Hispanic history lives at the Terra Patre farm (literally!)
My name is Donald Chavez and I am a 15th generation New Mexico rancher from Belen, New Mexico. That's right, 15th generation!
My family descends continuously from the founder of the Belen Land Grant, Diego de Torres in 1740. Diego de Torres was born in Guadalupe del Paso, and came to New Mexico as an infant. His parents were New Mexican natives and were returning with a group led by Diego de Vargas in 1693.
Our family has been raising livestock in New Mexico all of our lives. I have always been interested in the farming and ranching history of my ancestors.
In 1988, something special happened to me and my family. I obtained what was the only-known domestic "New Mexico Dahl Sheep" stock, a breed of sheep native to New Mexico that survived 476 feral years in the High Sierras!
My avocation today is saving this almost-extinct New Mexico heritage breed of livestock which arrived in this region in 1540 with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján.
Vázquez de Coronado was a Spanish conquistador who led an expedition from Mexico to present-day Kansas through parts of the southwest United States, including New Mexico. In search of the famed "Seven Cities of Gold," Vasquez de Coronado was one of the first Europeans to explore places like the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.
"There are family journals where they talk about these borregos de pelo and these sheep actually survived better when they crossed the Rio Bravo."
Coronado’s journals state that he lost most of his cattle and sheep along his journeys, leaving his last herd with a priest in Pecos, New Mexico. There are family journals where they talk about these borregos de pelo and these sheep actually survived better when they crossed the Rio Bravo.
The actual number of these sheep having survived feral over the past 476 years still in the wild is unknown. They may have completely disappeared in the wild. A number of small breeders and myself have labored over the last several decades to bring the numbers of these historic sheep to a safe level.
There are approximately now 150 New Mexico Dahl sheep now in captivity, part of our living history!
My mission is to preserve an important part of New Mexico's history. These Dahl sheep represent some of the earliest ways that the Spanish sustained themselves on our land during a turbulent time in our history.
Recently, the New Mexico State Legislature declared our native New Mexico Dahl sheep New Mexico’s only State Recognized Heritage Live Stock Breed in March 2013 and the Bernalillo County Commission adopted the New Mexico Dahl sheep as their County mascot on April 8, 2014, then built a permanent live exhibit on display at the Gutierrez Hubble House Museum in SW Albuquerque.
Photojournalist Steven St. John is currently working on a documentary of these sheep in the interest of educating the public and generating interest finding more breeders and 4H/FFA children.
And we have been fortunate to received donations of “spent brewers’ grain” which helps defray the cost of feed, from breweries like Steel Bender Brewyard in Los Ranchos, NM.
Currently, I am making efforts to leave my family farm into a perpetual trust with the City of Belen, and the Belen Consolidated School District to care and preserve this living history for future generations and serve as a “hands-on” educational tool for all children enrolled in New Mexico schools.
Hispanic history lives at the Terra Patre farm, and I encourage you to see it!