United Horned Hair Sheep Association, Inc.

New Mexico Dahl White and Oñate Sheep should not be confused with Alaska Dahl or Texas Dall
Sheep.  They have separate and distinct origins and history.  Alaska Dahl sheep are wild
mountain sheep native to Alaska while domestic Texas Dall sheep were created in the mid 1900's
by crossing a hair sheep breed, Mouflon, with a woolen Rambouillet breed.  The New Mexico Dahl
sheep have much deeper roots in American History.  

According to John Baxter’s book “Los Carneradas", Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján
brought sheep in 1540 seeking the mystical Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Coronado and his
supporters sank a fortune in his ill-fated enterprise taking 1300 horses and mules for riding and
packing and hundreds of head of sheep and cattle as a portable food supply. Much to his chagrin
Coronado's greatest legacy was his loss of unknown quantities of sheep, horses and cattle into
the remote recesses of wild American Southwest.

When Don Juan de Oñate came with colonists to establish settlements in this vast land they
brought 4000 sheep and began the first cowboy ranching and livestock industry in Nuevo Mexico.
Nuevo Mexico exported salt, piñon and hides. On January 26, 1598, Don Juan de Oñate left
Zacatecas, Mexico and arrived in the Kingdom of New Mexico April 30, 1598 to establish the first
significant infusion of colonists, a settlement in the New Mexico Kingdom; (Jamestown was
founded in 1607 in Virginia, and the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth MA in 1620). By 1827 the NM
sheep industry had grown to one quarter of a million sheep, with 65% being in the Alburquerque

Many hardships were endured by the individuals raising and trading livestock. There was
experimentation with less hardy breeds, and the 1828 epidemic break out which affected the
sheep industry in Durango, Mexico. Two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) head were lost which
made the long and dangerous trip profitable for New Mexico sheep herders who presumably
raised a hardier breed.

The Candelaria family tried to improve the breed with merinos because their wool had more
lanolin but their hooves were too soft and they could not adapt to the rough New Mexico terrain.
Spanish archives show that Spanish expedition planners investigated years in advance and
invested vast personal fortunes into the planning and preparation of their expeditions.  That is well

A key element of survival and success is the advance planning of food and water supply.  Any such
undertaking would have certainly begged the question, what kind of animal has the stamina to
endure the unknown and yet untold distances of the new world, and inherent in their own ability to
survive hardship, thusly keep us alive?  Willful goats and pigs have their own ideas and are more
labor intensive.  The lives of Coronado and his men depended on the survival of his food source
on the hoof.  

Hair sheep could go where cattle and woolen sheep could not so these hair sheep were the best
bet and obvious choice for Coronado.    Clearly, the hair sheep were the best gamble for
expeditions like that of Coronado.  Given the legacy of Coronado and others like him, these
ancestors of the New Mexico Dahl sheep have long been true to this hardiness claim.  They have
over the past quarter century reemerged, and are extant today.  This is one of nature’s miracles
and a credit to the ranchero planners and breeders of anonymity and antiquity.

As a boy I loved spending summers with my grandparents learning the old ways of
ranching and farming; participating in Matanzas and growing beans, chile, corn, and
melons.  My grandfather Epifanio Chavez used to recount stories of our Spanish
ancestors settling Tome, NM, Belen, Lemitar, Polvadera, and San Acacia, NM areas of
Valencia County.  An avid student of cowboy history, I bought out my family member’s
interests in our Belen and Polvadera, NM family farms in the 1980s.  

Picking up raising hair sheep where my father and grandfathers left off in the cattle and
sheep ranching tradition that brought fifteen generations of cowboy culture to the cradle
of the West, the Kingdom of New Mexico with Don Juan de Oñate in 1598, on a Belen,
New Mexico farm (in my mother’s family since 1740 {Belen Land Grant}), I scoured sale
barn livestock auctions for hair sheep in general with an eye on a particular hair sheep
that an old cowboy Mr. Morris already retired in Los Lunas called “Barbidoes.”  The
name Barbidoes, although I suspect a corruption of the widely recognized Barbados
hair sheep that Mr. Morris owned did not have the same characteristics of Barbados or
Blackbelly hair sheep.  The typical Barbados sheep in those days had brown hair with
black underbellies.  Blackbelly/Barbado rams sported classic horns curling close to the
face.  Ewes were polled.

Mr. Morris’ sheep were both white, and some solid gray in color. They were large, and
both ewes and rams sported horns curling away from the face.  Mr. Morris was elderly
and often bed ridden and narrated many long histories of his old cowboy days including
the origins of some of his unique sheep, some of which he acquired from ranchers
selling off feral sheep included in cattle round ups high in the NM Sierra’s above 10,000
feet.  I bought as many of these intriguing sheep as possible and began studying
Spanish Archives, old family journals, and questioning old timers selling similar
looking sheep at livestock auctions in the Alburquerque south valley, Los Lunas, and
Belen.  Finding a link between these sheep and the sheep brought by Coronado, I
realized that these sheep were of a distinctive origin and history from the other hair
sheep and began selectively breeding out the outcrossing traits of wool, coloring, and
other non-typical characteristics of what I call New Mexico Dahl Hair sheep in an effort to
save and preserve this lost piece of living Spanish history.

Now in the twenty-first century, with the depletion and growing shortage of natural
resources, once more plentiful such as water and farmland, the worst drought since the
Dust Bowl, and the exponential growth of the human population (seven billion as of
October 2011) these resource luxuries we have come to depend on, are quickly
growing more and more scarce.  As such, a new era where we return to the hardy,
prolific, and low maintenance food product is again upon us.  Thanks to a few intrepid
NM Dahl sheep left to their own devices feral in nature, they defied extinction over five
hundred years, and have given us another chance to benefit. We cannot throw that
opportunity away now.  
Donald A. Chavez y Gilbert


At the membership meeting held January 26, 2013, the membership voted to recognize and add
the New Mexico Dahl Sheep Registry Division to UHHSA, Inc, in official recognition and
acceptance of the efforts of generations of shepherds in the New Mexico area to revive and
maintain their heritage sheep.

In March 2013, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted in House Memorial 77 to
recognize the New Mexico Dahl as a Heritage Breed!!!!   
CLICK HERE to view the full memorial

The United Horned Hair Sheep Association, Inc. was formed and incorporated as a member
owned and operated,
non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and providing education
about the breeds of sheep it represents: Painted Desert, Texas Dall, Black Hawaiian, Desert
Sand, Corsican, Multi-horned Hair, New Mexico Dahl, and Mouflon.
Click HERE to learn more
about UHHSA, Inc.

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Active Members of UHHSA are permitted to use information on their website to help in
ethical and honest promotion and education about the breeds represented.  However,
a link to this website should be provided.

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