Cast of Sheep


There is nothing in this world sweeter than a bottle lamb. It was almost exactly two years ago that we brought our dear little Annabelle home. We kept her on the porch with the dogs and I fed her with a bottle. Then she actually started thinking she was a dog, which was awesome.

Except that eventually we had to let her off the porch so she could get some exercise.

FYI, Annabelle is a Dorset-Suffolk cross, though she mostly looks like a Dorset.

And then we got her some friends, real sheep friends!

Jacob ewes: Miss Jacob, left, Jester, right.

And the three woolly mammoths (aka Cotswolds): A Mr. and two Miss Cotswolds.
We got this flock of five sheep for free. We had heard about a sheep farmer who was closing out his operation and was looking for people to take his sheep. We drove a couple hundred miles to Virginia and loaded up five of ’em. I was excited about the wool, and also excited about breeding heirloom sheep and contributing to preserving them. Jacob sheep are a bizarre breed that can have up to six horns (ours have four). Jacobs are what is known as an “Old World” unimproved breed (meaning not altered or enhanced over the centuries by crossing with other breeds, also referred to as a “primitive” breed). They’re almost goat-like with their slight builds (when sheared, people often mistake them for goats when they see them on our farm) and they’re one of only a few breeds of sheep that remain spotted for life. Cotswolds are an old English heritage breed that is classified as rare. They were quite popular in the Middle Ages for their long curly fleece.

Before we drove two hundred miles to pick them up, the sheep guy promised to give us their papers. He told us they were registered. When we got there, he told us he hadn’t had time to dig up the papers and would send them to us in the mail.

Cautionary tale: If someone doesn’t give you the papers when you pick up the animals, don’t expect to ever get them because once you drive away, they are done with you.

I do believe they are purebred Cotswolds and Jacobs, based on their distinctive appearances, but we don’t have their papers. He told us the Cotswolds were two to three years old and the Jacobs were six and seven years old. So now the Cotswolds are four to five years old and the Jacobs are eight and nine years old. But we don’t know for sure because we’ve never seen their papers.

I’m also not sure about some other things, like why neither of the Cotswold ewes have had a lamb in the two years that we’ve had them. We know Mr. Cotswold is fertile. Perhaps he knew the Cotswold ewes were barren. Perhaps not. Perhaps they were older than he said they were. One of the Cotswold ewes died mysteriously not too long ago. Jester and Miss Jacob both gave birth to twin sets of lambs last year, but this year, only Miss Jacob has given birth. At least so far. It’s always hard to tell if sheep are pregnant right up till the last minute because sheep are woolly.

We kept one lamb from last year, a Cotswold-Jacob cross, because the wool is gorgeous, a mix of that wild curly Cotswold fleece with the beautiful color of the Jacobs.

I won’t be keeping any more lambs, though. I’m not looking to grow our flock.

I have seriously mixed feelings about sheep.

While I adore sheep for their somewhat mysterious personalities and truly awesome beauty (not to mention the cuteness of lambs), sheep are expensive to keep if you don’t have enough pasture and can’t grow enough of your own hay. Sheep are pigs. They can consume a bale of hay like nobody’s business and they can clear a field down to the dirt. We really don’t have the pasture to support sheep, which means we have to support them with a lot of hay.

The average lifespan of sheep is eight to thirteen years (though some can live longer), so some of our sheep are old and others possibly older than we know. We only know for sure the age of Annabelle and the yearling from last year’s lambing. My plan at the moment (which is possibly ever-changing) is to allow our flock to decrease by natural attrition and sell all lambs born (other than the yearling we kept from last year). Since the other sheep are older, eventually we’ll just have Annabelle and our older lamb, and they’ll probably turn into pets. Not that Annabelle isn’t already a pet.

And–for those of you out there who have sheep and love sheep–please don’t take any of that as a slam on sheep. I still love sheep. There is something very peaceful about sheep in particular. Mine are mostly clumpers instead of dotters, but I love to see them when they do dot. I love dotting sheep. Sheep can be hilarious when they run and nothing is cuter than a bouncing lamb. (Or a full-grown bouncing sheep. See the video here.) Sheep are also insane with the way they will stand out in the middle of a pasture in rain or snow, completely ignoring their shelters. If you spend enough time with them, you will learn they have individual personalities, and they can be friendly and standoffish at the same time–though mostly they don’t care if you drop dead. (Annabelle is our most charmingly friendly sheep–because she was a bottle lamb, of course.) Rams can be scary–I’ve had my run-ins (LITERALLY) with Mr. Cotswold. Most of all, sheep are interesting. The Jacobs are my favorites, after Annabelle, because they are quite clever. (They really are goat-like.)

My favorite sheep story on my blog: Prodigal Sheep.

Sheep are an amazing experience.

The wool’s not bad, either.

This post is part of my (sporadic) on-going “Cast of” series. See all my Cast of posts here.

See all the posts in my Sheep archives here.

Annabelle: “But I am a dog!”


  1. Michelle says:

    Shhhh; don’t tell all the Shetland shepherds who love spots that Jacobs are the only breed who keep their spots for life. There are a LOT of “lifer” spotted Shetlands out there!

  2. Dianna says:

    Interesting post! Love the picture of Annabelle with the dog. But I’ll have to research what “clumpers” and “dotters” are….! We really don’t see many sheep in our area. Just pigs and cows.


  3. Monique says:

    I have to say that I fully understand your sentiments. We tried Katadin sheep for a year and decided we really didn’t care for them. They don’t give you a warm an fuzzy feeling like goats and I was also amazed how they would not use their shelter. They were a lot of work for not much reward.

  4. Carmen at Old House Kitchen says:

    Anabelle is sooo cute!! I just want to hug her! Loved the post and all the pictures!

  5. Linda says:

    Annabelle is so adorable and I love the pic with her and the dog….so sweet! :sheep:

  6. Camille says:

    Annabelle’s baby picture melts me into a puddle every time I see it posted. Such a sweet face. I love the look of the Jacob’s sheep. Your’s are the first I’ve ever seen.

  7. Carmen at Old House Kitchen says:

    Might I add…I just can’t get enough of the video of Anabelle bouncing around playing with the dog. So cute!

  8. T M says:

    Oh.. you stir so many memories of my child hood on a farm. We too had sheep and bottle fed babies.. I loved to watch them get sheered, it amazed me how fast the men worked.. and the babies.. how sweet they were.. thanks for the memories..

  9. Donna Mc says:

    Dear Annabelle,

    Your friends in GA.

  10. Window On The Prairie says:

    We don’t have any sheep, but our neighbors do and lately I’ve been visiting the the lambs and watched them do the shearing just the other night. It was really neat and so I’ve had a few posts on my blog about them. Actually, I’ll be sharing shearing pics today. Just love sheep. So cute.

  11. Christina Bredenkamp says:

    I have Katadins also, one ram and 3 ewes. Love the babies but they are good for keeping my yard mowed and providing me with meat. One ewe was bottle raised due to her momma refusing to nurse her (lamb was spotted and others have always been white). This week she is due again with twins or triplets and to a spotted ram. We will see if she is racist this time around!

  12. texwisgirl says:

    Very cute. That Jester is a hoot!

  13. Kelly in TX says:

    we’ve recently gotten some sheep (dorpers) and I am growing to love them, too. They are such peaceful creatures. I just hope they are not as addictive as goats. :sheepjump: Great post!

  14. wickedgoodshari says:

    I worked on a museum farm with Cotswolds and I have loved Jacobs, though I have never owned either. Even though I spin, I just can’t justify the owning of sheep. I don’t particularly like eating lamb or mutton, so I can commiserate with you, a very interesting relationship towards sheep. Bless those who can own them. (have you seen the extreme sheep herding with lights?

    Goats are more fun to me and offer milk. For fiber, I would have Angora rabbits – although I haven’t done so in quite awhile. I can just hear the sheep lovers arguing about sheep milk, but can you imagine milking those teats for real?

    Thanks for the cute pics.

  15. Shannon Olson says:

    great post. lots of great sheep info!! Annabelle is the cutest! We don’t have a farm so we don’t have sheep, but I would have one or two if I could, and if I ever do I know now I would bottle feed them and let them hang out with the dogs. :snoopy:

  16. Gen-IL Homesteader says:

    Your pictures are just fabulous!! It’s appropriate that you were nominated in the Best Photography contest. (Which, btw, did you win? I didn’t hear anything about results.) The first pic of that gorgeous baby is absolutely wonderful! She looks like she’s smiling at you!

  17. Jennifer Robin says:

    I’ve always preferred goats to sheep, but Annabelle is irresistible! We like to watch your video of her bouncing around, over and over again. Your pictures of her capture her personality well!

  18. Courtney says:

    That baby picture of Annabelle is soooo sweet!

  19. Pat in Eastern NC says:

    Annabelle is the breathing definition of cute! The picture of her and Giant Puppy sends me to the moon. I live vicariously through your sheep, goat, cow, donkey, cat, and dog posts/pics. Thank you!

  20. texomamorganlady says:

    your vet or an experienced shepherd should be able to approximate your sheep’s age by looking at the teeth (google it and you can learn to do it too , after some practice). strange that they don’t use a shelter, mine run to the barn at the first drop of rain! perhaps because they are hair sheep and don’t have the heavy wool like yours. i didn’t know i would enjoy them so much when i started out with two, i’m up to 13 and i sell some each year.

  21. Patti Jarrett says:

    Annabelle’s adorable, and I loved the video! LOL

  22. Miss Becky says:

    that photo of baby Anabelle is adorable, and the one of her soaring in the air too. I love your sheep stories Suzanne! and your cast of characters posts too. there are so many now, it’s always nice to be re-introduced now and then! :yes:

  23. Suzanne Gonzalez says:

    Speaking from experience…you must understand sheep to love them, once you understand them you can’t live without them! 😉

  24. lavenderblue says:

    How much pasture would be enough for sheep? I remember learning about the “cattle wars” out west in American History. Do they even teach American History in school anymore? Anyway, back when everyone let their cattle graze on the plains and prairies of the U.S. (before the invention of ‘bobwaur’, I guess) the cowboys got mad when the sheepherders let their sheep graze down the grazin’ land.

    If the whole American West wasn’t big enough for sheep and cows, how can any of the itty bitty family farms be? Especially when Glory Bee gets a little bigger!

    When all the other sheep are gone, can poor Annabelle move back onto the porch with the dogs? Being one of them and all.

  25. Gen-IL Homesteader says:

    Bummer! Well, you won in OUR hearts!!

  26. Christy O says:

    I had 3 sheep for about a year and ended up selling them. I love my goats but really didn’t care for the sheep. I have a friend that raises sheep and tried goats for a few months. She ended up selling them, she hated them. I think people are either goat people or sheep people. I’m a goat person for sure!

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