The difference between sheep and goats
Let’s imagine together for a moment that someone you know, maybe you have always considered them to be intelligent, says to you “come look at this cute video of cats on my phone”. You go over you watch the video, and it is almost immediately apparent that this is a video of puppies. You question your friend, and it turns out that they do not know the difference between cats and dogs. To them they are the same animal.
I want to talk to you today about an animal confusion that is just as, if not more, egregious. I have found that the majority of my friends and acquaintances cannot tell the difference between a sheep and a goat. This is a serious problem. In the New Testament in the book of Mathew chapter 25 it says that during the final judgment the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats, and set the goats on his left and the sheep on his right. Then he will invite the sheep into his kingdom, and the goats will go down to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Knowing the difference between sheep and goats is a big deal.
I want to talk to you about some of the character and dietary differences between sheep and goats. And then I will explain the physical differences between them. My hope is that by the time we are done you will never mistake a goat for a sheep again.
The main difference in the character of goats and sheep is herd instinct. Sheep will become very nervous and agitated if they are separated from their herd. The will generally stay within a fence because they fear getting stuck on the wrong side. Goats, on the other hand, while they somewhat enjoy being around other goats will search for a weakness in any enclosure. Additionally goats will often leave the group out of curiosity. Unlike sheep goats are almost impossible to contain.
Sheep are grazers; this means that they enjoy eating grass and other similar plants that grow close to the ground. Goats on the other hand are browsers; this means that goats enjoy eating leaves. Goats especially love to eat the tops of plants. This has earned goats a reputation for eating everything, and anything. Technically this isn’t true it just happens that the things they like to eat, such as rose bushes, hedges, fruit trees, are things that we as humans care about.
There are a few fairly obvious differences between sheep and goats, however the differences that most people immediately think of are not the obvious differences. Most people think that the main difference between sheep and goats is that goats have hair and sheep have wool. There are actually several breeds of woolly goats, and many breeds of hair sheep.
Another misconception is that sheep do not have horns but goats do. There are actually many breeds of sheep that have horns, some even have four horns, and many breeds of goats that are polled. While their horns tend to develop in a subtly different way this is not really a very reliable way to tell them apart.
Sheep and goats do have a different number of chromosomes, but unless you have a supernatural ability to detect chromosomal numbers at a glance this is not a practical way to differentiate them. Sheep have a cleft upper lip similar to a rabbit while goats have a solid upper lip. This is more useful than chromosomes, but still requires you to get pretty personal in order to tell the difference.
Some, but not all, goats have beards so if you see a goat-like animal with a beard you can be sure that is is a goat, but the absence of a beard does not mean it is a sheep since some goats do not have beards. The most visible and, I believe, easiest way to tell a goat from a sheep is to look at its tail. Sheep tails, whether they are docked or not will naturally hang down. Goat tails are never docked and will naturally stand up.
The next time you feel like showing your friend that funny video of talking sheep take a moment and make sure. Your salvation could be at stake.