About Shepherd’s Lamb
Shepherd's Lamb is produced on our family ranch in the mountains of north central New Mexico. The ranch is located about 100 miles north and slightly west of Santa Fe, at the foot of the San Juan Mountains. Our home place is at an elevation of 7900 feet.
This area of northern New Mexico, with its cool summers, high-quality forage, and relatively dry climate, is ideal for raising lambs. At one time in the early part of the last century, more lambs were shipped out of this area for market than anywhere else in the world. Shepherd’s Lamb is proud to continue this tradition of raising superior-tasting lambs in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
A Family Tradition
Our family ranch in the Tierra Amarilla area originally belonged to Antonio’s grandfather, Carlos, who for years ran his own band of sheep. The land was leased to local ranchers for a number of years before Antonio and Molly inherited the place. Molly also grew up in a ranching family; her father Richard was the cattle foreman for Bond and Son Cattle Company in the Valle Grande before he and his wife Vera moved their family to Chama, NM and began ranching there.
When Antonio and Molly married, Antonio owned a flock of only 30 ewes. With a lot of hard work and determination and help from their four children, they built up their small herd into a thriving business devoted to supplying their local communities with high-quality organic lamb. Today, Shepherd’s Lamb’s flocks numbers around 1000 ewes and their business has grown to include a line of organic yarns and wool.
The Ranching Year
There is never a dull moment in the life of a sheep rancher. Each season of the year brings new challenges and surprises.
A shepherd cares for our flock with the help of several guard dogs and working dogs that live with the sheep year-round. The guard dogs help to protect the sheep from predators like coyotes, bears, other domestic dogs, and the occasional mountain lion. The working dogs help the shepherd gather and move the band and also act as watchdogs. It takes the cooperation and hard work of our whole family and our animals in each season of the ranching year to run our business successfully.
Winter The ranch year starts in December when the ewes are bred. They graze on our winter pastures on the prairie about 30 miles west of Taos in the Carson National Forest.
Springtime By the end of April, our ewes have accumulated year’s worth of wool growth and must be shorn before they have their babies. It takes a crew of 4 shearers about three days to shear the whole band. Each ewe’s fleece weighs about 8-10 pounds! Once the shearing is done, thousands of pounds of raw wool must be skirted, sorted, baled, and hauled to where it will be stored until it is made into yarn.
Our ewes begin giving birth at the end of April. It takes about a month for all our ewes to lamb. During that month, we spend all our time on the range with our ewes and the new lambs.
At the beginning of June we trail the ewes and lambs about 40 miles overland from the lambing range to their summer pasture in the Carson National Forest above Canjilon Lakes. It takes about five days on horseback through the forest to get to the summer range.
Summer Our band’s summer pasture is located at 8000 ft. above sea level, surrounded by ponderosa pine, spruce and aspen. The flock and the shepherd's camp are moved to a new location weekly. This allows the ewes and lambs to have access to fresh feed at all times and ensures the long term good health of the range.
Autumn In mid-September the lamb harvest begins as the lambs become ready for market. In early October we trail our ewes and their lambs to the ranch, a move that takes about three days to complete. The lambs are weaned from their mothers and the ewes are checked for age and health. Cull ewes are separated from the flock and replacement ewes are selected from the lamb crop.
Two months later our ewes are bred and the cycle begins again.
The Navajo-Churro Sheep
Here at Shepherd’s Lamb, we raise a number of Navajo-Churro sheep with the rest of our flock. The Churro is a rare North American heritage breed with a fleece that ranges in color from white to black and reddish-brown to dark brown. Because Churro wool has a very light grease content, it is possible to spin this wool in-the-grease. Its long fibers and relatively little crimp make it a popular material for hand-spinning and weaving.
History of the Navajo-Churro
The Navajo-Churro sheep, a descendent of the Churra sheep of Spain, was first brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Many Native American tribes in the west of the United States acquired Churro sheep from the explorers and the breed became extremely popular in the Rio Grande Valley region. The Navajo tribe in particular prized the Churro because the long, dense fibers of the wool have a very low lanolin content, making it ideal for spinning without washing and easy to dye with natural vegetable pigments.
By the mid-20th century Government cross-breeding programs had brought the Churro sheep to the brink of extinction. Efforts to preserve the breed began in the 1970s and continue to this day. The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association was established in 1986 to help preserve the species by maintaining breed standards through pedigree documentation. Today, more than 6,000 Churro sheep thrive in the United States, thanks to careful conservation and breed perpetuation measures.