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Are Sheep Ruminants?

Are Sheep Ruminants

Sheep, like cows and goats, are ruminants. This means that they have a stomach with four compartments. Their stomach allows them to undergo the process of rumination, which is regurgitating old chunks of food to chew them again.

The ruminant digestive system is special and unique. It allows the animal to store foods that they have eaten in the last 48 hours in their stomachs and let the food ferment before it is fully digested. Some foods can be regurgitated back into the mouths of the ruminant where they can be chewed again.

The process of rumination is vital for the survival of sheep and other ruminants. It allows these animals to store more food and to be more efficient when it comes to how much food they consume.

What is a Ruminant?

sheep eating

A ruminant is an animal with a ruminant digestive system. The most distinct feature of this type of animal is that it will chew the cud that comes from its rumen.

As such, sheep are also ruminants. Like other ruminants, such as cows or goats, sheep also have a four-chambered stomach, which is highly typical for ruminants. 

The main typical feature of ruminants is that they eat quickly and they let most of the digestion happen inside their stomachs. That’s because the bodies of ruminants don’t produce the same enzymes as human bodies do, so they need to chew quickly and let the foods ferment inside their stomachs and rechew these foods again later on.

sheep teeth

As the food ferments inside the rumen of the ruminant, it will regurgitate this food and rechew the food again. The food that comes back into the mouth of the ruminant is called cud. 

The cud is important for the ruminant since it allows it to fully digest the food they eat. Once they chew the cud again, it is passed to the other chambers of the stomach where the food is then fully digested. This is vital for sheep because they can’t fully digest some of the ingredients inside their foods, such as cellulose.

The completion of the digestion is done thanks to the many microorganisms and bacteria that are present inside the stomach of the sheep. These are present in all chambers of their stomach and allow the sheep to digest the food fully. It’s a complex process but a vital one for the survival of the sheep.

Why is a Sheep a Ruminant?

sheep eating hay

A sheep is a ruminant because it has a ruminant digestive system. This means that a sheep has four compartments in its stomach to help it store and eat the foods it has eaten in the last 48 hours.

Ruminants have distinct digestion. Their system is made in such a way that they will consume their foods rapidly and then store them inside their stomachs for some time. Inside the stomach, the food will ferment and digest, and it can later be re-used by the animal and eaten again.

A sheep has four chambers inside its stomach:

  • The rumen
  • Omasum
  • Reticulum
  • Abomasum

Each part of the stomach plays its role. The rumen is vital for the fermentation of the foods that sheep eat. In here, the foods will ferment and they will mix with various bacteria and other vital organisms. Inside the rumen, the foods will stay for up to 48 hours and form a thick mat until the food is fully digested.

sheep eating grass

The other three compartments also work together to digest food. Sheep eat their foods quickly and they don’t chew them fully. Most of the digestion happens inside the stomach and the foods that a sheep has eaten often return back to the mouth of the sheep for further chewing.

The ruminant digestive system allows the sheep to store more foods for the future and rely on their own stomachs for food. This allows them to withstand food shortages but also consume their foods more efficiently. It’s vital for sheep to store energy and have the energy to survive, although the digestive system also takes up a lot of energy itself.

How do Sheep Eat?


Sheep eat quickly as they don’t chew their foods completely. Instead of fully chewing the foods they eat, they will pass their food into the stomach where the food is then digested. 

Once the food passes into the stomach of the sheep, it is then digested inside the rumen. This is where the food will slowly ferment, which could take up to two days. After that, this food is then regurgitated by the sheep. This food is now called cud and it forces the sheep to chew the cud again.

This process of eating allows sheep to eat the foods that their digestive system allows them. This includes foods such as grass, grains, clover, leaves, and other similar types of food.

sheep wool

For chewing, sheep use their hind teeth such as the molars and the premolars. On the top of their mouth roofs, they have no teeth like most other animals.

In the front of the mouth, they have a fibrous pad instead. Using this pad and their bottom incisors, they will graze hay, grass and leaves from the ground and from the surrounding bushes.

After that, the food passes into the mouth of the sheep where it is chewed quickly. This process is quick because sheep then pass this food into the stomach, where most of the digestion happens.

Because sheep don’t have enzymes for digestion, they have to use their ruminant digestive system to complete the process. This process also includes rechewing the cud and then digesting the foods fully after.

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Final Thoughts

Sheep are ruminants. This means that they have a distinct digestive system and a four-chambered stomach that allows them to chew foods and consume them. During this process, the foods are regurgitated back into the mouths of the sheep, allowing them to fully digest their food.

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