Navajo Churro


Photo credit Navajo-Churro Sheep Association
Photo credit Navajo-Churro Sheep Association

Breed categories: double-coated, rare, heritage

Distribution: North America, Europe

Breed History

The Navajo-Churro was the first domesticated sheep introduced into North America. Brought from Southern Spain in 1514, Churro sheep became the mainstay of Spanish ranches and villages along the Rio Grande. Native Americans of the region acquired flocks of Churro for food and clothing through raids and trading and eventually incorporated them into their lifestyle. After nearly becoming extinct through a government sheep “improvement” program in the mid-1900’s, the breed is now recovering and becoming more popular, though still considered a “rare” breed by the Livestock Breed Conservancy.

Breed Characteristics

Navajo Churro are a small breed, hardy, and disease resistant. Rams may carry four horns.  Ewes lamb easily and twins and triplets are not uncommon. The flavor of the meat is incomparably superior, with a surprisingly low fat content.  Mature ewes weigh approximately 85 – 120 pounds while mature rams weigh approximately 120 – 175 pounds.

Navajo-Churro sheep may be horned or polled in either sex. Multiple horns are not uncommon and should be balanced. Horns should not grow excessively forward or into the face causing obvious interference with the sheep’s well being. In two horned rams they should be well spread with adequate spacing away from the cheeks and jaw.  The Navajo-Churro is a long tailed breed without a fat tail or fat rump, lacking wool on the legs, and with little to no wool on the belly.

Navajo Churro Fleece

The Churro fleece is long, fine, and coarse, with two layers consisting of a long stapled, coarse outer coat, and a softer downy undercoat that is both protective for the climate extremes and unusually is low in lanolin. Native Navajo tribes still use the Churro fleece to weave their famous rugs and blankets.  The wool is classified as coarse and is composed of 3 distinct types of fiber, inner coat, outer coat and kemp. The fleece is open and has no defined crimp. The inner coat measures 3-5″ and generally ranges from 10-35 microns while the outer coat 6-12″, and is generally above 35 microns.

The wool comes in  a huge range of colors and tones and with an equally large array of markings that is reminiscent of the variety found among Shetlands:

White – White with pink nose and white feet or black nose and black feet. May have black, brown, tan speckles on face or legs but not in fleece. Born white.

White/Tan – Often born red, tan, apricot, orange, ginger or brownish, but develop a white undercoat at 6 months and are white after the first shearing. Sometimes have only a tan/red neck spot. White with tan fibers in fleece and red/tan face, legs. Often these sheep have red in feet.

Black – Solid black body. May have white TGH markings on black points. Tips of wool may look brown. May grey with age.

Brown (Moorit) – Solid brown body. May have white TGH markings on brown points. Skin color, nose and eye rims are liver color, not pink. Wool tips may bleach light. May designate intensity of Brown using; Sand, Adobe, Mesa, Red Mesa, Rio Grande.

Dark Brown – Dark brown birth coat nearly black. Similar birth coat to darkest color of Brown which looks black. However, Dark Brown stays dark brown for several years. Face and legs seem nearly black or deep chocolate.

Grey – A mixture of black and white fibers in the lamb fleece. Leg and face color is grey or grey with tan. Born grey. Some have light eye patches and noses. May designate intensity of Grey using; Pearl, Sliver, Storm.

Grey/Tan – Grey sheep can also have tan/red primary fibers in the fleece which may lessen after the first shearing. These sheep often have a red/tan hair mixed in grey faces/legs or all tan points.

Blue – Born black but in first year develop silver/charcoal inner coat while outer remains brownish/black. May develop white on eyes and muzzle but keep dark points, legs, body and belly are dark. Hips, sides are greyed.

English Blue – Must have white tears, may have white in ears or on muzzle. This is a pattern on Black or Brown.

Texel Blue – Resembles Badgerface. There is a dark bar over each eye, dark top of nose, dark under jaw on light face.

Badgerface – Distinctly eumelanin black belly and legs contrasting with upper body of phaeomelanin white, greyish or tan. Black bars above the eye, on cheek, inside ear, dark nose, black chin and black scrotum.

Light Badgerface – Still has a dark belly in contrast with lighter upper body but belly and legs are grey. Grey bars above the eye, on cheek, inside ear, dark nose, grey chin and grey scrotum.

Brown Badgerface – Still has a dark belly in contrast with lighter upper body but belly and legs are brown. Brown bars above the eye, on cheek, inside ear, dark nose, brown chin and brown scrotum.

Black and Tan – Distinctly light, whitish or tan belly contrasting with black upper body.  Black and Tan is also called Reverse Badgerface or Mouflon. Face is dark with tan above or outlining eyes, light inside ears, light under jaw, sometimes with bib. Scrotum is tan, legs dark with tan inside and tan/red fibers are common.

Brown and Tan – Same pattern as Black and Tan but body is brown.

Grey and Tan – Same pattern as Black and Tan but body is grey.

Spots – Solid white areas appearing randomly on body with black, grey or brown. May use terms; Pinto (large areas), Piebald (round grapefruit sized areas), Pims (many small dots)

Multi – Black, Tan and White sheep that do not fit terms above. Tri-color. Patterns look confused if the Spotting locus adds a white blaze or large white areas.

Other – Color or pattern that does not fit into any of the other categories.

Marking Terms often used in addition to Genetic Color Terms:

Two Grey Hills (TGH) – White cap, white tip on tail, white sock(s) – any or all of these marks.

Black Eye – Black liner around eye.

Tan Eye – Tan/Red edge around eye (Pattern also).

Eye Patch – Panda Like. Palm size patch around eye. Can be Black, Brown, Grey or Tan/Red

Churra – Dark eye liner or patch AND dark mouth or muzzle.

Hip Spot – Vague area of contrasting symmetrical color on hips

Wool Colors  (Note: These Wool Color Terms are used IN ADDITION to Genetic Color terms. Genetic Color remains the same for the life of the sheep while Wool Color may change with age.)

White – No colored fibers

White Shell – Mostly white with some tan fibers or off-whites

Sand – Light beige, tan, light brown, fawn

Adobe – Medium brown, camel

Jaspered Brown – Mostly brown with coarse white fibers

Red Mesa – Reddish brown, coppery, red-moorit

Mesa – Brown, moorit

Rio Grande – Dark brown-black, deep chocolate

Sombra – light grey/tan, mouse. Not really grey or brown

Pearl – Mostly white with some black fibers or off whites

Silver – Light grey

Blue – Light Grey with steel, metallic blue overtones

Storm – Dark Grey

Jaspered Black – Mostly black with coarse white fibers

Jet – Black with no white and little or no browning

2 thoughts on “Navajo Churro

  1. What TPI is recommended for carding Navajo-Churro fleece? TY

    1. This depends if you ant to separate the coats or not. If no, coarse or general cloth is fine (72, 112, 118). If you do, comb first using a Viking comb – 2 pitch.

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