Jacob sheep are an ancient breed with their story appearing in the book of Genesis in the Bible.

For Wimbledon farmer, Brian Hales, the story of the Jacob sheep is something special.
"Their story and how they came to be in New Zealand, is truly magnificent," he said.

Jacobs are brown sheep with white spots or white sheep with brown spots. Their breed, Manx Loughtun, is unique for having one, two or three sets of horns.

"Jacob was the son-in-law of Laban and had been his faithful shepherd for many years. But Laban had run out of daughters and was no longer able to pay Jacob. Instead Jacob asked to go through the flocks and remove every speckled or spotted sheep as his wages," Mr Hales explained.

"He 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, placing the peeled branches in all the water troughs. It's recorded in the Book of Genesis that the sheep mated in front of the branches and their lambs were streaked, speckled or spotted.

Advertisement

"Research appears to confirm this ancient biblical theory too. For the last 57 years Lynette Stuart in Taranaki has been breeding this line of sheep. While they will never be 100 per cent pure, by now all the characteristics of the Jacob breed emerge annually. The genetics of this strain allow only one set of horns to grow and Lynette has never produced a sheep with more."

In 1732 Captain James Cook released a small number of Jacob sheep on the southern west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. These were to be a food source for sailors who may become shipwrecked in such a hostile environment. These sheep established themselves as a small feral flock

Once European settlement established in the area the sheep became the targets of hunters and the flock numbers decreased drastically.

In 1969 Dr Roger Lundey from Otago University set out to rescue the remaining few Jacob sheep.

He was able to rescue three rams but one died immediately. Not knowing what to do with them, he contacted a 15-year-old girl in Taranaki who had an interest in sheep. That girl, Lynette Stuart, was very excited to receive the news Dr Lundey was sending a Jacob ram up to Feilding for her the next day.

She had just obtained her driver's licence and so she quickly removed the back seat from her newly acquired Morris Minor car and drove to Feilding to take delivery of the ram.
"She wanted desperately to establish a flock of Jacob sheep but only had a ram and some other unusual sheep," Mr Hales said.

"Knowing the story of Jacob from the Bible, she went to the river and placed willow poles, removed pieces of bark and exposed the white wood. And yes, the offspring were born with the spotted fleeces of the Jacob sheep."

Eight Jacob sheep were shorn at Wimbledon last Sunday and Mr Hales said they have outstanding wool.

Advertisement