It is not known if the ruminant animal gastrointestinal tract (GIT) can oxidise essential amino acids (AA) other than leucine. Therefore, the oxidation of four essential AA (leucine, lysine, methionine and phenylalanine), supplied systemically as labelled 1-13C forms, was monitored across the mesenteric-drained viscera (MDV; small intestine) and portal-drained viscera (PDV; total GIT), as part of a 4×4 Latin square design, in four wether sheep (35–45 kg) fed at 1·4 × maintenance. Oxidation was assessed primarily by appearance of 13CO2, corrected for sequestration of [13C]bicarbonate. The GIT contributed 25 % (P<0·001) and 10 % (P<0·05) towards whole-body AA oxidation for leucine and methionine respectively. This reduced net appearance across the PDV by 23 and 11 % respectively. The contribution of MDV metabolism to total PDV oxidation was 40 % for leucine and 60 % for methionine. There was no catabolism of systemic lysine or phenylalanine across the GIT. Production and exchange of secondary metabolites (e.g. 4-methyl-2-oxo-pentanoate, homocysteine, 2-aminoadipate) across the GIT was also limited. Less AA appeared across the PDV than MDV (P<0·001), indicative of use by tissues such as the forestomach, large intestine, spleen and pancreas. The PDV: MDV net appearance ratios varied (P<0·001) between AA, e.g. phenylalanine (0·81), lysine (0·71), methionine (0·67), leucine (0·56), histidine (0·71), threonine (0·63) and tryptophan (0·48). These differences probably reflect incomplete re-absorption of endogenous secretions and, together with the varied oxidative losses measured, will alter the pattern of AA net supply to the rest of the animal.