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Scio's Source for Navajo-Churro Sheep, Heritage Poultry, and Fiber Products

(503) 575-8489 Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am-6:30pm

Dot Ranch was formed first as a dream,

Doe out on the tall-grass prairieshared between friends and family, of a return to rural living after years of urban exile. Like all dreams, we had no idea what an adventure would become of that dearly held hope. After months of searching, we found what seemed like the perfect location for a small ranch. The land was beautiful, the location was fantastic, and so we planted a seed of hope that in the forty acres of a former cattle ranch, a new peace could be found between agriculture and wildlife. Dot Ranch was formed with the ideals that through the technologies of today, and the knowledge of yesterday, we might once again weave a tapestry where humans, wildlife, and native ecosystems could all coexist.

Where evergreens now spread their dark boughs, there once lay a land with a rich and vital ecology. 

Woodland flower: an Oregon wild irisThis was historically managed as an oak savannah, one of the richest inland ecosystems in terms of biodiversity and fertility.  The Kalapuya Indians maintained the oak savannah through a complex regime of controlled burning, harvest, and maintenance of the plants and trees which gave them fiber, food, and shelter.  The prairies which spanned from the lower slopes of the Cascades down into the Willamette Valley were home to large and small game, and a wealth of medicinal and edible plants that we’re just now beginning to rediscover.

Rather than an unoccupied waste of wilderness, this area has always been an oasis of symbiotic relationships between humans and nature. 

Dragonfly perched in the tall grassWithout the frequent fires and careful cultivation of desired plants, the prairie would have quickly become choked with underbrush.  With the land kept free of the thick brush, the elk and deer were free to graze, which promoted the protein rich growth of the prairie’s perennial grasses.  This interplay between the quick growing grasses, the mature and tough oak trees, grazing animals, and the controlled burning practiced by the Kalapuya Indians, all contributed to a synergistic effect between human and the natural world.  The results were one of the most complex biological systems to exist outside of the coral reef. With the removal of the Kalapuya Indians, the strict fire control policies of the twentieth century, and the increase in monoculture coniferous stands for timber production, the oak savannah almost passed into extinction.

Macro view of grass flowerBringing back the oaks isn’t about turning back the clock, it’s about saving our livelihood as ranchers, farmers, and citizens of the planet Earth

It’s about providing a place for those insects which keep the food on our plates with their small but irreplaceable pollination services.  It’s about saving our songbirds, preserving our forests from invasive and destructive beetles, and ensuring that the majestic progression of a young buck into an old and stately crowned stag can continue.  Every singl agricultural product depends on healthy ecosystem services to keep providing food for your table, clean water, and clean air for us all to share. Restoring our oak savannahs is about making sure that our grand children can enjoy fresh fruit, vegetables, and the multi-colored miracle that is an Oregon prairie in spring’s green grip. 

Remnants of oak savannah hidden in the evergreens When we first walked through the forest here on the ranch, I pointed out the small patches of oak trees which had started to come back.

While controlled burning is no longer possible because of the population constraints of permanent residents, grazing has been found to be a suitable replacement by prairie restoration ecologists and practitioners.  Dot Ranch showed a prime example of that, as well as a sobering reflection of what happens when both grazing and fire are removed from the equation. 25 years of grazing by cattle had freed these few bitter tasting oak seedlings, allowing them to mature into acorn bearing trees.


Forest choked with underbrush and ladder fuels The cows hadn’t been here for half a decade, and already, the ground was a carpet of evergreen seedlings threatening to overwhelm those lonely last stands of oak.

 Dense underbrush and encroachment by Himalayan Blackberries had built up a dangerous amount of tinder and ladder fuels, leaving the ominous threat of a spark or lightning strike being able to set off a fire that could quickly rage up into the canopy of the trees, where it could rage across the mountain and destroy homes and forest alike.  I knew that if we were going to save the oaks here, we needed to bring back the selective pressures of grazing.

So, why raise sheep?

Mickey with her Mark 19 in Iraq The answer to that question lies in two tangled threads of the past.

I spent the happiest part of my childhood on a family owned and operated sheep ranch, tending to bummer lambs and trying to stay out of under foot in the barn yard. I never realized that one day I would own my own small ranch, but I knew I was happy there. For years, I pursued a purpose and vision of serving my community, and spent time as a forest fire fighter, a college student, a diesel mechanic, and a soldier. It was in my experiences as a soldier that the second thread came around to draw me back in to sheep. While deployed to Iraq, I encountered a beautiful breed of sheep that looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. They had long, elegant legs, straight and well draped fleece, and large, droopy ears. Some of the ewes had horns, and all of them had the fattest tails I'd ever seen on a sheep. Later, I found out they were Awassi sheep, a breed particularly well known in Iraq and Syria. At the time, all I knew was that they were beautiful, and they made me miss sheep in a way that I never expected.

Tyger and ShawnaThere really isn't any questioning that nostalgia had a part in my choice, but it wasn't the only reason.

Being a small woman who works the animals often unassisted, I didn't feel as safe around cattle as I do around sheep, and I felt even more strongly that a young child with a hearing disability was a bad mix with beef cattle. Then, the terrain of this land, which is often steeply graded, mixed with the high clay soils made yet another argument against bringing back traditional beef cattle. We considered dairy goats, miniature cattle, and sheep. At last, the fact that I had previous experience with sheep settled the terms. When we found a flock of heritage sheep for sale on Craigslist, it was just a matter of swooping in on them. That they were Navajo-Churro Sheep made it seem even more like destiny, for my son is part Navajo as well. If there was any doubt in the Navajo saying "Sheep is life", I think it was erased by the combination of influences that brought these wonderful animals into our life.

Ewe in fieldDespite the common misperception of sheep as destructive grazers, there's a growing recognition of their importance and ability at restorational grazing.

Navajo-Churro Sheep take it a step further. They produce wool, milk, and meat, and they are capable of thriving on forage that would leave other sheep breeds starving to death. Furthermore, they are invaluable for grazing tansy, ragwort, leafy spurge, blackberries, scotch broom, and thistles. They prefer evergreens to oaks, and they generally don't eat acorns unless there's nothing else to graze. In short, they were the perfect fit for my goals of ecological restoration through grazing and timber management. To learn more about Navajo-Churro Sheep, please feel free to explore our SHEEP page.

Just what is a "heritage breed" anyway?

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has gone to great lengths to define what heritage chickens and heritage cattle are, and the European Commission of Heritage Sheep has defined what makes a heritage sheep. Here at Dot Ranch, we raise heritage breeds of chickens, sheep, and cattle, so I'll go ahead and lay out the main points here.

Mottled Java rooster A Heritage Chicken

The ALBC has 4 requirements for a chicken to be considered a "heritage" or "heirloom" breed. They are as follows:

1.) A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, with both parents and grandparents conforming to the APA standard of perfection for that breed.
2.) Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating.  Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
3.) Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.
4.) Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

Carne the Farm Dog and Neba, our Irish Dexter Cow, exchange kissesA Heritage Cow

Heritage Cattle must adhere to all of the following:

1.) True Genetic Breed. The breed is a true genetic breed of cattle. That is, when mated together, it reproduces the breed type.
2.) Endangered Breed. The breed is or has been endangered, as defined by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), and appears on the ALBC Conservation Priority List in the Critical, Threatened, Watch, or Recovering categories.
3.) Long History in US. The breed has an established and continuously breeding population in the United States since 1925. If developed since 1925, foundation stock is no longer available. If more recently imported, the breed is globally endangered. (Please refer to ALBC’s criteria for listing on the conservation priority list for details on this).
4.) Purebred Status. Heritage Cattle must be registered purebred animals or immediate offspring of registered purebred animals. Cattle that are the result of a breed association sanctioned grade-up program must have obtained purebred status.

DR Pvt. Jenkins, a Navajo-Churro ram with his distinctive 5 hornsA Heritage Sheep

The European Commission of Heritage Sheep hasn't put together quite as structured a definition of heritage sheep as the ALBC has for cattle or poultry, but they do have a concise explanation. They declare that a Heritage Sheep Breed is distinct to their region, has been evolved over centuries by selective breeding, and they are known for special (unique) qualities in meat, milk, cheese, or wool. These breeds are "specifically adapted to a harsh life...", adapted to their unique environments, and provide low impact, low input farming systems that are environmentally friendly while promoting tourism. Perhaps most interestingly, the European Commission of Heritage Sheep states that "these regional native sheep breeds contribute to social communities and provide a commerial opportunity to sustain local economies." This description quite candidly applies to Navajo-Churro Sheep, and shows that heritage breeds of sheep are more than just genetically important- they can bear the souls of a place and a people as well.