Both sheep and goats are extremely popular choices for sustainable livestock farming. They provide valuable resources like milk, wool, and meat. Both are ruminants that can help with land and pasture management, plus manure for gardening. However, there are some fundamental differences between raising goats vs. sheep that you should know about.
Raising Goats vs. Sheep
Even though goats have the reputation for nibbling on anything and everything, they are actually "browsers" and can be very selective in picking out which foliage they want to eat. After putting goats in a specific pasture, you may need to do some follow up to finish clearing any vegetation they were not interested in eating.
Sheep are primarily grazers that favor grasses, and can overgraze land right down to the dirt if not moved and managed properly.
Can I keep goats and Sheep together?
Yes, sometimes goats and sheep make great pasture partners. In fact, because they forage differently, they can work together to graze and browse down vegetation that the other species may have missed. However, there are some times when they should be separated:
- Separate mineral feeding- goats and sheep have different mineral needs and copper tolerances; see below.
- Separate due to sickness and parasites- testing for diseases and checking for parasites will let you know when to separate some animals from the others to prevent spread and assist with treatment routines
- Separate if there are breeding compatibilities- check with your breeder to make sure you know about cross breeding possibilities; it is rare, but cross-breeding between some sheep and goat breeds does happen, and can result in stillbirths and other problems.
- Separate aggressive animals- goats and sheep communicate differently, so if you see any butting, kicking, or aggressive behavior you should separate the herds.
- Separate after escape attempts- if your goats are constantly getting out of their shared pasture, it is probably time to move them to a more "goat-proof" (if there is such a thing) enclosure
Vitamin and Mineral Needs: Goats vs. Sheep
Goats and sheep need the same list of macrominerals (needed in larger amounts) and microminerals (needed in trace amounts) to survive:
- Calcium (Ca)
- Phosphorus (P)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Sodium (Na)
- Potassium (K)
- Chlorine (Cl: binds to Ca, Mg, Na, or K to make chloride salts)
- Sulfur (S)
- Cobalt (Co)
- Copper (Cu)
- Iron (Fe)
- Iodine (I)
- Manganese (Mn)
- Zinc (Zn)
- Selenium (Se)
- Molybdenum (Mo: readily available in North American soils, does not need extra supplementation)
Learn more about why goats need these essential minerals.
Sheep also need access to these same minerals, just in different doses than goats. Learn more from the Merck Veterinary Manual about sheep mineral requirements.
Both goats and sheep also need minerals supplemented with vitamins A, D, and E. Vitamins B, C, and K are all naturally created by microorganisms in their rumen, so they do not need extra supplementation. According to Cornell University College of Agriculture, A, D, and E, are not naturally produced in their rumen:
- Vitamin A: when sheep and goats eat green leafy plants, they ingest beta carotene which helps them produce vitamin A. However, during the months when green foliage is scarce, and they are eating yellowed or older plant matter, extra vitamin A is needed for eye, reproductive, and immune health.
- Vitamin D: when animals are out in the sunlight, vitamin D is produced in the skin. Changes in daylight exposure, weather patterns, and sheltering inside can all interfere with vitamin D production, so extra supplementation protects proper growth and bone health.
- Vitamin E: works with selenium to support healthy growth and prevent immune problems like white muscle disease. Continual supplementation prevents deficiencies that can be hard to correct before disease sets in.
Dietary copper is an essential micronutrient (needed in trace amounts) for both sheep and goats. Copper is responsible for:
- Bone formation
- Wool/hair growth
- Skin and coat pigmentation
- Healthy nerve function
- Red blood cell formation
- Immune response, and more
North American soil usually has copper in it, but other minerals (like molybdenum) can interfere with copper absorption and cause a deficiency in foraging livestock. For this reason, goats and sheep do not really need extra molybdenum supplementation, and goats often need extra copper supplementation to stay healthy.
Even though goats and sheep both need copper in order to survive, their tolerances are very different. Sheep’s digestive systems absorb and store copper differently than goats and have a thin threshold between copper deficiency and toxicosis. Be sure to only offer your sheep feed and minerals that have been specially formulated or dosed for sheep. Learn more about sheep and copper and how you can keep your flock healthy and safe.
Sheep and goats are both ruminants that use fermentation and 4 different stomach chambers to break down vegetation. Protecting their rumen health is the best way to make sure they are getting everything they need out of their feed. Quite simply, healthy rumens lead to better quality and quantity for wool, milk, meat, and a healthier new generation of lambs and kids. While sodium bicarbonate is a popular rumen buffer among farmers, sodium bentonite (bentonite clay) has actually been proven to be a better, natural supplement for all over rumen health. Jump to the bottom of the blog to see Redmond's program for supporting rumen health.
Temperament and Behavior
Goats are naturally curious and mischievous. Let’s just say, they use their individual intelligence in ways that can sometimes make them a handful for inexperienced farmers. They are skilled climbers and escape artists that need much sturdier and more secure fencing. Check out our guide to fencing in goats for more tips and tricks.
Sheep are generally more docile and flock oriented. They naturally follow a strong leader, which can make them easier to manage. They are also generally less agile and can be safely contained in traditional fencing. Read our 8 tips for getting started raising sheep to learn more.
Breeding patterns also differ between goats and sheep. Goats tend to be seasonal breeders, with distinct heat (fall) and kidding (spring) seasons that make it easier to adjust their care accordingly. For pregnant goats, 80% of fetal development happens during the last 50 days of pregnancy, and their nutritional needs increase by a lot during that time. Learn more about how to nutritionally support your pregnant goats.
Sheep are more varied, with some breeds following seasonal patterns and others that can breed and lamb all year long.
Sheep and Goat Breed Selection
There are many wonderful goat and sheep breeds to choose from for your farm. Ultimately, your decision depends on what resource you are hoping to produce. Even if you are starting with the simple goal of land and pasture management, think ahead so you can start with breeds that can help you with your fiber, meat, and dairy production.
Milk Production and Nutrition
Both goats and sheep are excellent sources of milk, with unique benefits for each. Goat's milk is known for its digestibility, making it a better option for lactose intolerance. It is also higher in essential nutrients such as vitamin A and potassium. Sheep's milk is less common but is creamier and richer in fat, and can be used to make high-quality cheeses.
Fiber and Wool
Sheep are primarily valued for their wool, which comes in a variety of grades, textures, and colors. Goats, on the other hand, produce cashmere, mohair, and cashgora, which are luxurious fibers known for their softness and warmth.
Redmond Essential Minerals and Rumen Health for Sheep and Goats
Since the 1950’s, Redmond Minerals has nourished healthy farms all across the continent. Our unique sea mineral deposit gives your animals a delicious delivery system for the fortifications they need in our Goat Mineral Mix and Sheep Mineral Mix. Pair these minerals with our rich volcanic, bentonite conditioner, to get the added benefits of:
- Increased feed efficiency
- Rumen pH buffering
- Toxin binding
- Easier fiber digestion, and more!
- Learn more about what Redmond Conditioner can do for your goats and sheep
© 2023 Redmond Minerals Inc.