Earth Notes: Dahl Sheep

Jun 7, 2017

A certain type of sheep that had almost slipped from memory is making a comeback in New Mexico. Dahl sheep are believed to have been raised by Spanish settlers about four centuries ago, but the breed was replaced over time by more common ones. 

Dahl sheep ram
Credit Donald Chavez

The reason?  Dahl have long, thin hair, compared to thick-coated “wool” sheep whose fleece is desirable for clothing and rugs.

But Dahl sheep had advantages. They could swim across rivers, while the matted coats of wool sheep absorbed water causing them to drown.

Dahls were also a valued source of meat, and were better able to flourish in the region’s sparsely vegetated, arid climate.

Ewes and rams have large curved horns, much like native Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. And they’re not to be confused with wild Dall sheep of Alaska and Canada.

Valencia County rancher Donald Chávez is credited with helping revive the breed, which survived because some went feral long ago in the mountains of northern New Mexico. On his pastures south of Albuquerque, Chávez has grown a herd from a half dozen to about a hundred Dahl sheep. Now other ranchers are raising the animal too.

Recognizing this sheep’s historical importance, the state legislature in 2013 named the Dahl New Mexico’s only official “heritage” sheep breed.

For more information on dahl sheep, see