Can I keep sheep and goats together?

sheep and goats living together

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.

sheep and goats living together

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.

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16 thoughts on “Can I keep sheep and goats together?”

  1. Tried it and it doesn’t work. Goats are terrible bullies and they are really mean to the sheep. Had to move my sheep to a different pasture.

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    • I think it depends on the nature of the individuals. I have two sheep and two goats. They frolic and play, and run around together. They sleep together and are all good friends.

      Reply
  2. I have been considering this myself. I have a couple Nigerian dwarf goats for milk and want to add a couple sheep for meat. Very informative. You covered different perspectives which I hadn’t even considered. Before I read this I thought I would keep them together but after reading this I would not keep them together. Different purpose meat vs milk. You need a different setting for milking vs just grazing and growing meat. Especially if on a larger scale than mine I would, Unless absolutely necessary , not keep together. Thank you

    Reply
  3. We have had our ram in with our two bucks all winter, to keep him from breeding all the ewes, as we would not have enough pasture this summer if he had.
    He has gotten along with the bucks pretty well, but now they are getting rougher in their “man-play” and we are concerned since someone told us of an incident in which a ram slammed a buck in the chest while the buck was reared up, and killed him.
    Do you know if ewes will come into heat again before fall? That is our big question.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • It depends on the breed. Most sheep only come into heat in the fall, but a few breeds can get pregnant year round. If your ewes have lambs currently, they are unlikely to get pregnant.

      Rams do tend to be much more violent than bucks. I have a friend who had two rams fight until one was dead. I have not heard of goats doing that. We’ve also had rams destroy gaits, buildings, and fences by ramming them. Their testosterone level is scary.

      Reply
  4. I have 4 goats, 3 wethers and female Nigerian dwarf. I had heard there is a sheep walking around up in St. Maries so I thought I would go and get him/her. I don’t know what it is. He is alone. He is very friendly. Do you think the goats will be mean to him?

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    • There will be some head butting initially, but the bigger question is what diseases can that sheep bring onto your farm. Goats are closely enough related to sheep that they can get a lot of the same diseases, some of which are fatal — CAE (OPP in sheep), CL, and Johnes. The worst is Johnes because it is transmitted through feces and can survive on pasture for up to five years, so all of your goats would get it, and waste away until they die, and you would not be able to bring any more cows, sheep, or goats onto your farm for at least five years.

      Reply
  5. Ive got sheep and goats together they love each other they have been together since they were young perhaps that helps,they used to run around chasing each other really fun to watch

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    • You cannot completely eliminate worms in goats, and you don’t need to. Worms are species specific, and only goats and sheep are hosts for this worm, so it doesn’t hurt humans of other species. Current research says that you should ONLY use a dewormer when the worms are negatively affecting the goats. It’s similar to the idea that all humans have bacteria in our bodies and we don’t need to do anything to kill the bacteria unless it is making us sick. When you give your goats drugs, whether it is for worms or an illness caused by bacteria, there is a milk withdrawal period. It varies from one drug to another and also depends on the dosage, as well as the mode of administration. For example, you should NEVER inject dewormer into a goat because the milk withdrawal is about 2 months, and that’s why those drugs say they should NOT be used in dairy animals of breeding age. You can look up the drug withdrawal times at FARAD.org.

      Reply
  6. I currently have my ram lamb and ewe lamb in with my doelings. Will my ewe be ok to keep with the does once they are adults? My does eat the sheep feed same as the lambs. If not, will she be ok by herself?

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    • Goats and sheep should not eat each others feed and minerals. If goats eat sheep feed and minerals, they WILL wind up copper deficient. If sheep eat goat feed and minerals, they could wind up with copper toxicosis, which could kill them as the copper level builds up in their liver. Copper deficiency can kill goats. I really cannot believe that they still sell “sheep and goats minerals,” because they are basically sheep minerals with little to no copper, which is a big problem for goats.

      Sheep and goats are herd animals, meaning they should never be alone, so you need at least two of each species.

      Reply
  7. My goats and sheep formed a happy herd. And the goats stayed with the sheep so no fence jumping etc. But the young goats I bought in had drench resistant worms and coccidiosis . So, if you get a new animal drench and quarantine it first before introducing it to the rest of your herd.

    Reply

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