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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.


  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension
    sschoen@umd.edu - (301) 432-2767 x343
    www.sheepandgoat.com




Bluefaced Leicester ewes
Bluefaced Leicester Ewes

Crossbred Pygmy goat
Crossbred Pygmy goat

Katahdin lamb
Grazer

 Boer x Nubian goats browsing
Browsers

 


    Separating the sheep from the goats

  • Taxonomy
    While sheep and goats have many similarities, their taxonomy (scientific clasification) eventually diverges. Each is a distinct species and genus. Sheep (Ovis Aries) have 54 chromosomes, while goats (Capra Hircus) have 60. While sheep and goats will occasionally mate, fertile sheep-goat hybrids are rare. Hybrids made in the laboratory are called chimeras.


  • Look at their tails
    The easist way to tell the difference between a sheep and goat is to look at their tails. A goat's tail goes up (unless it is sick, frightened, or in distress). Sheep tails hang down and are often docked (shortened) for health and sanitary reasons.


  • Foraging behavior
    The biggest difference between sheep and goats is their foraging behavior and diet selection. Goats are natural browsers, preferring to eat leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs. They are very agile and will stand on their hind legs to reach vegetation. Sheep are grazers, preferring to eat short, tender grasses and clover. Their dietary preference is forbs (broadleaf weeds) and they like to graze close to the soil surface. Goats like to eat the tops of plants.


  • Behavior
    There are many behavior differences between sheep and goats. 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.

    Goats will seek shelter more readilty than sheep. Neither likes to get their feet wet and both prefer upland grazing to lowland.

    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 forceably to butt heads. This fighting behavior favors the ram.


  • Physical differences
    Sheep and goats have many physical differences. Most goats have hair coats that do not require shearing or combing. Most sheep grow wool and need to be sheared annually. Lamb tails are usually docked (shortened) whereas goat tails are not.

    Sheep have an upper lip that is divided by a distinct philtrum (groove). The goat does not.
    Male goats have glands beneath their tail. Sheep have face or tear glands beneath their eyes and foot or scent glands between the toes. Male goats develop a distinct odor as they grow in sextual maturity. The odor is very strong during the rut (mating season). Sexually mature rams have much less of an odor.


  • Horns
    Most goats naturally have horns. Some goats have beards. Many breeds of sheep are naturally hornless (polled). Some sheep have manes. Goat horns are more narrow, upright, and less curved than sheep horns. Sheep tend to curl their horns in loops on the sides of their heads.


    Learn about production differences between sheep and goats=>



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