Goats and sheep are both farm animals that are similar in many ways. They’re also very different in terms of appearance, behavior, and temperament. Goats vs Sheep, find out which one is better for your homestead.
For over a decade, we’ve raised a miniature dairy goat breed called Nigerian Dwarf Goats. They are my favorite breed.
My only personal experience with sheep is when our church needed us to house sheep at our coastal homestead for a week for the Christmas play, we called it the Christmas Sheep. But that’s a story in itself.
So I looked to my friend Sam Crandall or Northern Marsh Farms, who has over 30 years experience raising sheep, to do a little side-by-side comparison with me.
Of course we are both biased, I prefer goats and he prefers sheep. In his defense, he has raised both species where my experience with sheep is minimal.
Are Sheep and Goats The Same Thing?
Although they are similar, goats and sheep are not the same. They are two different species.
Before we talk about their differences, let’s talk about what they do have in common.
What Do Goats and Sheep Have In Common?
- They are both part of the bovine family. Which also include antelope and cattle.
- Goats and Sheep are both ruminants. This means they both have four chambered stomachs.
- They both are even-toed ungulates. Meaning they have two main hooves on each foot, a split hoof. Also referred to as a cloven hoof.
- Goats and sheep are both raised for meat, milk, fiber, land management, and by-products such as leather, manure, as well as skulls/horns.
- Teeth. Both goats and sheep have teeth on the bottom front, and upper and bottom back. However, both are lacking upper front teeth.
Physical Differences Between Goats and Sheep
When sheep are sheared, or very young, it’s hard to tell the difference between goats and sheep.
Goat vs Sheep Chromosomes
One difference between goats vs sheep that you can’t see from the outside, is that sheep have 54 chromosomes while goats have 60.
Which means they don’t crossbreed, for the most part. However it can happen but it’s rare.
If a pair is successful at breeding, their offspring will be infertile. Much like mules, when breeding horses and donkeys together.
Many commercial sheep breeders dock their tails at birth to help with bot flies and sanitation issues.
However, if left alone, a sheep’s tail hangs downward while a goat’s tail points up.
An exception to these rules is if a goat is sick or scared.
This is a telltale sign for you as a goat owner that something is wrong with your goat and requires further investigation.
Most sheep have wool coats while goats mainly have hair.
Sheep require shearing which can be daunting for the inexperienced homesteader.
Our friend Sam states his shearer charges $5.00 per sheep and $3.00 to trim hooves. However, a shearer can be hard to find, and if you do find one, getting them to have available time can be a little tricky.
Goats, on the other hand, don’t require any shearing. They do like to be brushed on occasion.
Which Is Better Sheep or Goats?
Sheep (at least Jacobs) are a ton easier to care for than goats.
Commercial sheep are born looking for a place to drop dead while goats are born looking for new and more inventive ways to kill themselves. From a farmers perspective of course.
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 forcibly to butt heads. During confrontation, such fighting behavior favors the ram.
Which One Is Healthier, Goats or Sheep?
Hands down, heritage or primitive breeds will always be healthier than commercial breeds.
Goats are far more susceptible to worm loads and general illness than a primitive breed of sheep.
On the other hand, commercial sheep are far worse in that regard to goats.
There are a lot of differences between commercial sheep breeds and the primitive breeds.
Commercial sheep are far more touchy than the primitive breeds. Lot more sensitive to things like worms, copper intake, grass, feed quality, etc.
While all sheep require copper, the threshold before they hit toxicity is vast, unlike goats.
Goats and sheep will bloat on too much grass, same as any other ruminant.
Which Are More Intelligent Goats or Sheep?
- Sheep and goats usually exhibit different behavior.
- 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.
- It is easier to keep sheep inside a fence than goats. Sheep are easier to handle than goats.
- Goats will seek shelter more readily than sheep.
- Neither species likes to get its feet wet and both prefer upland grazing to lowland.
- Goats are often described as being “smart” because they are able to learn new things quickly.
- They also have a strong sense of independence and will not follow others blindly.
Is It Easier To Handle Goats or Sheep?
Rams need to be trained early on. They can kill you if their behavior isn’t monitored. Even a well mannered ram can’t be trusted fully.
My current ram is great, but I don’t trust him further than I can throw my barn. He’s only challenged me once, but I won’t turn my back on him.
My previous ram got turned into burritos after ambushing me and making my knee bend in unnatural directions more than once.
Smaller goat breeds, such as the Nigerian Dwarf, are easier to handle. Even if they try to push you around. It only takes one WWF pin to make them realize who’s the boss.
Goats Are More Independent Than Sheep
Goats are generally considered to be more independent than sheep. This means that they tend to spend less time with other members of the herd and more time alone. However, they do enjoy spending time with humans.
Jacobs (sheep) are gonna do what they wanna do, regardless of what or how many times you tell/show them.
For real entertainment, watch someone halter train a Jacob, it’s pure entertainment for everyone except the person on the other end of the lead.
Goats Are More Stubborn Than Sheep
Goats are known for being very independent and stubborn. They will not follow orders unless they feel like doing so. If you try to force a goat into something, it will likely just walk away.
Can You Make More Money With Goats? Or Sheep?
Goats are money sinks. I’ve never made anything off a goat, where sheep at least pay some of their room and board.
Sheep have fleece, tanned hides, meat, skulls (huge skull market out there for well developed horn sets), goats have hair (angora) meat and the occasional hide.
Jacobs are not for milking. Their teats are tiny and they only produce enough to care for a lamb, you’d be lucky to get more than a few cups at a time.
Larger goat breeds are heavy milkers, some up to a gallon a day. So if you are looking for dairy, goats are what you would want to go with.
Which Is Best For You?
Goats vs sheep? After reading the pros and cons to both from a farmer who has raised both, which direction are you leaning?
As I mentioned before, I am a little biased as we raise goats. Not to mention, the shearing aspect is daunting to me. Simply because I know how hard it is to find a sheerer and I don’t want them to go unmanicured for periods of time.