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Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)


  • Desert bighorn sheep are opportunistic herbivores and ruminants.
    • Turner (1973) documented 43 species of plants in diet.
  • Diet consists of mostly grasses (favorites include: acacia or catclaw, encelia, sweetbush, and krameria)
  • Also shrubs, forbs, cacti, grasses (depends on geographic region).
  • Low terrain and washes provide high quality forage (productive soils) and water during summer months and reproductive season


  • Sheep are ruminants with a 4-chambered stomach that can digest most of the cellulose in vegetation with the aid of bacteria and protozoans.
  • Forage quality influences daily and seasonal patterns.
    • When forage digestibility is low, bighorn spends most of its time ruminating ("chewing cud").
  • Daily food intake of bighorn sheep in managed care is estimated at 3 lb (1.5 kg) plant material.
  • Desert bighorn sheep will be found 3-5 kilometers from water sources during the summer months.
    • Can go without drinking for 5 to 15 days
  • Efficient digestive system is able to utilize dry, abrasive forage


Page Citations

Bighorn Institute website (2002)
Hanson (1980)
Turner (1973)
Valdez (1999)

SDZWA Library Links