The difference between goats and sheep

The younger sibling asked me what the difference was between goats and sheep. Since big brothers must know everything :rolleyes:, I told her that goats and sheep were originally the same animal, but people bred them for either milk or wool respectively, and they became two distinct animals eventually. If you’re thinking that I’m full of crap, rest assured that I think so too. I honestly have no idea what makes a goat a goat and a sheep a sheep. Do you?

Here are some other thoughts/questions regarding sheep and goats:

They both look similar.
Both can grow horns.
Both can be used for wool (I’ve seen some pretty shaggy goats).
Are both used for dairy purposes, or just goats?
Bighorn sheep look a lot like goats to my untrained eyes. Are they indigenous to America, or did people bring them?
Do sheep and goats have a common ancestor? If so, how far back are we talking about?

Sheep get to go to heaven and goats go to hell in Christian symbolism.

But aren’t both sheep and goats referenced as separate animals in the Old Testament (like Genesis). So if they had a common ancestor, it would have been way, way, way back in time.

I’ve never seen a goat that looks like a sheep, and visa versa. The only similarity is that they’re both a whitish colour and have four legs. I’m in the UK, so it may be a different set of breeds we’re talking about here.

From here:

also, from here:

So you were right, you were full of crap :stuck_out_tongue:

+MDI, true, there are different breeds, but don’t these pictures look similar? The first two are sheep and the second two are goats.





Just because some breeds look similar doesn’t mean much. After all, they are pretty closely related. As the result of convergent evolution you see a number of only remotely related critters that look a lot alike.

Sheep follow, goats are independent.

Both sheep and goats can produce wool, but in each case it is a matter of breeding. Many sheep raised for mutton and goats raised for dairy have coats that are almost useless for spinning.

I have never heard of anyone milking a sheep.

There are two varieties of Bighorn, Ovis canadensis (Canadian Bighorn) and Ovis dalli (Dall Sheep). Both are native to North America and were not introduced by Europeans the way horses were. (Since they do not appear to be able to be domesticated, I suspect that they were also not introduced by humans coming from Asia.) Generally, sheep horns are much more curved than goat horns, curling back around the skull like the Los Angeles Ram logo while the curve on goat horns still projects up above the skull.
(The Rocky Mountain Goat, (Oreamnos americanus), is also native to North America, although it is actually more closely related to antelopes than to domesticated goats.)

Sheep and goats do have a common ancestor. Both are members of the Family Bovidae, sub-family Caprinae, however they appear to have diverged about or 5 - 7 million years ago (according to Gordon Luikart et al., in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)."sheep's+milk"&hl=en


I’m pretty sure I have. Hmm… no… no… aha! It’s used for cheese.

According to my vintage 1967 Joy of Cooking:

'Man makes cheeses from many milks - goat, ass, ewe, camel, and water buffalo, as well as the more reassuring cow."

Mmmmm, ass milk.

Goats are smarter than sheep. That’s not saying much, though; so are certain rocks.

Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

One’s left, one’s right.

Oh. And sheep are cuter…

I’ve not only heard but seen them being milked. Besides, if they weren’t where would I find such cheese as the roquefort or the basque Etorki?

Late on the “they do, so!” bandwagon, but I feel that I can add - I’ve drunk the milk! Yup. Allergic to dairy, see, so I had sheep’s milk for quite a while when the local farm was trying to branch out. Couldn’t tell you if it tastes like cow’s milk though, since I don’t know what that tastes like.

Goat’s milk is bloody foul though. Euch. That’s probably the biggest difference ;).

Goat’s milk is foul? Not in my experience. Milk from pygmy goats is excellent and very rich. Maybe you had some milk from goats that got into some odd feed.

Maybe that is the reason you hear stories about farmers having “relationships” with sheep but not goats.

Although there is prolly someone…eh, forget it.

I’ve never seen sheep that look like that in the UK. Although most sheep I come across are on hill farms when I’m out walking, so that may explain it.

Check out some of the various breeds of hair sheep:
Barbados Blackbelly
West African Dwarf
There are a bunch more, some more goaty-looking than others.

Funny, you never see sheep and goat together in the same room at the same time…