Goats and Sheep: The Basics

How do you know which is which, in some cases they look very similar. This and other basic information on goats and sheep. Learn more about sheep and goats.

There are many different breeds of Goats and Sheep, many times they look a bit like one another. It is hard for many people to tell them apart. Not all sheep have wool, and not all Goats have short smooth hair. How on earth do you tell them apart if they do not have signs above their pastures?

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This is a Barbado hair sheep, as he gets older he will grow a handsome set of horns.

What is the Difference?

  • Goats are browsers, they prefer to feed on shrubs, bushes, and trees. Sheep are grazers, they prefer to feed on things on the ground, such as grass.
  • Most Goat Breeds have tails that stick up, where as sheep have tails that hang down (many are docked or cut short within a few days of birth).
  • Goats have 60 Chromosomes, Sheep have only 54. Reports of them being able to crossbreed are rare and unproven.
  • Male Goats and some females have “beards”. Sheep do not, but some male hair sheep have “manes”.
  • Goats are not very tolerant of rain or cold weather, often seeking shelter.
  • Sheep are more likely to seek shelter from the sun on a hot day, and will tolerate some rain or cold weather.
  • Goats often leave their “kids” in groups to rest while the “does” feed.
  • Sheep keep their lambs by their sides.
  • Many breeds of goats can climb fences.
  • Sheep are not known as climbers.
  • Male Goats rear up on their hind legs and come down to “butt heads”.
  • Male Sheep back up and charge to “butt heads”.
  • Goats have solid upper lips.
  • In sheep the upper lip is divided.
  • Female goats are called does, or nannies, males are called bucks or billies, their young are called kids.
  • Females sheep are called ewes, males are called rams, their young are called lambs.

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Both these photos are Goats, the pictures are from Wikimedia.

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Other Facts on Sheep and Goats

Not all sheep are Woolly, some breeds have “hair” and shed in the summer. These sheep do not require sheering or having their tails docked.

Some goats are kept for fiber – such as the Angora Goat.

The average lifespan of a goat or sheep is 10-14 years, but some live much longer, depending on breed.

Gestation Period (pregnancy) is about 5 months for both.

Goats usually have 2 kids at once, but may have many more, Sheep usually have between 1-3 lambs.

Both Goats and Sheep are easily preyed upon by Coyotes, Wolves, and other predators, especially when they are young. A Llama makes an excellent guard animal against Coyotes, but is no match for larger predators. A donkey or guard dog should be used in such cases.

Father goats or sheep are called Sires, Mother goats or sheep are called Dams.

Goats and Sheep do not have front top teeth.

Neutered male goats and sheep are called Wethers.

Goats and Sheep can be kept together.

This is a Blackhead Persian Sheep, photo from Wikimedia.

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If you are looking for a pet sheep or goat you may find that one who has been orphaned and bottle fed to be more friendly. Adult male goats will become aggressive, as such only Wethers or females should be kept as pets. Both do prefer company of their own kind and should not be kept singly. If however you do, then you should provide them with another companion animal, such as an alpaca.

Can you guess what this is?

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He is a Jacob ram, a sheep. They often have four or more horns, even the females. Photo from Wikimedia.

Related Links

Advantages of Hair Sheep

Unusual Pets:  Sheep

Considerations for getting a Pet Goat

More About the Exotic Jacob Sheep

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13 Responses to “Goats and Sheep: The Basics”
  1. Sussy Says...

    On April 27, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I just bought 5 goats — 2 nannies with 3 kids. The kids are so cute — one is a female, the other 2 were just “wethered.”

  2. Nissa Annakindt Says...

    On November 15, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Goats and sheep really can interbreed, so long as it’s a male sheep and female goat, but the babies are usually miscarried early. This can be a problem if you run sheep and goats together. There is one documented case that I have read of in which a sheep/goat hybrid survived to birth and was scientifically verified. The ‘geep’ was nicknamed Rapist because of his tendency to mate anything that came along.

  3. Farah Whi Says...

    On November 23, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    I love what you wrote about sheep and goats! I hope you write more! I can’t resist! Bye, I look forward for more information on sheep and goats!

  4. Nicole Says...

    On December 3, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    What kind of weather do they perfer because im doing a project (thats due 2 moro) and i really need to know!!!PLZ

  5. Mark Gordon Brown Says...

    On December 4, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Nicole.

    Some breeds of sheep are suited to some kinds of weather, typically the HAIR SHEEP (such as the Barbado in the picture with me) do well in hot climates and colder ones, because they shed in the summer and grow more hair in the winter – although over all they cannot take as much cold as a wooly sheep, they still do well in most parts of the world and can take below 0 celcius well enough.
    WOOL SHEEP on the other hand – unless shorn have a very difficult time in the heat, but do alright in cooler or wet climates.

    of course nobody “loves” the rain – but they “tollerate” it better.

  6. CATHEY NICOL Says...

    On January 31, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Are citrus leaves okay for babado sheep to eat?

  7. Mark Gordon Brown Says...

    On February 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    to Cathey
    I actually dont know, I have heard the fruit causes diahrea.

    I do know that leaves of plants belonging to the PRUNUS family are very bad after a frost – (eg plum) as they develop cyanide then.
    I wouldnt take the chances. Call a vet if your sheep accidentaly ate some and you are worried.

  8. emily Says...

    On November 4, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    wow i didennt know that … i have two gaots and one is a mixed breed and she differnt than my other goat she looked more like a sheep lol

  9. Mandy Says...

    On April 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Hi I’m buying a Billy goat today but I’m not sure
    what to feed him. I don’t know how old he is or
    anything he is small with button horns. I’m buying him
    for my kids and to b honest I just want him. But I read they
    pee on their beards and stuff and he has to ride n the
    cab of the truck I hope he doesn’t turn into psycho Billy
    b4 I make it home with him. Any info u can give will b
    greatly appreciated!
    Thanks n advance

  10. Mark Gordon Brown Says...

    On April 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    hi Mandy
    Congrats on your new billy
    Be warned they can get mean if you treat them too much like a pet, this is why billies are often wethered, gelded. They can eat hay, and if thin or in colder climates can have oats too, but again if you spoil a billy by giving him oats from your hand he may become pushy.
    If this is a bottle baby read this

    also the link above on considering goats might be helpful.

  11. Mandy Says...

    On April 6, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Thank u. When I left him this am he was crying and it made me feel bad. He seemed to love my Cajun potato salad yesterday. Now I need to find him a girl friend so he won’t be lonely but I’m not sure how old he is his horns are a bit longer than I thought. I want a nice gentle playful goat.

  12. Linda Says...

    On October 27, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Hi I just got 2 kids (Baby goats) Will it be ok if they breed together….they are brother and sister…we dont want them 2 breed but we dont know what to look out for when she comes on season..As we have never had goats before

  13. Brenda Nelson Says...

    On August 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Linda Its best not to let full brother and sister breed together if you can help it. You should sell one goat, or the other. Perhaps wether the billy goat so he cannot breed. Some people will let siblings breed in livestock but if so its very important that their offspring do not breed again.

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