The Churra, a traditional Spanish sheep breed, was the very first breed of sheep in the New World that were brought in 1598, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Onate. Their name is Spanish for “scrub”.
The landrace churros are what became of those churras and have become the unique adaption to the desert southwest that they are today. The landrace churro were here before stock reductions by the US government of the 1860s and on. These reductions decimated the landrace flocks, and were initially blamed on Navajo( dińe ) people for raiding and overgrazing. By 1990, fewer than 700 of these sheep remained. In reflection, these stock reductions were no different than the mass killing of the American bison to control the native people that depended on them, this act against landrace churro sheep was no different.
Though often they are attributed to the Navajo ( dińe ), they were a breed raised by various cultures living in the desert southwest including the remaining Spanish.
In response and for protection of predators, they tend to graze as a herd. They also tend to graze differently than other livestock, and other breeds of sheep and are compared more to Antelope than sheep. Because they graze as a herd, they don’t have as much of an affect on the terrain, their small legs, hoof, and manure have minimal impact on the land, and in my experience, give back more than they consume. They tend to graze on a larger variety of forage as they browse and move continually through the environment. If allowed to move independently they will not overgraze areas. We graze ours in pasture as we grow hay and can see that they don’t negatively affect the quantity or quality of the hay we do grow.
Their conformation is very different than other breeds. They are small sheep weighing only around 140-180+ but in their small size they are tall with long slender legs, and narrow in build, allowing them to travel across the landscape much more efficiently than other breeds. They also hold their fat around their organs instead of their muscle so that they are a much leaner and better tasting meat. This all would be seen as a downside to the commercial rancher because that means less money per head, but what you lose in wait you gain in self sustainability.
Their fleece is unique in that it is the only fleece that repels moisture as well as shades them in the hot sun. This adaption allowed them to survive such extreme temperature fluctuations. They have three distinct fibers: Long course outer fiber, inner softer fiber, and a small amount of kemp. These fleeces are great fiber to work with, and can also can be used as mulch.
The churro is very intelligent. The land race also has the adaption for survivability. It is a fierce mother and does not generally have birthing problems. They are disease resistant as well as parasite resistant. These adaptions have been made throughout the centuries living in the desert southwest.
↓ MODERN VS LANDRACE
There is a push right now in those interested in churro to breed a modern type of churro. This is not the original landrace sheep and they tend to resemble the other sheep breeds that were added to the churro to modernize them during the first two stock reductions. This modernization is a product of folk who want to have a “churro“ but want it to have a soft fleece, a more marketable fleece that like a merino, or for profitability of weighing more and faster growth. They are different sheep and should be thought of as so. What is gained in marketability, is lost in grit and self sustainability.
↓ OUR SHEEP
Our landrace churro sheep are raised in a way in which we allow them to do their thing with minimal intervention while seeking out more primitive stock and traits. We do not aid in birthing, we don’t medicate them, we don’t feed them any grain, we simply provide them with shelter and safety, food, water, good salt with natural trace minerals, lot’s of love, and pasture to graze. In exchange we get to have their magical wool and delicious meat.