"In the race for progress, maybe we have forgotten certain things. We have forgotten everything we have has come from the planet -- even creativity, inspiration, and spontaneity."
"There are no small ideas."
Michael Benanav Photo credit
Churro wool fiber
Navajo Churro sheep wool is unique from other wool fibers in that it is an open fiber without crimp. Unlike other domesticated sheep breeds that only have one fleece fiber, the churro has distinctly two fibers which protects them from the elements as well as provides a unique fleece. When shorn, the resulting fleece has very long lustrous hair fibers as well as an undercoat of soft shorter fleece fibers. These distinctive long haired fleeces are prized for their strength, low lanolin content, and ability to take natural dyes readily. With these fleeces, the Rio Grande and Navajo weavers create weavings famous for their exceptional luster, fine texture, and durability, which are sought after by art collectors from around the world.
Each fleece has a unique color as well as characteristic of fiber. The wool of the Churro is classified as coarse and is composed of three distinct fibers. The inner coat measures 3-5", ranges from 10-35 microns, and comprises 10-20% of the fleece. The outer hair coat measures 6-12", is 35+ microns, and comprises 10-20% of the fleece. The third fiber is Kemp which should only comprise 5% of the fleece. The Churros can be shorn twice a year instead of the standard once a year. The wool comes in a large assortment of natural colors, including apricot, grey, biege, black, brown and white, which are highly prized by hand-spinners.
Genetically resistent to most sheep diseases, Churros can withstand austere conditions and are endorsed by the Slow Food Movement for their exceptional meat quality.
We use our award winning fleeces in our felting studio at the farm as well as our green building company SunBear design+build LLC. For us, attention to quality is considered long before our fleeces are shorn off the sheep. Nutrition is a key ingredient to good fleece growth as well as luster and strength of fiber. Because Churros have been able to survive for centuries in the extreme deserts of the southwest, they cannot handle the high protein of alfalfa or grain and only consume one third of the feed that other domestic goats and sheep eat per day. Our sheep's nutrition primarily comes from being on range grass with an infinite assortment of plants they eat as well as a high quality Timothy hay. Our hay which we import from Durango, Colorado, has come from the same farmer for the past 15 years and has the reputation for really nice hay, high in nutrition. To further guarantee quality of the individual fleeces, we hand shear our sheep in the early spring when the wool starts to rise. This assures a wonderful long fibered fleece with a lot of luster. Our fleeces are then skirted, picked and hand washed using a mild lavender soap. They are then stored in breathable bags to allow the natural fiber to expell any moisture. At this point, the fleece is ready to be used in the studio or sold to fiber artisans around the country. Besides using the wide variety of natural fleece colors in our studio, we also use native plant dyes instead of synthetic dyes to accentuate the natural colors in the fleeces as well as being gentle on the environment.
Each year, we have a professional hand shearer come in to shear our sheep. He is a fifth generation sheepman who knows sheep and shearing as well as being a wonderful person to hang out with for a few days. We prefer this method of shearing over electric shears because its quiet, less stressful on our sheep, and it supports an almost lost art that's been around for 4000 years. When Kerrie shears the sheep, he listens to the way the shears cut through the fleece to tell how close he is to the skin. He can also tell the quality of the fleece that he is shearing by the different sound and feel it makes when the shears cut. Hand shearing takes a little bit longer, but it is less stressful on the sheep and gives an outstanding fleece without second cuts. Our fleece averages 8 -10 lbs per fleece when shorn.