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Sheep are from Mars, Goats are from Venus

A question I often get is, “What are the differences between sheep and goats?”

Actually, there are quite a few differences between these small ruminant species.  There are so many differences it leads me to believe sheep are from Mars and goats are from Venus.   They are almost as different as horses are to rabbits (except for the huge size disparity).

Called small ruminants because they share similar digestive systems as cattle (four stomachs that utilize bacteria to ferment cellulose for energy), sheep and goats are much smaller in stature, but they still have differences between their natural eating behaviors.  Sheep are technically grazers, meaning they prefer chewing grass and clover low to the ground. Goats, on the other hand are known as browsers, meaning they often choose to select leaves, shrubs, vines and weeds.  They like to eat at the tops of plants, higher off the ground. They are very agile and will stand on their hind legs to reach vegetation.

This natural difference between the two animals is key when it comes to pasture management.  Sheep have an overall better resistance to pasture parasites because they have evolved eating close to the ground, putting them in close contact with roundworms, tapeworms and the like.  Goats, in contrast, developed eating off the ground over time.  With less contact with parasites in manure on the ground, goats have a less developed natural ability to resist parasitic infections.   

Sheep have a narrow tolerance for excess copper in their diet, though toxic levels depend upon the level of other minerals in their diets.  Breeds also vary in their sensitivity to copper toxicity.  For this reason, it is generally recommended that sheep not be fed grain and mineral mixes that have been formulated for other livestock (including goats), as these feeds likely have copper added to them.  Goats require more copper in their diets than sheep and are not sensitive to copper toxicity.  Their maximum level of copper is considered to be similar to cattle.  When sheep are co-mingled with goats or cattle, sheep products should be fed as a safety factor. 

Lambs (sheep) tend to grow much faster than kids (goats), no matter what the diet is.  Sheep convert feed more efficiently.  For that reason, grain-feeding is less likely to be profitable in goat meat production.  Sheep and goats often “fatten” very differently.  Goats will deposit fat around their internal organs before depositing external fat over their back, ribs and loin.  Sheep deposit external fat before depositing the internal fat.

Another notable difference is the general behavior.  Goats are naturally curious and independent.  Sheep have a natural flocking instinct and will prefer to stay together and follow each other.  It is easier to keep sheep inside a fence, while goats will look for creative ways to get out.  Goats will look for shelter from a storm while sheep don’t mind weathering a storm in a tight group in open terrain.

And finally, appearance differences abound.  Goats have hair (not wool).  Most sheep have a thick coat of wool covering their bodies that needs to be sheared off repeatedly during their lifetime.  Goat tails will stand up while sheep tails go down.  Most sheep tails are docked at birth for health and sanitary reasons.  Many breeds of sheep are polled (meaning they have no horns).  Those sheep who do have horns often have thick, tightly curved horns at the sides of their heads.  In contrast, goats have horns in most cases.  And the horns tend to be narrow, upright, less curved, and come to a sharper point.

A final bit of trivia: Which female has a longer gestation (pregnancy)?

The doe (goat) has a 150 day gestation and the ewe will range from 145-147 days.

I hope this information has been interesting and maybe even helpful.  To learn more about high quality feed products available for sheep and goats visit

Posted on 3/30/2016 by Amy Brown  |   Category: Sheep, Goat


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