in its infancy, serving as President for three years in the early days of the organization. He is again serving as President of the JSC for 2007-2008.
We recognize that while there are breed standards that specify certain characteristics of the markings, the Jacob is a primitive breed that carries quite a lot of variability around those “ideal” markings. With that in mind, we try to have the overall appearance of our flock represent the average breed markings, and yet have some individuals in the flock with considerable variation around that average. The Brighton flock displays quite a lot of variation in wool characteristics as well. To achieve these goals, the flock was founded in the late 1980s with breeding stock from a number of established sources from around the country. We stay within the guidelines of the JSC breed standard, yet enjoy the wonderful diversity displayed in our flock.
The Jacob Sheep is a unique breed, developed in England about 350 years ago as an ornament for the “parks” surrounding several large estates. Prior to the twentieth century they were called Piebald sheep; the name Jacob was attached to the breed later, referring to the ancient Hebrew story of the dealings between Jacob and his father-in-law Laban. This story of Jacob’s striving to produce a flock of spotted sheep and goats is thought to be the earliest record of intentional selective breeding.
Until recent times, Jacobs were kept only at a few large estates in England. It appears that their black and white coloring originated with Moorish sheep brought from Spain or north Africa, and their four-horned characteristic from Norse sheep from Scandinavia and the northern Scottish islands. The four-horned and two-horned strains are inseparably intertwined in the Jacob breed.
The Jacob is a white sheep with black spots. Some of the markings are breed specific, and some are random. The generally-preferred breed specific markings occur as black patches on the muzzle, around the eyes, on the neck, and on the horns, ears, hooves, knees and hocks. The desired Jacob face is referred to as badger-faced, with black cheeks and muzzle, with a white blaze down the front of the face. The random spots occur throughout the back and sides. The “ideal” ratio of white to black is from 50-50 to 60-40. Each sheep has distinctive individual markings, so it is easy for the farmer to identify the animals at a glance.
Both males and females carry horns. Individuals will be either two-horned or four-horned. Breeding four-horned to four-horned will not guarantee four-horned offspring; twins often display both traits, and the percentages of horn type seem little affected by the breeding. In his visits to England and Scotland, Roy has discovered that many farmers in the south of England much prefer the two-horned trait, while many northern English and Scottish farmers prefer them four-horned, but their breeding programs have had little effect in separating the strains. In fact, Scottish farmers have told him they can get quite a good bargain on a four-horned ram by going south and buying it from a farmer who doesn’t want four horns.
Roy has visited a number of prominent Jacob flocks in the UK, and for a number of years was a member of the British breed organization, the Jacob Sheep Society. The goal of the JSS was to guarantee the survival of the Jacob breed in Britain by making it commercially viable, so breeding for carcase size, wool uniformity, wool quality, and other “modern” traits was encouraged. The result is that the British Jacob now is quite large, with wool that shows much less staple, than we expect to see in the American Jacob. Some Americans claim that the British have crossbred the Jacob, primarily with Dorsets, to gain these characteristics, but the British breeders deny this. However, the goal of Brighton flock is to carry on the traits of the old style Jacob, so we respectfully differ with the Jacob Sheep Society’s goals.
The Jacob fleece is wonderful wool, with almost no commercial value. This is its beauty, and its major drawback. Due to the black color and the lack of uniformity in length, crimp, and fineness, the commercial mills just don’t want the fleeces. The wool is great for handspinners, knitters and weavers. The wool is soft and light, without too much grease. The white and black wool, which fades at the tips to brown, blends together to produce wonderful shades of grey. Working the colors separately can produce intricate patterns, all of natural colors. Fleeces are relatively small, weighing about 3 or 4 pounds. The characteristic fleece is quite open, with separate staples about 3 to 5 inches long. The wool is graded medium, with a Bradford count of about 46 to 54.
At Poplar Spring Farm, we always have sheep and lambs for sale and petting and guests are always welcome.