THE NAVAJO CHURRO SHEEP BREED ~
The Navajo Churro Sheep breed is very special and dear to our hearts here on our farm. The picture above captures two of our rams and two of our ewes. Our top sire, second from the left, is Sir Richard Whig (Whiggy for short). Our second ram was born this spring. He is on the far right and named Ramsey.
The Navajo Churro date back to the Spaniards who used the sheep for three purposes: wool, meat and dairy. The Spanish cheeses were made from Navajo Churro milk and sheep cheese is becoming vogue in the gourmet realm once again. Navajo-Churro Sheep are descended from a cross between the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed and the Jacob sheep, a breed found in ancient Biblical History.
The sheep are most known for their role in the Navajo Indian’s way of life, providing the wool for the famed Navajo Blankets we know so well. This breed truly changed the course of history for the Navajo Indians, creating a culture rich in artistry as seen in the stories that are woven into their legendary blankets. This breed is very interesting for many reasons, which I shall get into shortly. But briefly, while on the subject of Navajo blankets, I’d like to share something you’ll notice on the black ram pictured above, that you will also see in the blankets of the Navajo. The Navajo Churro can have FOUR horns. Our little black ram has three; two on one side and one on the other. You can see it when you look closely at the picture above. The Navajo blankets often depict their sacred and revered sheep with four horns. You’ll find four horned art throughout the Navajo Indian culture and patterns woven into their blankets. This is because they possess the polycerate gene, which is also found in old heritage breeds like the Jacob Sheep.
The Navajo Churro are wonderful to raise as they are very loving and docile, they are sheared twice a year with ample wool for your rug/weaving use, the ewes tend to throw twins and triplets, they are great mothers and the sheep are hardy, very adaptable and parasite resistant. I already mentioned they are a ‘tri’ use breed earlier; used for wool, meat AND milk. Also, their fleece is very low in lanolin, so it did not require lots of scarce water and firewood for the Navajo Indians to scour before spinning and/or dying. So, why are the Navajo Churro classified as ‘threatened’?
“The eradication of this particular sheep breed — because we are connected to it with songs and prayers and ceremonies — when it was taken from us, that part of our life was also destroyed,” says Kady, a Navajo Indian Weaver in his interview on NPR.
(Read and listen to this amazing story here, NPR’S Sacred Sheep Revive Navajo Tradition, for Now)
By the 1860s, America’s westward expansion collided with Navajo resistance and in a tragic move, Kit Carson and his troops were ordered to relocate the Navajo tribe and destroy their livestock. They destroyed the lion’s share of sheep within the Indian population. There was also a goal within the bureacratic realms that consolidation of sheep genetics into a national ‘standard’ would improve sheep quality, which of course was an entirely false theory and failed miserably. The goal to remove the Navajo Churro was a travesty. A series of United States government-sponsored flock reductions and cross-breedings decimated the Navajo flocks until the Churro sheep nearly disappeared. Restoration of the breed began in the 1970s when a few Navajo Churro were found in the Salinas Valley and supporters then scoured hidden canyons on the reservation for surviving Churro, and eventually found enough animals to begin a breeding program. This led to the establishment of the Navajo Sheep Project, which is dedicated to bringing back the Churro. and breeders were able to rebreed across this very scarce population to begin to rebuild this amazing breed of sheep.
We are proud to be a breeder of outstanding Navajo Churro genetics as we work along side the Navajo Sheep efforts to preserve and protect this amazing heritage for our nation. We encourage you to listen/read the NPR story above to learn more about Navajo Churro Sheep.
Learn more about the Navajo Sheep Project here and see beautiful pictures of the Navajo Indians with their sacred sheep.