What are the Differences Between Sheep and Goats?

sheep and goats eating grass on pasture

It is easy to see the similarities between sheep and goats. They are both small ruminants and look similar to each other in size and weight. They can also have similar mannerisms and personalities. To the untrained eye, they seem to be almost the same, right? Actually, sheep and goats are very different in many ways, and even have different nutritional requirements.

Visual Differences

  • Coat – Perhaps the most obvious difference is their hair coat. Many breeds of sheep (with the exception of hair breeds) are known for their wool and require regular shearing as part of a comprehensive herd management plan. Most goats have short, coarse hair that does not need to be clipped and is mostly maintained on its own.
  • Mouths – A less obvious difference is the shape of the upper lip. The upper lip on a sheep has a groove in the middle, whereas goats do not.
  • Horns – Most sheep don’t have horns, and breeds that do, have thick horns that curl downwards, while goats tend to have straight, upright horns.
  • Tails – Goat tails generally stick upright. Sheep tails tend to hang down, which is why they are often shortened for herd health and hygiene.

Not So Visible Differences

  • Odor – Mature male goats produce a strong odor during breeding season. Mature male sheep do the same, but it’s usually less pungent.
  • Chromosomes – Goats have 60 chromosomes, while sheep only have 54. For reference, humans have 46 chromosomes.
  • Estrus – Sheep tend to have a slightly shorter estrus cycle or heat cycle. This means that sheep have a shorter timeframe that they are able to be bred and get pregnant when compared to a goat.
  • Behavior – Goats tend to be inquisitive and will oftentimes stray from their herd to investigate new things out of curiosity. Sheep prefer to stay in their herd.
  • Foraging – When out on pasture, goats are much more likely to eat leaves, twigs and shrubs. They are natural browsers. Sheep on the other hand, tend to be a little bit more picky and select grasses, clover, and broadleaf weeds instead.
  • Copper – Perhaps one of the most significant differences in nutritional requirements for sheep and goats would be how they utilize copper. Goats require copper and other trace minerals for overall health and development. Sheep, on the other hand, have a hard time metabolizing and disposing of excess copper. This means that even low levels of copper in their diet can result in copper toxicity. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you are providing a fortified diet that is species specific to make sure that your sheep and your goats are getting all of their nutrient requirements met. You can find some of our natural goat feed and sheep products on our website.

 As you can see, there are many differences between sheep and goats that may not always be obvious to the average person. It is important to take some of these differences into consideration when thinking about adding goats or sheep to your homestead. If you have any questions about what feed product is best for your goats or sheep, please contact us via social media, email, or phone today!


Hattie Hartschuh

A Sycamore, Ohio native, Hattie Hartschuh grew up only 25 minutes north of Kalmbach Feeds on her family's farm. Over the years, she and her family have raised cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, rabbits and chickens. Growing up on the farm also gave her the opportunity to show multiple species through 4-H and FFA. She pursued both her B.S. and her M.S. in Animal Science at Kansas State University, where she specialized in Ruminant Nutrition. Hattie joined the Kalmbach Feeds team in January of 2015 and thoroughly enjoys helping customers and dealers provide the best possible nutrition to their herds.