Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sheep or goat?

He looks like a sheep but he’s a goat. Traveling children’s photographers in days gone by often photographed youngsters in a cart or wagon drawn by a goat. Thanks to their impressive horns and long, luxurious locks, Angora goats were the cart goat of choice. Note this handsome Angora goat’s tail and the shape of his horns—dead giveaways that he isn’t a sheep.

Sheep or Goat?

Some folks think hair sheep like Mopple resemble goats. While that’s somewhat true, they aren’t the same; there are easily noticeable physical differences between sheep and goats.

Consider tails. Unless they’re frightened or ill, goats’ tails stick up; they’re short, with a fringe of longer hair at the sides. Sheep’s tails always hang down. Wool sheep lambs are born with long, woolly tails ( that are usually docked (shortened) to help prevent flystrike later on. Flystrike is a particularly nasty condition in which blowflies lay their eggs in the wool on sheep’s manure-encrusted tails; when the eggs hatch, the resulting maggots secrete enzymes that liquefy their host’s flesh and create a nasty, open wound. Because hair sheep lambs don’t have wool on their tails, they needn’t be docked. Mopple gets to keep his cute tail.

What about a beard? Goats of both sexes can have beards, though not every goat has one. Sheep never have beards, though rams of most hair breeds have manes: longer hair on their shoulders and their lower necks.

Look at those horns. Unless they’re disbudded ( or dehorned, nearly all goats have horns, though polled (naturally hornless) goats exist; sheep come in polled and horned breeds (in some horned breeds only rams have horns, in others both sexes have them). The horns on most goats sweep back and then up or out while horns on most sheep breeds curve into loops at the sides of their faces. Dorpers and Katadhins are both naturally polled; Mopple won’t have horns.

If it’s a male, does he make you think pee-ooo? Bucks have the charming habit of spraying urine on the backs of their front legs and into their faces while they’re in rut (girl goats find this sexy); during rut, scent glands near their horns (or where their horns would be if they are polled or disbudded) emit a strong aroma too. Rams don’t reek when they’re in rut (score one for sheep!).

Goats are (usually) hairy; sheep are (generally) woolly.
This, however, is not a given. Most hair sheep breeds ( are carpeted in coarse hair with a soft, fluffy undercoat under that; some breeds grow short wool. Both types of hair sheep spontaneously shed their winter coats, whereas wool sheep must be shorn once or twice a year. To confound things, Angora goats ( grow long, lustrous, non-shedding locks of fiber; many people mistake Angoras for sheep.

Check the lip. A sheep’s upper lip is divided by a distinct groove; while there is a shallow crease in a goat’s upper lip, it’s only superficial.

The eyes have it. Sheep have distinct tear-shaped scent glands at the lower corners of their eyes as well as scent glands between their toes; goats don’t.

And though you can’t see this. Sheep have 54 chromosomes whereas goats have 60. This is why sheep and goats are rarely inter-fertile. Very, very infrequently a geep is conceived and carried to term. Be sure to visit this site ( to read about Lisa the German geep—she’s adorable! Geep can also be produced in the laboratory, in which case they’re called chimera ( and they’re pretty darned cute too.

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