Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is it a Sheep or a Goat?

Let’s put this to rest once and for all: goats and sheep are two separate species.  A goat is not a sheep. Period. Sounds obvious, but the two get confused ALL THE TIME. So here goes, one more time…
You may recall Sprint’s “screaming goat” ads during the 2015 Super Bowl. It morphed into a gazillion YouTube videos of screaming “goats”, like this one (click here to see the actual ad):
Folks, this is a SHEEP (NOT a goat...)

goat or sheep?
Well, hello, that is a sheep. Even my toddlers know that – black face, woolly hair, blank expression, etc. There are some tricky sheep that do look like goats, though:

That one’s a sheep…I guessed wrong when I first saw it, too.
I asked my vet buddy how he tells the difference: “The tail!” he emphatically explained.  “Goat tails point up; sheep tails point down.”  Aha!  But what if you can’t see the tail…?  Hence my Internet searching on a Tuesday morning.

Physical Attributes

  • Sheep (Ovis aries) have 54 chromosomes – Goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) have 60 chromosomes. So, technically, you can’t get fertile offspring out of a cross-breeding. But in 1984 Modern Science created a fertile hybrid called a Geep. Go figure. Anyway, you can’t count chromosomes or fertility simply by looking at an animal, so it’s not very helpful.
"Geep" = sheep + goat

    Tail down = goat?

The "tail up/down" usually works --- unless the goat is scared, sick, or in heat.  

  • Another article (NPR article)  stated that you can tell by the ears: “goats have sticky out small ears! … flappers surely belong to a sheep.” Au contraire, mon frère:
Meet "Ruby" the Nubian GOAT - floppy ears, tail up up up.

    Pygora GOAT
  • "Goats have hair; sheep have wool." Sometimes --- some sheep have hair that doesn’t need to be shorn, and some goats have hair that must be shorn periodically. I’m thinking of Angora goats. Then there’s the fantabulous Pygora goat that is a cross between a Pygmy goat and an Angora goat. It looks like a sheep, for God’s sake!

Djallonke SHEEP - looks like a goat, but it's not

  • A goat is slender; a sheep is tubby (says them). They obviously have not met my goat, "Addie" (aka "Fatty") - she's not pregnant:

SHEEP                                                                        GOAT

Behavioral Attributes

Grazing Sheep
Blaze browsing (for chips)

  • Goats are smart; sheep are stupid. OK, maybe I’m making some gross generalizations here, but I challenge you to spend time with each species and come to a different conclusion.
    In an interview on the subject of goats vs. sheep,
    Ofeibea Quist-Arcton (NPR’s Africa correspondent) stated that goats appear to have more personality than sheep because they are always exploring and investigating things in their constant quest for food (browsing); they seem to be more interactive and engaging.  Sheep just stand around.“When you're a grazing animal, like sheep, you spend a lot of time with your head down eating grass. That's much less interesting to people.” (BORING) (NPR)

    But, in the sheep’s defense, Ofeibea tells the story of a goat and a sheep fighting.  The goat reared up to head butt the sheep from above, whereupon the sheep just rammed the goat in the gut.  Who’s stupid now, I ask?

  • Goats are more likely to seek shelter than sheep (Sheep 101). (see my comments about “Goats are smart, sheep are stupid.” Just sayin’…)

  • Goats are curious and independent, while sheep are “distant and aloof(Sheep 101). True(see above…).

  I also stumbled upon some strange religious explanations of how sheep and goats differ. (For the record, I was raised Episcopalian and am not an active church-goer, but I have nothing against people who are deeply attached to their religious beliefs. OK? Now back to my story…)

  I found these sites because they had sweet photos:
Cute Sheep and Goat
 However, the content wasn’t so sweet.  In sum, both sheep and goats are “followers of Jesus” (actually, sheep and goats follow just about anyone with a grain bucket. But anyway…) Sheep, however, “care for other followers, goats do not”  (Sheep vs. Goats).  The article is vague about how sheep care for others exactly - I guess by giving wool and milk and meat? But, hold on, goats do that, too. 

  It goes downhill from there:

  “The goats do not see where the victory lays.   They say if you are hungry, get a job.  If you are thirsty, why didn’t you save some money instead of buying that new coat.” etc. 
  They conclude that sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell, so be careful how you choose which one you want to be.  Um, OK. 

  But I digress.

  So, basically what I came up with is that sometimes sheep really, really look like goats and vice versa.  The tail and the lip give you the best clues. Worst case, you have a 50/50 chance of being right.

Cutey Pie SHEEP

Adult Jacob SHEEP

Baby Jacob SHEEP
  What does it matter?  They are all cute. Can’t we all just get along?

Goats and Sheep, living together