The Characteristics of Sheep vs. Goats

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Sheep and goats are both small livestock animals raised for their wool, hair or pelts as well as milk and meat. Sheep and goats were the first animals that humans domesticated, and they continue to be among the most popular livestock animals. If you look closely at sheep and goats, you'll notice their physical differences and be able to distinguish between the two. Sheep also have behavioral characteristics that set them apart from goats.

Appearance

Sheep have a thicker, fuller coat that needs to be sheared and is the source of wool. Goats can also be sheered to produce mohair and cashmere. Most goats have horns, but sheep do not. Sheep and goats have different mouths -- sheep have an upper lip with a division in it called a philtrum, but goats don't. Goats have tails that point upwards and sheep have tails that hang down. Sheep tails are often shortened (cropped or docked).

Behavior

Sheep are most comfortable with their flock, and they tend to run if approached or spooked. Goats are more independent, intelligent and tolerant of interaction in general. Sheep like to graze on grass, while goats prefer to graze on anything they can, including leaves, twigs and anything edible they can reach.

Reproduction

Sheep and goats are separate species and cannot interbreed to produce fertile offspring. However, scientists can produce genetic chimeras (combinations) of sheep and goat in laboratories. Sheep have 54 chromosomes, and goats have 60 chromosomes.

Terminology

An adult male sheep is called a ram and an adult female sheep is a ewe. Young sheep are lambs. An adult male goat is called a buck or billy, and an adult female goat is called a doe or nanny. Young goats are called kids.

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    Sheila Zahra began working as an editor and writer in 2004. She has edited full-length works of fiction and nonfiction, and has written articles and essays for academic and business clients. Zahra earned a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and creative writing from California State University, Long Beach, in 2006. She currently lives and works in Eugene, Oregon.