Friday, July 6, 2012

Goats vs. Sheep


Tank is a 3/4 Boer and 1/4 Saanen wether.
Does he look like a character? He is!


Our Scottish Blackface ram, Othello, was a
birthday gift from my husband, John.


Some time ago a reader at Hobby Farms asked me, "Which is easier to raise, sheep or goats?" I thought and thought, and I can't settle on a definitive answer. It depends. It depends on your limitations, the kind of handling facilities you have, the time and effort you plan to invest in your animals, and even your sense of humor. Here are some things to consider before choosing sheep or goats.

1. Fencing
Goats are infinitely harder to keep in fences than sheep are. Goats are adventurers. If they find a weak place in the fence, they exploit it. They like to know what's over the next hill and what the neighbors are growing in their garden. However, you need sturdy fences to safely raise both sheep and goats, not just to keep them home, but to keep predators away from your herd or flock. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, or dogs can quickly kill a sheep or goat, even one with horns. I'll talk about fencing, predators, and livestock guardian dogs (we wouldn't be without one) in upcoming blog entries.

Several of our goats browse on a fallen tree.
Simka, the doe in the tree loves to climb.

2. Climbing
Goats climb, most sheep don't. This means that if goats can reach motor vehicles, farm machinery, hoop shelters, big bales of hay, or anything else, they're going to be on top of it in the blink of an eye. If you leave your car door open, you'll have a goat in your car. Some people find this endearing (I do) but it drives others up the wall. If you want goats but don't want this problem, read my Hobby Farms article about Myotonic goats. Myotonics, also known as fainters, are marvelous goats and very few of them are able to climb.

3. Handling
Goats are generally easier to handle than sheep during routine procedures like worming, vaccinating, and hoof trimming, because frightened sheep, even if they're usually tame, are very strongly wired to run. You must have a catch area to nab them. Some goats that haven't been handled do that too, but most goats let you slip a collar and lead rope or an adjustable catch rope (I'll show you how to make good one in another column) around their necks; then they're comparatively easy to handle.

4. Breeding
Based on our 10 years with sheep and seven with goats, it's been much, much easier for our sheep to lamb than our goats to kid; therefore, I haven't had to help the sheep as often. This varies a lot, however, from breed to breed. Our Classic/Miniature Cheviots are hardy sheep. Their lambs have small, tapered heads that slip easily through their dams' birth canals, so our ewes rarely have birthing problems. That's not necessarily true of larger-headed breeds. With goats, our Nubians have never have difficulty kidding, but our Boer does had problem after problem, so much so that nowadays they're pets and expensive pasture ornaments.

Hair sheep like Mopple (3/4 Dorper and 1/4 Katahdin) needn't be
shorn, though Mopple only partially sheds and needs an annual
touchup with shears

5. Shearing
You don't have to shear goats unless you raise Angoras, Pygoras, or Nigora goats. That's an enormous plus since shearers are in very short supply. Wool sheep must be shorn once or twice a year; you'll have to find a shearer or learn to shear them yourself. You can also avoid the need to shear by keeping hair sheep breeds (for more information, read my Hobby Farms article about hair sheep) that shed their fleece such as Dorpers, Katahdins, and Wiltshire Horns, or true hair-only hair sheep like St. Croixs or Barbados Blackbellies.

6. Grazing and Browsing
Sheep are grazers and goats are browsers—goats prefer brush, twigs, and leaves to grass. If you want an organic lawnmower, think sheep. Goats, however, can neatly clear your farm of pesky brush and weeds. Hardy mountain sheep breeds like Scottish Blackface and Black Welsh Mountain both browse and graze, but all in all, sheep prefer grass.

Young Martok dances for Nick. Nick seems duly impressed!

7. Demeanor 
Sheep are very affectionate in their own way. They love to flock around people they trust and beg for Tositos or a scratch under the chest or chin. Even "untouchable" sheep (some sheep in every flock prefer not to be touched) crowd around your legs because they like you. They gaze up at you with love and trust in their eyes. Unless you're trying to do something unpleasant—like worming or vaccinating—sheep are calm and quiet. Sheep are wonderfully low-key and they steal your heart. You can meditate seated on the ground surrounded by happy sheep. Ahhhh!

Goats on the other hand are bombastic; they crave attention and they want it right now. They tug your clothes or your hair to grab your attention. They butt and shove one another out of the way, sometimes propelling another goat into you—hard. If you want to sit among a group of more than just a few goats they'd better be lying down. Or bring a sturdy chair when you do it and meditate with one eye open. Grown goats may try to sit in your lap. Goats love their people. They adore them. They scream bloody murder when their humans pen them up and walk away.

Sheep are friendly and stoic; goats are über-lovable or infinitely obnoxious; it depends on your outlook.

8. Preference
Finally, it makes a difference which species you prefer. If noise annoys you or you have close neighbors, some breeds of goats have loud, strident voices and they love to use them, so take that into consideration. And, as I put forth in If You're Short of Trouble, Take a Goat, goats can be very, very mischievous. If that bothers you, stick to sheep.

Sheep get along together very well.
Aliss picks at grass while Drex gazes
at the camera.

8. But you really needn't choose: get both.

Sheep and goats eat the same types and qualtites of feed, share the same types of internal and external parasites, and most diseases sheep can get, goats can get and vice versa. If you already have one species, getting to know the other is a piece of cake.

The only drawback to keeping sheep and goats together is that sheep cannot have added copper in their feed or minerals (copper is lethal to sheep in high amounts), whereas goats have high copper requirements. There are two good ways to handle this problem.

·        Feed sheep-specific commercial feed (be sure the label reads, "no copper added") to both species and give goats a semi-annual Copasure bolus. Copasure is a product designed for cattle but it's easy to repackage calf-size Copasure boluses into goat-size portions by opening them and repacking their contents in gelatin capsules. I'll be writing a blog entry about this very soon.

·        Pen goats and sheep separately at night so each has access to species-specific commercial feeds and minerals.

Sheep and goats coexist quite well. Ours live in separate quarters at night but stay together and are guarded by the same livestock guardian dog through the day. The goats occasionally shove the sheep around a bit but the sheep don't seem to mind. That said, the ultimate boss in our commingled group is Angel, an extremely ancient Wiltshire Horn sheep.

Everybody--sheep and goats alike--jump when Angel says, "Jump!"

Check These Out

I happen upon some truly great resources while researching my articles and books, so I've decided to share a few with each blog entry. Since I'm posting this entry to both Sheep Tips & Tricks and Goat Tips & Tricks, these apply to both species.

Sheep people: check out this fantastic feature at Britain's National Sheep Association website. It's a best-bet guide to all the sheep breeds available in the British Isles, with live links to each breed's breed society website. I love British breeds and wish we had more to choose from. There would definitely be Rough Fells in my flock!

Another great source of sheep and goat information is the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary Industries website, where you can download a wealth of information in free PDF format. The sheep index is here and the goat index, here. Goat people: don't miss their Anatomy and Physiology of the Goat download; it's so good.

And if you have goats or even if you don't, I can't too highly recommend Connie Reynolds' wonderful Nannyberries columns at the Boer and Meat Goat Information Center website. Connie is my hero; she made me laugh, she made me cry. I've printed these out and spiral bound them to read again and again. I love the Nannyberries. I think you will too.

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