Separating the sheep from the goats
While sheep and goats have many similarities, their taxonomy (scientific clasification) eventually diverges. Each is a distinct species and genus. Sheep (Ovis Aries) have 54 chromosomes, while goats (Capra Hircus) have 60. While sheep and goats will occasionally mate, fertile sheep-goat hybrids are rare. Hybrids made in the laboratory are called chimeras.
• Look at their tails
The easist way to tell the difference between a sheep and goat is to look at their tails. A goat's tail goes up (unless it is sick, frightened, or in distress). Sheep tails hang down and are often docked (shortened) for health and sanitary reasons.
• Foraging behavior
The biggest difference between sheep and goats is their foraging behavior and diet selection. Goats are natural browsers, preferring to eat leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs. They are very agile and will stand on their hind legs to reach vegetation. Sheep are grazers, preferring to eat short, tender grasses and clover. Their dietary preference is forbs (broadleaf weeds) and they like to graze close to the soil surface. Goats like to eat the tops of plants.
There are many behavior differences between sheep and goats. Goats are naturally curious and independent, while sheep tend to be more distant and aloof. Sheep have a stronger flocking instinct and become very agitated if they are separated from the rest of the flock.
Goats will seek shelter more readilty than sheep. Neither likes to get their feet wet and both prefer upland grazing to lowland.
In a fight, a ram will back up and charge to butt heads. A goat will rear up on his hind legs and come down forceably to butt heads. This fighting behavior favors the ram.
• Physical differences
Sheep and goats have many physical differences. Most goats have hair coats that do not require shearing or combing. Most sheep grow wool and need to be sheared annually. Lamb tails are usually docked (shortened) whereas goat tails are not.
Sheep have an upper lip that is divided by a distinct philtrum (groove). The goat does not.
Male goats have glands beneath their tail. Sheep have face or tear glands beneath their eyes and foot or scent glands between the toes. Male goats develop a distinct odor as they grow in sextual maturity. The odor is very strong during the rut (mating season). Sexually mature rams have much less of an odor.
Most goats naturally have horns. Some goats have beards. Many breeds of sheep are naturally hornless (polled). Some sheep have manes. Goat horns are more narrow, upright, and less curved than sheep horns. Sheep tend to curl their horns in loops on the sides of their heads.
Sheep and goat production
The estrus cycle of the ewe averages 17 days; 21 days for the doe. Goats are much easier to artificially inseminate (breed) than sheep. Sheep have a complicated cervix which makes passage of an insemination rod very difficult. Sheep show few visible signs of estrus (heat) as compared to goats. Male goats have an offensive odor during the mating season; rams do not.
Though it varies by breed, goats tend to be less seasonal and more prolific than sheep.
Sheep and goats have similar nutrient requirements, though goats have slighter higher maintenance requirements, as they are usually a smaller animal (by weight). Sheep tend to grow much faster than goats, no matter what the diet is. They convert feed more efficiently. Grain-feeding is less likely to be profitable in goat production.
With the exception of hair sheep, sheep and goats fatten very differently. Goats deposit fat around their internal organs before depositing external fat. Sheep deposit external fat before depositing internal fat. Finn sheep and some of the hair breeds deposit fat around their organs similar to goats.
Sheep have a narrow tolerance for excess copper in their diet, though toxic levels depend upon the availability of other minerals (Molybednum and Sulfur) in the diet. It is recommended that sheep be fed grain and mineral mixes that have been specifically formulated for sheep, as products formulated for other livestock or generic livestock feeds will likely have added copper.
It can also be risky to graze sheep on pastures that have been fertilized with poultry or hog manure. It is not advisable to use copper as a deworming agent. Goats have require more copper in their diet than sheep and are not as sensitive to copper toxicity. When co-mingled, sheep products should be fed.
Sheep and goats are generally susceptible to the same diseases, including scrapie, which is transmitted via infected placenta to genetically-susceptible animals. Sheep and goats are infected by the same internal parasites (worms), though coccidia are species-specific.
Goats tend to be more susceptible to worms than sheep, due to their origins and natural browsing behavior. Goats metabolize anthelmintics quicker and require higher doses of the drugs. The clostridial vaccines also seem to be less effective in goats. Fewer drugs are FDA-approved for use in goats.
OPP (ovine progressive pneumonia) and CAE (caprine arthritic encephalitis), are similar diseases, caused by a slow virus like HIV, that affect sheep and goats, respectively. The primary mode of transmission is through the colostrum. Cross infection is possible.
• There is no disease similar to "floppy kid syndrome" in lambs.
• Social dominance
Due to their more aggressive behavior, goats will usually dominate sheep, especially if the goats have horns. However, when young bucks and rams are maintained together, rams will dominate because the ram will preemptively strike the buck in the abdomen while the buck is still in the act of rearing up.