Bighorn Sheep Facts

The Desert Bighorn Sheep are expert climbers and are at home in arid, rocky country.  They are paler and smaller than the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep of the northern mountains.  The adult rams have large curved “C” shaped horns; the ewe’s horns are shorter and only slightly curved.  Thirty years ago, they were reintroduced into the Colorado National Monument.

Earlier this week we welcomed one of the first lambs of the season (check out the picture here). Lambs are typically born from the first of February to mid-May and will stay with their mothers for about a year, until the ewe has next years’ lamb. Check out this list of facts to learn more about the bighorn sheep in this area.

Size
Males:  160-200 lbs, Females: 105 lbs, 2.5-3.3 ft tall at shoulders, 5 ft long (nose to tail), Front legs  1.5 ft. long

Other Physical Characteristics
Compact and muscular body, amazing climbing and jumping ability, Acute eyesight

Taxonomy
Kingdom: Animalia , Phylum: Chordata,  Class: Mammalia, Order: Artiodactyla, Family: Bovidae, Sub Family: Caprinae,
Genus: Ovis , Species: Ovis canadensis , Subspecies:  Ovis canadensis nelsoni

Other North American Members of the Bovidae Family
Bison, Mt. Goats, Domesticated cattle, sheep and goats

Color
Color varies. In general:  medium gray-brown. White on the rump, back of legs and muzzle.  Body hair is about 1-1.5 inches long.  Fleece (wool in domestic sheep) grows in the winter to keep sheep warm.  Fleece is kinked and curly, grows 0.5 inches thick; it is shed with other hair in the warmer months.

Horns
Grow the entire life of the animal. Males:  full curl by 7-8 years old (can weigh up to 30 lbs.) Females: horns are smaller than rams and never exceed half a curl.

Communication
Rams during rut will snort loudly.  Lambs bleat and both ewes and rams will grunt or make guttural sounds. Scent marking is also used to communicate.

Breeding
Rams will butt heads to establish dominance and breeding rights.  At full speed, head butts can take place at 30mph. Rutting takes place in July or August.  Lambs are born from the first of February to Mid May.

Social Organization
Ewes form loose family groups, usually staying close to their natal or home range. Lambs will stay with their mothers for about a year, until the ewe has next years’ lamb.  Young rams will form “bachelor herds,” but rams will move between different “ewe groups.”

Habitat
Literature suggests sheep avoid spending much time in thick Pinyon-Juniper stands, and prefer places where they have greater visibility.

Food
Sheep are primarily grazers (prefer grass).  Purple-three awn, galleta grass, Indian Rice grass and Needle& Thread grass are some favorites.  Mt. Mahogany and serviceberry are favorite browse species (shrubs).

How much Animals Need to Eat

Animal Pounds of Forage per Day
Moose 21.7
Elk 12.5
Mule deer 3.4
Rocky Mt. Bighorn Sheep 3.9
Desert Bighorn Sheep 3.5

Predators
Mt. Lions are the biggest predator of adults from the Black ridge herd. Coyotes, bobcats, golden eagles, bald eagles and bears are also significant predators of lambs. Falls account for some sheep mortality also.

Neighbors
Deer, Elk

Range
Daily Range:  Rams will travel 5-7 square miles.  Ewes will travel about 2.5-4.5 sq. miles.  Ewes with a lamb might only travel several 100 yards. Ewes tend to stay closer to escape terrain, while rams will spend more time on higher ridges and the flat lands.