We raise grass-fed heritage breeds on the ranch, and the Navajo-Churro are one of our absolute favorites. Thought to be the first domesticated sheep breed in the Americas, they have a long history, and a sad history, which has made them a rare sheep breed today. They are protected and conserved by the Navajo Sheep Project, the US's oldest and largest livestock conservancy.
The Navajo-Churro are descendants of the Spanish Churra breed, and many years ago the Navajo acquired them through raiding and trading. The Navajo became skilled shepherds and used the sheep's wool to make their famous, traditional Navajo weavings. The Navajo's flocks once totaled 2 million sheep. Between the infamous "Long Walk" and post-Depression drought, the government slaughtered thousands and thousands of the Navajo sheep, leaving carcasses to rot, claiming the sheep were overgrazing the reservation lands. It wasn't until the 1970s, when Dr. Lyle McNeal began the Navajo Sheep Project, that a concerted effort to conserve and revitalize the breed brought modern-day awareness to the breed.
Navajo-Churro Sheep are a small rancher's (who lives on a rugged terrain in the mountains) dream. They are excellent foragers, using their amazing noses to find grass and treats under the snow or eating brush and other forage. They have strong flocking instincts, making them an excellent breed for our area with lots of predators. They are multi-purpose sheep: Navajo-Churro produce beautiful multi-color wool, are known for sweet tender meat preferred by chefs, and they make high-fat creamy milk that's excellent for cheese. Being multi-purpose, we breed for the whole animal here on the ranch. We look for good genes and a healthy animal all-around. It's the best approach for the animal, the conservation of the breed, and ultimately us as consumers.
Our sheep in particular have AMAZING personalities. Many people who come to the ranch leave with smiles on their faces. Because our sheep are happy, safe, and satisfied, they are curious, friendly, and may even put on a funny show with their playful spirit and games.
When the ranch is covered in feet of snow, our sheep are supplemented with an organic, green grass hay. But they'll still dig deep down in the snow to find good grass buried below!