"Lamb the Conquistadors Would Recognize"

"LOS OJOS, N.M. -- Antonio Manzanares was not supposed to be a rancher. Growing up here in the Chama River Valley in the 1960s, the goal for his generation of rural New Mexicans was education: enough, his parents hoped, for him to avoid the hard work of raising animals.

In this high, empty country — green with pasture and mostly populated by pine, aspen and juniper trees — many families like the Manzanareses are descended from Spanish settlers who began ranching here in the 1600s. Even the characteristic sheep of the region, the light-boned, longhaired Navajo-Churros, are said to have arrived here with the forces of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who claimed this region for the Spanish crown in 1540 on a doomed sweep through the Southwest looking for the Seven Cities of Gold.

'People here still consider themselves ranchers, but they can't make a living at it,' Mr. Manzanares said at his 200-acre ranch, overlooked by the Tusas Mountains.

Mr. Manzanares and his wife, Molly, 51, are trying to change that. They 'run a band' — the local term for raising a flock — of about 900 ewes, both the Navajo-Churros and the fatter Rambouillet breed. Under the label 'Shepherd's Lamb,' the Manzanareses are the only producers of certified-organic lamb in New Mexico, and among the only ranchers in the United States who still graze sheep on wild land, moving from low country to mountains and back to pasture according to the season." 

Julia Moskin reports for the New York Times April 19, 2011.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011