Like many things related to livestock, the answer to the question, “Can I keep sheep and goats together?” does not have a simple yes or no answer.
Sheep and goats have the same diseases
This is probably the #1 reason I hear people say that you should not keep sheep and goats together. However, if your goats and sheep do not have any diseases, then they can’t give them to each other. If we assume you have purchased your sheep and goats from breeders who have animals that have tested negative for common ruminant diseases, then keeping them together is not a problem.
After all, they can’t give a disease to each other if they don’t have it. The other thing to think about is that even if you have only goats (or sheep), and one of them has a disease, it will give it your other goats (or sheep). This is why it is important to buy animals that are disease free.
Sheep and goats have the same parasites
Yes, they do, but if you don’t practice good parasite management, you will have a lot of problems keeping your animals healthy regardless of whether you have only one species or both.
Copper is toxic to sheep
You can find this statement written all over the place, but it is simply not true. The fact is that sheep need less copper than goats do, and they have a lower tolerance for an excessive amount of copper.
Of course, excess copper can be toxic to any living creature. But if your sheep accidentally licks up a little of a goat mineral, it will not drop dead. I cannot tell you how many people have freaked out in that scenario because so many sources claim that copper is toxic to sheep.
My answer to the mineral dilemma is simply that the sheep and goats spend their nights in separate places, even if they are sharing a pasture during the day. I keep goat minerals in the barn to protect them from rain, and the goats go into the barn at night. If the sheep and goats are together in the pasture during the day, they don’t have access to the goat minerals.
You can wind up with a sheep-goat hybrid
Although they are distantly related, it is very uncommon to get a hybrid of a sheep and goat as the two animals do not even have the same number of chromosomes. Only a ram can get a doe pregnant, not the other way around. Most of those pregnancies result in a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Sheep and goats eat different foods
Sheep are grazers, which means they prefer grass and weeds while goats are browsers, which means they prefer baby trees and small bushes. If you have a pasture with diverse forage, that means you can put more animals in there if they are a mix of sheep and goats rather than if they are only one species. Goats will eat grass if there are no bushes, but it’s not their preferred food.
Sheep and goats are different animals
Although there is usually not a problem in keeping sheep and goats together, this does not mean that you can have a pet goat and a pet sheep and expect both animals to be happy.
They are different animals and speak different languages. Goats rear up on their hind legs to butt heads while sheep put their head down and run at their opponent to ram them. Both species are herd animals, meaning that they need to have a friend of the same species to be truly happy.
We don’t normally keep our sheep and goats together because they do have different needs. Plus we have dairy goats, which need to come into the barn for nightly milking. The sheep are raised for meat, so they can live in the pastures farther away from the barn, which have run-in, three-sided shelters.
However, many years ago there were a couple of times when we had them together, such as the time that packs of coyotes were killing off the lambs. The only pasture that seemed to be safe was the goat pasture, so in desperation, we moved the sheep there.
It worked. We didn’t lose any lambs from that pasture. However, we did notice that the sheep and goats pretty much ignored each other. The sheep flocked together in their little group, and the goats stayed in their little herd.
So if you want to have two or three goats for milk and a few sheep for fiber or meat, you can pasture them together, but you need to mindful of their nutritional needs to be sure that each species gets what it needs to thrive.
Love listening to podcasts? Check out Episode #50 Sheep vs Goats on my For the Love of Goats podcast where I talked about how the two species are similar and different and why you might prefer one species over the other.