Cartilage is a sex-hormone-sensitive tissue but the role of estrogen in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis (OA) remains controversial. In this study, intrinsic material properties and thickness of articular cartilage of the knee joint of ovariectomized (OVX) and estrogen-treated sheep were measured. Skeletally mature ewes (N = 36, same breed, same housing 4-5 years old) were divided into; sham treated (n = 9), OVX (N = 13), OVX plus one estradiol implant (OVXE; N = 10) and OVX plus two estradiol implants (OVX2E; N = 4). Twelve months following sham procedure or OVX, sheep were euthanized and articular cartilage from a total of 216 points in the left femorotibial (knee) joints was tested for aggregate modulus, Poisson's ratio, permeability, thickness and shear modulus (six sites per sheep). When all of the sites in each knee were grouped together, OVX had a significant effect on articular cartilage. The sham cartilage of all sites grouped together had a larger aggregate modulus (P = 0.001) and a larger shear modulus (P = 0.054) than the OVX tissue. No statistically significant differences were seen for permeability and thickness between OVX, sham, OVXE and OVX2E. Differences existed in biomechanical properties at the different sites that were tested. Overall, no one location tended to be lowest or highest for all variables. This biomechanical study suggests that OVX may have a detrimental effect on the intrinsic material properties of the articular cartilage of the knee, even though the cartilage of the OVX animals appeared normal. Treatment with estradiol implants ameliorated these deleterious effects and may have helped maintain the tissue's structural integrity. Our study supports epidemiological studies of OA in women after menopause. The protective effect of estrogen and it's therapeutic effect remain to be further defined. This model may allow the relationship of estrogen and estrogen antagonists to be studied in greater detail, and may be valuable for the study of the pathogenesis and therapies of OA of postmenopausal women, particularly in its early stages.