The Navajo-Churro Sheep Story

Like Spanish Goats, the Spanish explorers also brought the first sheep to America, beginning in the late 15th century, with Cortez and Coronado, and continuing through the late 16th century, with Don Juan Ornate'. The Navajo-Churro Sheep of today descended from the flocks brought over by the Spanish, and nurtured by the Native Americans. The name Churro is the corrupted version of the Spanish word "Churro", meaning simply "sheep."

The Navajo-Churros have had several challenges. They have survived the climate of the desert of the southwest. They have endured near extinction in the Indian Wars, as the U.S. Cavalry was instructed to kill the Indians' livestock, as part of their efforts. Kit Carson purportedly resisted, but eventually followed orders, leading the Indians to hide their prized Churros in caves. They have endured a forced reduction at the behest of the U.S. government in the face of the droughts of the 1930's. By the mid-1970's, when they were rediscovered by those interested in conserving heritage breeds, there were less than 500 Navajo-Churro left in the United States, mostly on reservations.

With the assistance of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the Navajo Sheep Project, and ultimately, the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association, numbers have recovered. There are now over 5,000 registered Navajos, and approximately 200 breeders.

So why breed Navajo-Churro Sheep? To understand, first you have to see these majestic animals; their nobleness; their stance and carriage; their multi-colored fleeces. Beyond this, there is, of course, adaptability to harsh climates -- hot and cold, dry and dryer. There is their innate survival and mothering instincts bred out of many commercial breeds. There are the multiple horns -- on ewes and rams. There is the range of colors of their fleece, highly sought by spinners and weavers. There is their lean and tasty meat. They are actually triple purpose -- yielding high quality milk and dairy products for a growing sheep's milk market. One no longer has to look to Europe for fine sheep's milk cheeses; they are available right here from an animal that an animal who has been here since the first European explorers; an animal prized by our Native Americans who have made them such a large part of their culture that they have proclaimed, in an annual festival, that "Sheep is Life." Sheep is life indeed, and anyone who prizes antiquity, history, adaptability, and authenticity in an animal cannot help but appreciate the nobleness of the Navajo-Churro Sheep.