Fleece Breeds: Navajo Churro, a bit of history

Recently, I was given a very large quantity of fleeces by one of my knitting/spinning mates, Georgene.  There is a whole story or two just for that, but for now I will just write about one fleece breed that was among the 17 that she gave me.

Navajo Churro

Navajo Churro Sheep Navajo Churro Photo from Navajo-Churro Sheep Association Website

Being from Washington State, I am not recalling that there are Navajo Churro sheep in our area.  They seem to be a more south-western sheep, such as New Mexico.

Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

Lucky for me, besides about a handful of Navajo Churro fleeces I was just gifted, I was able to find some written information on them in the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius as well as the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association Website.

There is great history behind the Navajo Churro sheep as a conservation breed.  They are also the oldest breed in North America.  Developed from the Churra sheep, the name was changed from Churra to Navajo Churro.

There are two instances that nearly wiped the Navajo Churro sheep off the face of the earth.  First and very tragically, in the 1860’s, the U.S. Army killed thousands upon thousands of Navajo Churro sheep to keep control of the Navajo tribe.  Second, in the 1930’s after attempting to improve the breed, the government initiated a massive livestock reduction program after citing drought conditions and over grazing issues on the Navajo Reservation.  The Navajo Churro sheep almost became extinct through these federal management policies.

By 1977, the Navajo Churro sheep was reduced to less than 500 head of sheep.  The Navajo Sheep Project was then formed by Dr. Lyle McNeal to revitalize this breed and keep it from extinction.  With a collaboration of many people, the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association was formed in 1986.  The program has brought the number of sheep up to near 6,000 head.

The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association has the Guide to the Selection of Navajo-Churro Sheep pdf available on their website.

“Sheep is life,” is a strong belief in traditional Navajos.  I totally agree!

There is more to be written on the Navajo Churro fleece breed as I learn about it.  Stay tuned!

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