How can you tell the difference between sheep and goats?

By August 4, 2016 October 28th, 2019 Archives

Though these two small ruminants have many similarities, sheep and goats are actually very different in terms of their anatomy, genealogy, and natural behavior. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when deciding which species you are looking at:

1. Are they wearing a fur or wool coat?

Most goats sport a fur (hair) coat and sheep are most often cloaked in warm, cozy wool (though there are some sheep breeds that also coated in hair). If you’re a sheep, this sounds fine and dandy – until summer comes! G.A.P. requires shepherds to shear their sheep (trim the wool) at least once a year during the warmer months.

Goat and Sheep

2. Which way is the tail pointing?

Goat tails are naturally short and point straight up. Most meat sheep breeds have tails that are long, covered in wool, and point down (however, there are some breeds with bare rat-tails or fat-tails that store energy fat deposits). Having an appendage placed directly in line with the fecal disposal area can be a troublesome hygiene issue. Moreover, it can also attract parasites and lead to a major health problem called ‘fly strike’. This is why farmers often dock (shorten) the tails to combat fecal buildup in the first place. G.A.P. allows Step 1 and 4 operations to perform this procedure, as long it is done at a young age using certain methods, but prohibits it at Step levels 5 and 5+.

3. Are they eating grass or trees?

Sheep are grazers, that is, they like to eat forage at hoof-level, such as grass and legumes. Although goats also graze, their naturally elevated head position trademarks them as notorious browsers, meaning they like to eat things at eye-level (or higher!). You will often find goats standing on their hind legs to reach low-hanging tree leaves instead of relishing in the seemingly easy-to-reach grass under their hooves. G.A.P. requires that sheep have access to grazing-friendly pasture, while goats have access to range land that allows them to both graze and browse.

Goats & Sheep