Navajo-Churro Sheep

History

We’d like to introduce you to our very special herd of sheep, the Navajo Churros. They are an amazing breed, strong and lean, able to subsist in harsh conditions with scrub brush for food and little water. We’re glad to report our sheep get good grass and clover we plant especially for them, and easy access to fresh, clean water!

Navajo-Churro Sheep at Quicksilver Farm These beautiful creatures are descended from the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed. The Churra was brought to the North America by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century as a source of meat and clothing for their armies. By the 17th century Churros the Spanish settlers in the upper Rio Grande Valley were raising them. Flocks of Churro sheep were acquired by Native Americans through raids and trading, and soon became an important part of the Navajo economy and culture, inspiring a lifestyle change from hunting and gathering to shepherding and farming. The American frontiersmen corrupted the name to "Churro." And hence, the name is now Navajo-Churro.

A series of misguided federal government actions, beginning with the forced Navajo relocation to Bosque Redondo in 1863, led to the almost total eradication of the Churro, negatively impacting Navajo culture, weaving, traditional lifestyle, and self-sufficiency. In the early 1900s traditional summer grazing lands were taken over by the U.S. government. The lack of access to appropriate grazing lands led to inferior quality wool, lower lambing rates and reduced meat production.

During the drought of the 1930s, Navajos were forced to radically reduce their herds. Government agents shot a specified percentage of the sheep in front of their owners, who were justifiably horrified. The Churro were always the first to be put down because the agents thought this hardy breed was scruffy and undesirable.

Federal agricultural agents discouraged raising the Churro and encouraged cross-breeding with other genotypes. However, these breeds require more resources such as grass and water, and more herd management. Their wool fibers break easily when hand spun with traditional Navajo methods. They did not absorb natural dyes very well. Navajo weavers began buying commercially produced and dyed yarns, leading to inferior products.

By the 1970s, only about 400 of the Navajo-Churro existed on the entire Navajo Nation with a few preserved in other locations. The breed was not considered necessary or useful, and seemed destined to die out.

Rescued!

But, to the rescue! In the mid-1970s, Dr. Lyle McNeal recognized the genetic and cultural significance of the Navajo-Churro. In 1977, Dr. and Mrs. McNeal founded the Navajo Sheep Project, which currently maintains a breeding flock in New Mexico. The project has placed many breeding stock with Navajo families. The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association was formed in 1986 to preserve and promote this original American Breed. While more than 4,200 sheep have been registered since the N-CSA was formed, Navajo-Churro sheep are still considered a rare breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). Navajo-Churro Sheep Ewe and LambsThe Navajo-Churro is the oldest and now rarest breeds of sheep in North America. Its unique history, unusal looks and specialty wool combine to make this animal truly an American breed worth conserving for future generations.

About the Breed

But enough with the history, already. Let’s talk about what makes these animals so wonderful. First of all, they are a carpet wool sheep (which means they are double coated) with woolless faces, legs and sometimes bellies. They have slender bodies and fine bones. Colors range from deep browns through beiges and white and from black through gray, silver, apricot and blue as well as many patterns. A white crown atop a colored animal is referred to as "Two Grey Hills".

Because the Navajo people believe that multiple horns are sacred, rams with this trait was favored in the past. Multiple horns are disappearing because breeders don’t want to deal with rams with more than one pair of horns. Of course, our ram, John C. Calhoun, has two sets of horns of which he is inordinately proud. Unfortunately, four-horned rams are now a rarity. It is important that this characteristic, which sets it apart from most other breeds, is not lost forever.

Chance the premature lambChurro rams weigh about 120 to 175 pounds, ewes 85 to 120 pounds. Lamb birth weights range from 6 to 9 pounds with few neonatal deaths or assisted births. The sheep are early maturing, prolific, and able to raising triplets, though we’ve only had twins. They are resistant to foot rot and internal parasites. The ewes have outstanding maternal instincts, rarely failing to claim and care for their lambs. They are considered among the highest milk producers of any sheep breed. Their meat is extremely lean.

About the Fleece

These sheep are shorn twice a year. Fleeces weigh 4 to 10 pounds with a 60-75% yield. Two coats are found in the fleece; a thick outer coat, occasionally 10" long, with a micron count of 48 to 56, a shorter inner coat, grading 28 to 36 microns. Churro wool is strong and durable, and is probably most often used for weaving rugs. However, Churro fiber with a lower micron count works well for socks and outer garments. Navajo-Churro fleeces can be found in a huge variety of natural colors, including white, various shades of brown (ranging from light beige and tan to reddish brown and dark brown), light and dark grey, and black.

We have roving available in a variety of color. Contact us for availability and pricing.