When I visited the ranch in southern Arizona several weeks ago, they had a herd of about 300 churro sheep of which only some of them I photographed. Many of their sheep were down the road on another part of the ranch. These pictures are in another post and in the media section of this page. I will write more about them later. Today’s post is on the sheep at the Hubbell Trading Post.
My husband and I ventured to Ganado to see the sale of the Navajo-Churro Sheep. We also wanted to know more about the trading post and who ran it, Mr. Hubbell. I have posted some information on this in earlier posts. After a stop at the National Park Visitor Center, we went to see the sheep. One was the flock that remained on or near the trading post for visitors to see up close. The second grouping was those that were brought in that morning we visited to either sell or trade with other breeders. The sale was conducted by the Navajo Sheep Project who is responsible for preserving the breed and revitalizing the flocks found on the reservation.
The Navajo-Churro sheep are descendants of the Churra, an ancient breed originating from Spain and Portugal. The first sheep came into the United States in 1598 with Juan de Oñate, a Spaniard who explored New Mexico. They are a hardy breed of sheep and survived very well in the environment of what would become the Navajo Reservation. The sheep were used for their wool to provide clothing and their meat for food by the early Spanish settlers. These sheep became the central “focus of the Navajo economy, culture and arts” (blankets and rugs).
From a pamphlet at the Hubbell Trading Post visitor center run by the National Park Service comes the following information:
“Navajo-Churro sheep have coarse, long wool, including an outer coat and a soft inner coat. Their colors are varied in shades of white, tan, brown, black, and grey. They also have patterns of color. The sheep have long, wool-less legs and narrow bodies. (See picture below that was a model of the sheep found in the visitor center) Their bellies have little or no wool. Some rams have four fully developed horns, a trait shared by few other breeds in the world.
Navajo-Churro sheep are highly adaptable to extremes of climate and resistant to disease. They breed easily and twins or triplets are not uncommon. The meat of the sheep is flavorful and has a low fat content. (A very good reason to eat sheep meat!)
The wool of the Navajo-Churro sheep is highly valued by hand spinners for the open locks and wide range of colors”.
The following pictures were taken the day of the sale. Notice the horns. It is common for them to have four, even six. It was interesting to watch the woman pick out the sheep that they wanted. They also knew what price they were willing to pay for them.