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One man's crusade to save a breed

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By Sherry Robinson

One small bill before the Legislature opens the gate to sheep with history.
In the 1980s Donald Chavez y Gilbert bought the family farm in Belen, which was once part of the 1742 Belen Land Grant. “I jumped into farming and livestock,” he says.
At sale barns he began to notice that some of the sheep were different – they had hair instead of wool or an occasional ewe had horns. He talked to sellers to learn more.
“The old guys would say, ‘We would go out hunting and find these sheep.’” Or, ‘When we were rounding up cattle, we’d pick up some sheep. We could never catch ‘em all.’”
Intrigued, Chavez began buying these oddball sheep and learning more about them, which started him on a 25-year quest to save a heritage breed.
“I’ve been a student of history all my adult life,” he said. A descendent of land grant founders and pioneers, Chavez listened to his grandfather’s stories haunted the library. Before long, he was immersed in Belen Founders Day events, local genealogy, family journals, and archives.
Spanish settlers brought a number of animals to New Mexico whose offspring are now heritage livestock – Spanish barb horses, corriente cattle, and Churro sheep, prized for their wool in northern New Mexico and Navajo Country.


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