The Navajo Churro sheep is a heritage breed descended from sheep originally brought to America by the Spanish. Once on the brink of extinction, the population is now rebounding with the aid of concerned breeders.
Courtesy The Livestock Conservancy
The Navajo Churro sheep are descendants of Spanish Churro sheep that were originally brought to America as a source of meat for conquistadors and the missionaries that followed them. They were first used by Native Americans for the same purpose, but quickly came to be valued for their wool and became the basis for subsistence and trade in Hispanic and Native American economies. During this time, selection for fleece character along with the natural selection of the arid Southwestern deserts led to the development of the Navajo Churro.
In the 1860s the Navajo Churro sheep population was nearly destroyed as part of the United States government’s efforts to subjugate the Navajo people. The remaining stock was diluted by efforts to “improve” flocks through the introduction of other breeds and further destroyed in subsequent attempts to control rangeland erosion and the Navajo. In 1977, conservationists began an effort to preserve the breed from extinction, creating the Navajo Churro Sheep Association and registry in 1986 and including the many groups of people who had historically been involved with the breed. The population is now stable and growing, and efforts to maintain breed purity and to return flocks to the Navajo continue.
Navajo Churro sheep have a double-coated fleece that weighs four to six pounds, with a fine, soft inner coat and a long, coarse outer coat that sheds rain and snow and protects the inner coat from dust and dirt. The fleece is open and low in grease, making it easy to process, and can be found in a range of colors including white, silver, red, blue, brown, black and spotted. It has traditionally been used for Navajo rug weaving and tapestries, as it is primarily considered a carpet wool.
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