Sheep are one of the most widely domesticated animals in the world, and are a staple of many city farms. Sheep are widely raised for milk, wool, and meat, although those at Kentish Town City Farm are, like many other sheep over the world, beloved members of our farm family and don’t work!
There are around one billion sheep in the world, and over 900 different breeds. The sheep at KTCF are Jacobs, a rare breed that is especially popular with small farm holdings and city farms. Our current flock have been Jacobs for a while now, and we love how popular Valentina and her family are with our visitors!
Jacobs are small sheep compared to other rare smallholder favourites like Oxfords and Whitefaced Woodlands, and have distinctive spotty fleeces. They have large, impressive horns; while generally they have four horns, some sheep have been known to have six! Both ewes and rams are horned, but the males tend to have larger, more impressive horns. Jacobs are heirloom breeds, meaning that they have survived through the centuries with very little human intervention or selective breeding. They exist as they have done for hundreds of years – the sheep you see today are almost the same as the ones Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth the First, and James the First would have seen!
In ancient Egypt sheep were believed sacred
While the origins of Jacob are not known, they have been bred in the British Isles for several hundred years. It is thought they get their name from a Bible story about Jacob who, while working as a shepherd until he could marry his beloved Rachel, became a breeder of spotty sheep. Jacobs have a starring role in one of the oldest love stories in the world! There is also a legend that Jacobs first came to Ireland from a Spanish shipwreck, which is an exciting start to their life! Indeed, Jacobs were referred to as ‘Spanish Sheep’ for much of their early history in the British Isles.
A 2009 genetic study investigating the history of sheep as domestic animals, found Jacobs to be more closely linked to sheep breeds from Africa and South-West Asia than any other British breed. All domestic sheep breeds can be traced back to the Middle East, however, which means our Jacobs’ ancestors had a very long journey before our flock ended up in Kentish Town!
Jacobs are a great sheep to have, and produce soft wool that is especially popular with handspinners (those who spin wool by hand, instead of machine). They are hardy, and naturally very resistant to parasites and hoof problems, which many sheep breeds can be affected by. Although they can be skittish around people, if handled properly and daily, they can become loving, affectionate pets! Like most sheep, Jacobs are very intelligent, can remember around 50 different sheep faces for many years at a time, know their own names, and recognize other species. They have an IQ close to that of pigs, who are often believed to be the most intelligent farm animals. They love the outdoors and don’t mind if it gets very cold or hot, and are excellent scavengers, meaning they can find something to munch on just about anywhere! Jacobs find lambing easy, and make great sheep mums! Like other sheep, Jacobs live in flocks, but don’t feel the need to stay bunched together – they are happy to shout at each other across a field!
At KTCF, our Jacobs are sheared yearly, and produce more wool than we can use. We love that our local community are able to use the wool for projects, some of which you can see around the farm! We use the wool in our gardens as a natural slug and snail repellent. Our slimy friends are unable to climb over the wool, and so we surround our seedlings to stop them being munched! We also line our hanging flower baskets with wool. The lanolin, a type of oil in the wool, is perfect to ensure that when our plants get watered, the wool holds moisture without the plants getting soggy roots. Wool used in this way is an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic sheeting! Our friends at the Spinners and Weavers Guild also use the wool for projects, including some amazing jumpers!
Lifespan: Jacobs live for ten to twelve years, and ewes can carry lambs for many years
Diet: Herbivorous – Jacobs eat grasses and vegetation, and are partial to the occasional apple or pepper as a treat!
Physicality: Sheep have four stomachs! This means that they chew and regurgitate food, moving it through their stomachs to thoroughly digest the vegetation they eat.
Conservation level: Jacobs are a band six on the rare breed scale, meaning they are threatened, but not in imminent danger – there are thought to be around six thousand Jacobs in the UK alone!
Wool: Unlike wild sheep, Jacobs are unable to shed their wool, and need to be sheared every year. If left alone, their wool will continue to grow and grow!
I see ewe! Sheep have rectangular pupils, which gives them amazing eyesight! Their field of vision is between 270 and 320 degrees – not far off total vision, which is 360 degrees. In contrast, humans can only see 155 degrees.
You can book a visit to see our Jacobs and find out plenty more interesting sheep facts. We are open seven days a week and entry is free.
Kentish Town City Farm
1 Cressfield Close,
off Grafton Road,
For any visitors to the farm, it’ll likely be our feathered friends who are the first to greet you on the yard! We have a small flock of chickens who live at the farm, most are well behaved enough to be allowed to wander about, though some are a little on the naughty side and have to stay in their pens. See how many of them you can spot whilst you’re visiting!
Did you know that chickens are one of the earliest domesticated animals in the world? As well as one of the most common ones! There are thought to be over 50 billion chickens reared every year; they’re largely kept for their meat and egg production. The number of eggs a hen lays will vary between breed, but hens that specialise in egg-laying can produce 250 eggs a year – around 5 eggs a week!
Chickens, like many birds, show something called “sexual dimorphism”, which is where the males look different from the females. See if you can spot Kingsley, our cockerel, around the farm! Some clues to look out for: he’s bigger than the hens, he has a big impressive looking tail and his red comb and wattle are big and showy. If the looks aren’t enough to help find him, then perhaps you can hear him instead… Here’s Kingsley giving a wake up call!
Cockerels are well known for waking people up, but really they don’t care when we wake up – they’re showing off! When a cockerel crows he’s warning any other nearby males that they had better stay off his patch! They’re not the only loud ones mind you, the hens can be pretty chatty too – you’ll often hear them clucking away to each other; they have very distinct noises too – for example, if they find something exciting, or if they lay an egg, they’ll let the others know about it!
Kingsley as well as some of our hens are a breed of chicken known as Leghorns. They are very distinctly solid bright white, with yellow legs. They’re kept for their egg-laying ability. If you remember with some of the old Looney Tunes animations you might recognise the breed name too – the famous Foghorn Leghorn character was based on this particular breed!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might see a very different chicken around the farm, we also have a very unusual breed known as Ayam Cemani chickens. These chickens are completely pitch black; their feathers, legs, beak, comb and wattle on their head, they even have black meat.
Ayam Cemani is a rare breed, originally from Indonesia – they’re not as prolific egg layers as other breeds, but are prized for their stunning appearance. Darth Vadar, our Ayam Cemani cockerel, is certainly very handsome. Darth is often to be found in his pen with his hens to keep him company.
Our chickens are very relaxed and used to people, so there’s nothing to be afraid of with them wandering around the farm. Remember to always be sensible and respectful to animals, and they’ll be happy to spend time around you!
You can book a visit to see Kingsley, Darth and Dorothy and find out plenty more interesting poultry facts. We are open daily and entry is free.
If you’ve passed through the farm (or perhaps gone past on the train!) you’ll no doubt have seen our beautiful Shirley. Though she may look sweet and polite, don’t let that fool you. She’s got quite the reputation for sneaking out at night and having a snack in the gardens… and leaving quite a mess in her wake!
Shirley was born in 2010 and has been at the farm since she was 6 months old, so by now she knows all the tricks in the book. She’s very settled into her farm routine, which largely revolves around eating and napping. What a life! She has a very sweet personality and loves to watch the world go by.
Even though Shirley is the only cow at the Farm her mental health is good. “She has a herd, it just happens not to be cows,” says Dr. Klara Saville, veterinarian and KTCF Trustee. Our programme manager, Simone says, “She interacts with the pigs and donkeys daily, and has the sound and sight of the sheep overnight. She is also fussed over incessantly by her human herd who like nothing better than to groom her and scratch her ears at different times throughout the day.”
Shirley and friend Nora
Cows, like many domesticated animals, come in all different shapes and sizes; some are small, some are huge, some have horns and some even have long hair! Shirley is a breed known as an Aberdeen Angus, which is one of the most popular breeds of cattle around the world. The Aberdeen Angus, as you may be able to guess from the name, originates from Aberdeenshire and Angus in northeast Scotland. Due to their stocky build and tough nature, they are one of the most popular breeds for beef production. They come in two colours; red and a beautiful solid black. They’re also a polled breed – which means they don’t have horns.
You might see or hear Shirley referred to as a heifer. As with many domesticated animals, there’s an awful lot of niche vocabulary when it comes to cattle! Babies are known as calves, males are bulls or bullocks, and females are cows or heifers. Heifer is the word used for a female cow that hasn’t had any calves.
It’s commonly said that cows have four stomachs; whilst their digestive systems is certainly more complicated than ours, that’s not quite true! Cows, along with several other animals on the farm like sheep and goats, are ruminants, meaning they have a very specialised digestive system. Eating grass is actually quite hard work – as you can probably imagine, it’s not the easiest thing to digest. To get around that, their stomach has four different sections; the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. The rumen contains lots of special microorganisms, which help the cows stomach with breaking down the grass and getting all the goodness out of it. Even then, they have to do it twice! If you keep an eye on Shirley after her breakfast, you might see her chewing on something later in the day… she actually regurgitates food from her stomach to digest again. You may have even heard of the phrase before – chewing the cud!
You can book a visit to see Shirley and her friends and find out more interesting cattle facts. We are open daily and entry is free.