101 Facts about Bighorn Sheep


  • Bighorn sheep can be found on South facing slopes in the winter.
  • There are three subspecies of bighorn sheep.  The Rocky Mountain Bighorn, The Sierra Nevada Bighorn and the Desert Bighorn sheep.
  • A group of bighorns is called a herd.
  • There are less than 70,000 bighorn sheep in North America.
  • Herds of bighorns live with up to 15 ewes, lambs, yearlings and two-year old’s.  
  • In the winter, herds of ewes join up to make herds up to 100.
  • Male herds number between two and five.
  • Male bighorns can charge each other at over 20mph.
  • The battles between males can last for over 24 hours.
  • The crash of two male bighorns butting horns can be heard over a mile away.
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  • Bighorn sheep only have one lamb, very rarely they may have two.
  • Lambs take 5-6 months to gestate.
  • Predators to the bighorn include Coyotes, Wolves, Mountain Lions and bobcats.
  • Their hooves are suited to their environment with split hooves to help them balance and rough hoof bottoms to grip.
  • Female ewes are smaller than the male rams.
  • Ever wondered why sheep baa? Check out my article explaining this here.
  • Ewes have shorter horns than the male with little curve.
  • Horns can weigh over 30 pounds.
  • Ewes outlive Rams, living up to 14 years compared to a maximum of 12 years.

If you have wondered how bighorn sheep adapt to their environment, I have written an article you may find interesting here.

  • The bighorn is named for its horns.
  • The Rams horns can reach lengths of over 3.3 feet.
  • Males can weigh up to 450 pounds, where ewes are up to a maximum of 188 pounds.
  • Bighorns range in color from chocolate brown to light brown or even gray but have a white rump on the backs of all four legs.
  • To stop brain damage from the rutting, the sheep have internal bony septa, enlarged cornual and frontal sinuses and large horn cores.
  • Horns tell the age of a ram.
  • As herbivores they eat grasses, leaves, herbs, shrubs and twigs.
  • Sheep will sometimes be seen licking salt including the salt on the road due to winter road treatment.Bighorns swallow their food, regurgitate it later, chew it up more before digesting it.
  • The butting of horns is done for mating rights between sheep.
  • Lambs are born in Spring from April to June.
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  • Horns can grow up to 15 inches in circumference.
  • Lambs are hidden after birth on high, narrow, rocky ledges to stop predators reaching them.
  • Bighorns can stand on ledges 2 inches wide.
  • Bighorn sheep are muscular and lean due to the amount of climbing.
  • They can jump across 6 metre gaps between cliffs.
  • To reduce the steepness of a cliff the bighorn climbs in a Z shape.
  • Bighorns like to be at 8,000 feet above sea level.
  • The horns can weigh more than the skeleton of the sheep.
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  • They can spot predators from a mile away.
  • Bighorns can drink up to 20% of their bodyweight when finding a good source of water.
  • The scientific name is Ovis Canadensis.
  • They are listed as least concern in the IUCN red list.
  • Bighorn sheep live on mountain slopes, foothills, rocky hills and alpine meadows.
  • Desert bighorn will often eat cacti and holly
  • They have a four part stomach enabling them to eat large portions to regurgitate later.
  • During digestion the sheep absorb moisture enabling them to go without water for longer.
  • Between two and four years of age, males leave their mothers group for their own group of rams.
  • Young male bighorns will sometimes join other species out of loneliness when looking for a group.
  • Male dominancy is based on age and size with males under seven years old mating only if older rams in their group are killed.
  • Sheep herds protect themselves by facing different directions to keep watch on their surroundings.
  • Taxes do not pay for sheep conservation and reintroduction.  The money comes from the purchase of hunting licenses and tags.
  • There are two bighorn game ranges in Arizona, the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Bighorn sheep were a source of clothing, food and tools for the tribes in the mountainous regions of the West.
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  • Young females remain in their mothers group for life.
  • Golden eagles will sometimes eat the lambs.
  • Rams and ewes use their horns to fight and to eat.
  • They have a wide arc of exceptional vision due to wide-set eyes.
  • The bighorn has great hearing and sense of smell to avoid predators.
  • Bighorn sheep are relatives of goats.
  • Ewes horns never exceed half a curl.
  • Bighorns have a 9 stage digestive process to ensure that the removal of nutrients is maximized.
  • Bighorns have double layered skulls with struts of bone to protect them.
  • Ewes nurse the young for four to 6 weeks.
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  • One week after being born, lambs can follow their mothers over rocky terrain confidently.  
  • Several weeks after birth, lambs form groups of their own, going to their mothers to drink milk.
  • Ewes usually do not breed until their second or third year.
  • There are approximately 70,000 bighorn sheep in North America.
  • There are 15,700 bighorn sheep in Canada.
  • There are 42,700 bighorn sheep in the U.S.
  • There are 4,500 bighorn sheep in Mexico.
  • During summer the sheep will drink at waterholes much less frequently, at least once every three days.
  • Bighorns find it hard to walk in snow and move to areas where there is less snow in winter.
  • Desert Bighorns pant and perspire during the summer months to cool their bodies.
  • Bighorn sheep do not shed their horns, unlike deer and elk.
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Bighorn sheep photo
  • The horns are made of keratin, the same material fingernails and hooves are made of.
  • For each year that passes, a ring on the horn grows.  These are called “annuli rings.”
  • The rings on the horn are created when under stress such as rutting or mating rituals due to poor nutrition.
  • They can spot other animals moving at distances of a mile away.
  • Home ranges are large, averaging 17 sq km.
  • The birth weight of a lamb is between 8-10 lbs.
  • The desert bighorn can go without drinking for 5 to 15 days.
  • The desert bighorn is also known by its regional names: Arizona Bighorn and Mexican Bighorn.
  • The mountain bighorn is a common term for both the Rocky Mountain bighorn and the Sierra Nevada bighorn.
  • The daily food intake of a bighorn sheep can be up to 3 pounds.
  • Desert bighorn sheep can be found within 3-5 km from a water source during the summer months.
  • The bighorn is part of the Bovidae family which also include bison, cattle, goats and other sheep.
  • The force of two rams butting horns generates forces sixty times greater than that needed to crack a human skull.
  • Bighorn sheep can go up a mountain at 24 km/h.
  • Mountain goats are the only better mountain climbers.
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  • The mating system, the rut, occurs in Autumn.
  • Rams can be 3 ½ foot tall. Ewes are smaller.
  • The sheep are not typically aggressive but there have been attacks on humans, although these are rare.
  • Bighorns can charge as fast as 64 km/h.
  • At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were between 1.5 million to two million bighorn sheep in North America. 
  • By the 1920’s, bighorn sheep were eliminated from Washington, Oregon, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and part of Mexico.
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  • During the rut, bighorn rams will snort loudly. The lambs bleat, and the ewes respond with a guttural “baa.” They also utter throaty rumbles or “blow” in fright.
  • Rams are up to 6 feet long.  Ewes are smaller.
  • Young lambs learn a migratory route by following an older group member in winter.
  • Rams but heads for dominance in the rutting season.
  • The Dall’s sheep or thinhorn live in Alaska and Western Canada and are related to the bighorn.
  • Colorado is home to the largest population of bighorns.
  • Brooming is the term used to describe the chipping of horns, usually from fighting.

If you have wondered how bighorn sheep adapt to their environment, I have written an article you may find interesting here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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