We are a small farm and we aim to keep it that way! We have a personal relationship with each and every animal in our care and a hands on, organic approach to farming. Our animals are natural born, free range, pasture and woodland raised. We raise fiber animals with a focus on struggling heritage breeds including Navajo Churro and Jacob sheep. Both breeds are hardy and require minimal human intervention to survive and thrive in their Western North Carolina habitat. Both breeds offer a unique and diverse fiber quality and have an interesting history!
A Brief History of the Navajo-Churro:
The Churro, or ‘common’ sheep, are considered the first domesticated sheep of the New World. Brought over from Spain by the Spanish Conquistadors during the 16th century, they were used to feed the armies and Spanish settlers, as well as trade with the natives, including the Navajo people.
The Navajo fell in love with this small sheep and nurtured their hardy flocks until they were many in number. They adapted well to the adverse conditions of the south-west. Their double- coated fleece provided insulation and protection from the rain and snow, and the ewes were excellent mothers. They became an integral part of the Navajo lives and livelihood, feeding and clothing the people, as well as being used in their famous woven blankets and rugs.
By the 1930’s, it is believed that there were over 550,000 Navajo-Churro sheep. They were a necessary part of the Navajo life, woven into their songs, prayers, and ceremonies. Unfortunately, the US government did did not share in this appreciation for the breed. They believed that the sheep were too many in number and were causing damage to the grass lands, as well as cross breeding with the ‘fine wool’ sheep. The Indian Bureau and the Soil Conservation Service began a program to heavily reduce the number of existing herds. This meant the targeted massacre of hundreds of thousands of Navajo-Churro sheep. The Navajo people were devastated. They loved and prized their sheep, but to others they were considered a scruffy breed without much merit. The Navajo were encouraged to use the finer, shorter length sheep fleece, but these didn’t dye as well, broke more easily, and didn’t produce durable weavings.
In the 1970’s, only about 450 ‘native’ Navajo-Churro existed within the entire Navajo Nation. They were on the brink of extinction. Luckily, the importance of this breed was recognized and conservation efforts were started to bring back this amazing breed of sheep. Today, though the Navajo-Churro is still considered a “Threatened” breed, there are over 4,500 registered with the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association, and numbers steadily continue to grow.
A Brief History of Jacob Sheep:
Probably the most notable characteristic of the Jacob sheep are their spots, the story of which is biblical in origin. The Old Testament, book of Genesis describes the earliest recorded attempt at selective breeding. The shepherd, Jacob, acquired and bred all of the spot and specked sheep from his fathers flock. The Jacob sheep are named after this biblical figure.
The American Jacob are an Old World sheep. Unlike many other Old World breeds, they have survived with very little human selection. They have not undergone improved breeding or outcrossing to satisfy the commercial market. Jacob Sheep are polycerate (multi-horned) and can have two to 6 horns, although 4 horns is most common. The are a small breed, and unlike other primitive breeds they have a medium fine fleece with no outer coat.
While their exact origin is unknown, spotted, or pied sheep may have originated in what is now Syria some where around 3,000 years ago.
Meet the Team
Jessica is a lover of nature, animals, and adventure. She is the head shepherdess on the farm and loves to get her hands dirty in the garden. Jessica has had extensive adventures traveling, working and volunteering around the US and the world, all of which has led her to a strong connection with nature and, naturally, into the field of farming. For Jessica, Rusted Earth Farm is an opportunity to be self sufficient from the ground up. She has a passion for art, and creates pottery, woodworking, and paintings in the farm studio. check out her previous works on the studio page or pic up a piece for yourself at the shop.
Kyle is an urban planner, mountain biker, trail runner and aspiring farmer who drinks cold handcrafted local beer in the evening and dark roasted coffee in the morning. His past experiences in policy, politics, farming, urban planning, and teaching led him to undertaking the farming venture. Meeting Jessica gave him the confidence to take a leap of faith. He quit his stable job and moved to the humbling Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina to build a new life. With the development of Rusted Earth Farm Kyle works to dig deeper and discover nature while, hopefully, inspiring others to do the same.
Mickey is a strong, brave, energetic young donkey who is eager to learn and do a good job. He works on the farm as the guardian for our sheep. Mickey is curious and helpful, always standing by and ready to lend a hoof with whatever we are working on. He loves machines. He is even starting to get the hang of herding the sheep.
Cocoa came to us for a small farm in Newport TN as a wedding gift form a very special friend. She is the guardian for our pregnant ewes and watches over the new lambs. she is also adopted mother to our two Nigerian Dwarf goats. She spends most of her time chasing them around and trying to keep them out of trouble.