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Year of the Goat and Sheep

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Today, February 19th, Chinese New Year will welcome the new zodiac sign. 2015 is the year of the sheep… goat! Sheep! GOAT! Depending on who you ask, some will say it is the year of the sheep and some will say it is the year of the goat, while others will say it’s a combination of both. According to some Chinese folklorists, the symbol is actually of a fictional ‘yang,’ which refers to any member of the caprinae family. Both goats and sheep appear in Chinese New Year paintings, paper-cuts and other festival decorations.

But here is the real question: do you know the difference between a sheep and a goat? You might think it’s easy, but the two animals share many similarities.

Here’s a fleecy checklist of the two animals compared side by side…

q Tubby or thin
Goats are usually more slender-looking, while sheep are generally rounder-looking.

Domestic goat

q Bearded or maned
Sheep have a thick mane, while goats are typically bearded.

q Tail down or tail up
Usually, a goat’s tail will stick straight up, while a sheep’s tail tends to lie down.
Domestic goat

q Browsing or grazing
Sheep graze on grass and clover low to the ground while goats browse on leaves and vines that are a little higher off the ground. Goats often stand on their hind legs to reach the best leaves!

Domestic sheep
q Fleece or hair
Domestic sheep fleece is generally thick and wooly - goat hair is usually less thick…but not always. Our mountain goats are very fleecy as well. That’s because some goats have extremely curly and thick coats…and some species of sheep have very short hairs that shed naturally and don’t need to be sheared. Clear as fleece, right?
Mountain goat
q About those chromosomes
Sheep have 54 chromosomes. Goats have 60.

q Horns: curved or straight
Goats typically have horns that are straight and pointed-upward. Sheep have more curved horns, but again, this is not a deal breaker!
West African pygmy goat

q Flock or free?
Sheep tend to flock together and enjoy being part of the herd, whereas goats tend to be more independent and curious. Of course, this is certainly not written in stone, and many sheep exhibit goat-like behavior and vice versa.

q Kids or lambs?

Sheep are known as ewes, rams and lambs while goats are known as nannies, billies and kids.

Domestic sheep
Whether you chose to honor the goat or the sheep during Chinese lunar New Year, the yang is an auspicious symbol said to represent kindness and benevolence. We know a few residents of the family farm who are pretty stoked about 2015!

Happy New Year!


The animals are looking very happy and healthy.
Unknown said…
Goats have longer ears too, and they hang down more while sheep's ears stick outwards.