Microdamage and failure mechanisms have been well characterized in bovine trabecular bone. However, little is known about how elastic strains develop in the apatite crystals of the trabecular struts and their relationship with different deformation mechanisms. In this study, wide-angle high-energy synchrotron X-ray diffraction has been used to determine bulk elastic strains under in situ compression. Dehydrated bone is compared to hydrated bone in terms of their response to load. During compression, load is initially borne by trabeculae aligned parallel to loading direction with non-parallel trabeculae deforming by bending. Ineffective load partitioning is noted in dehydrated bone whereas hydrated bone behaves like a plastically yielding foam. © 2010 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.