How to Tell the Difference Between a Sheep and a Goat

Posted by Stacey Venzel

Have you ever confused a goat and a sheep?

From “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to the Three Billy Goats Gruff, these baah-ing livestock are engrained in our childhoods. If we’re lucky enough, we even get to work with them on a farm.

But have you ever found yourself mixing up goats and sheep? They look a lot alike!

Goats and sheep have defining characteristics that distinguish them from one another. There are also some generalizations that do not always hold true but can be helpful in determining if you’re petting a goat or a sheep.

What are the differences between goats and sheep? Test your knowledge before reading the list of differences!


 1. Fur

Sheep typically have fluffy wool that requires shearing while goats have flatter hair as their coat and do not usually need to be sheared. (The Caribbean hair sheep is somewhat of an exception.)

Cashmere comes from goats; fleece and of coarse wool come from sheep.

 2. Beards

Both male and female goats often have a beard, unlike sheep.

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 3. Tails

Sheep tails point downward while goat tails point skyward.

 4. Horns

Most domestic sheep lack horns; they are called polled sheep. If you’re looking at horned livestock, it is likely a goat. Merino sheep are an exception.

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 5. Eating Habits

Sheep are low-foraging grazers whereas goats are browsers, picking off leaves and other brush from higher levels.

 6. Flock Behavior

Goats are often more independent than sheep, who tend to travel in flocks.

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 7. Male Aggression

Aggressive male sheep (rams) attack head-on while angry male goats (bucks) rear on their back legs and then come crashing down with their heads.

 8. Sheltering Behavior

Goats are known to go to shelter more readily than curious sheep, which is also why goats are easier to keep fenced in than sheep.

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 9. Mature Male Odor

When male goats reach sexual maturity, they emit a noticeable smell, much stronger than male sheep.

 10. Upper Lip

The upper lip on a sheep is grooved, but a goat’s is not.

Now do you feel confident in your ability to tell a goat from a sheep? Do you have other ways that help you tell the difference? Share this with your farm friends to test their knowledge!

Tell us how you can tell the difference in the comments below!

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How to Tell the Difference Between a Sheep and a Goat