We have all heard the phrase“don’t mix the sheep with the goats“. However, among the younger generations, the origins of the expression are beginning to be forgotten. Today we will see the important tradition of the Churras and Merinas sheep.
But why not mix Churras and Merinas sheep? The most immediate explanation is that they are easy to distinguish individually, but once lost in the herd it is very difficult and laborious to separate them from each other. Can you distinguish who is Churra and who is Merina? More importantly, why would we want to separate the two? To find out why, we need to know a little more about our current protagonists, the Churras and the Merinas.
What is the difference between Churras and Merinas sheep?
There are certain differences that make each of these beloved sheep breeds separately special:
The Churras sheep are native to Castilla y León. Its most notable physical characteristics are its long, rough wool and its hairless head, which has the usual black spots on the eyes, muzzle and ears.
They are thrifty and hardy animals, making them optimal for the harsh climates and scarce pastures of the Douro Plateau. They are prized for meat and dairy products. The latter is used to make large cheeses.
As for the meat, the suckling lamb roasted with Churro is one of the best in Spanish cuisine. (The term “suckling” refers to puppies that are still suckling). Specifically, the town of Aranda de Duero has become nationally famous for its lamb, and there are many“hornos arandinos” spread throughout Spain, although they are typical of the entire region of Castilla y León.
The Churra variety is protected and genetic improvement programs are implemented. In addition, the Churro lamb must be certified with the Protected Geographical Indication of Lechazo de Castilla y León. Outside this region there are not many Churras, so the possibility of mixing Churras with Merinas makes a lot of sense in Valladolid, for example. There are many varieties of Churra in Aragon (Churra tensina) and Andalusia (Churra lebrijana) from the original Castilian. Both are in danger of disappearing.
If the Churra is a tough, hardy breed of sheep destined to feed on its meat and milk, the Merinas are the mascot of the stable, the breed that produces the prized wool. If the name Churra has an odious origin, the name Merina derives from the Merinos of Castile, who had the highest power in their region. In turn, the word derives from the same Latin root as the French maire.
The Merino breed is native to the Andalusian region of southern Spain, but its origins are found in North Africa and even the Near East. In fact, a second theory links the origin of the name to the Benimerines tribe, who introduced the breed during Muslim rule in Spain. Compact body, short legs and neck.
Its coat (unlike the Churra, which covers the top of the head) reinforces this compact appearance. The Merino wool is dense, soft and white. It is rarely irregular. Merino sheep’s wool is considered the finest and softest of all.
This meant great wealth for Castile, which supported the breeding of Merino sheep, establishing the Royal Council of La Mesta. The Mesta owned a network of royal valleys (still today public property), through which priority was given to sheep on sublime routes or on their seasonal migrations to warmer places during the winter…
Why can’t the Churras be mixed with the Merinas?
Churras are sheep that give delicious meat and lots of milk. Merinas are famous for their thick white coat.
Mixing (crossing) two types of sheep is a mistake in terms of the performance of these animals, as the result can lead to a loss of properties of the products we get from sheep.So, as the saying goes, it is better to do not mix anything and continue to enjoy both separately.