Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep are one of the most unique and iconic animals in the West, and frequently wander onto Colorado Ranch real estate. Chosen as the state mammal of Colorado, nothing typifies the rugged, beautiful landscape of snowy peaks and cold, rushing rivers more than these amazing creatures.
Colorado Ranch Wildlife - Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn sheep (occasionally misidentified as ‘mountain goats’) are best known for their dense, thick, fully rounded horns on mature males. These horns alone can weigh up to 30 pounds, up to one tenth of the animal’s maximum weight. The females have horns as well, but they are thinner and do not curve in such a marked way, and the younger males do not develop them until they are three or four years old.
Bighorn Sheep Behaviors
Usually grouping in large herds during the winter, and unable to move easily through deep snow, the sheep prefer sunny, south-facing slopes, and are often spotted in the disturbed areas near roads and highways where non-native grasses often grow year-round.
During warmer months, the largest herds will often separate into groups of ten to thirty, as they spread out through verdant alpine slopes, seeking out the dense, ground level vegetation or low shrubs they prefer. During the ‘pre-rut’ season, the males will attempt to establish a mating hierarchy through repeated ‘clashes’ or full speed head-butts, against other males.
Bighorn Sheep & The Colorado Ecosystem
Bighorn sheep are considered a crucial bio-indicator of the health of an ecosystem because they are quite susceptible to human impacts such as interruption of grazing pattern due to development; stress during winter months from human intrusion into their habitat; as well as diseases introduced by domestic livestock such as pneumonia and scabies. In fact, a population that once soared into the millions in North America was nearly decimated by these diseases in the late nineteenth century.
Because this amazing species is so essential to the delicate balance of life in the Rocky Mountains, conservation groups such as the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society work tirelessly to educate the public and preserve the bighorn population. The successful reintroduction of a herd near Kremmling, Colorado in 2014 is one of the great successes of these efforts, allowing bighorn sheep to once again roam their native land. Hunting tags for both rams and ewes are highly sought after and are carefully regulated to support these conservation efforts.