story to find out more.
Scientists at ARS
are collecting thousands of units of semen from Navajo-Churro sheep like the
one shown here. The goal is to preserve the germplasm from this breed, which is
valued by the Navajo tribe of the Southwest because its wool is preferred by
handspinners. Click the image for more information about it.
Protecting Sacred Sheep
By Marty Clark
April 11, 2005
Agricultural Research Service
scientists are working with the Navajo tribe of the American Southwest to
protect Navajo-Churro sheep, which are culturally important and sacred to the
Researchers at the ARS National Center for Genetic Resources
in Fort Collins, Colo., want to ensure that there's enough genetic material
stored and readily available to reintroduce animal or plant species, if
necessary. The NCGRP germplasm collection includes numerous breeds of cattle
and pigs, as well as sheep.
Blackburn, responsible for the animal collection at NCGRP, and animal
Purdy plan to collect 6,000 units of semen from Navajo-Churro rams. The
researchers have already gathered 1,200 semen samples from 27 different rams,
but they hope to get samples from at least 50 rams for broader diversity.
The breed of sheep known as Navajo-Churro came to the Southwest five
centuries ago via Spanish settlers. The Navajo tribe has raised the breed since
then, although over time, others convinced the tribe to raise different breeds,
so the Navajo-Churro numbers dwindled. At one time, there were more than 2
million Navajo-Churro. In 1977, when conservation efforts began, there were
fewer than 500. Today, the number has grown to about 1,500.
Navajos use the Navajo-Churro wool to weave blankets. Non-Navajo
handspinners prefer the wool and will pay premium prices for it.
about the research in the April 2005 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.