For the Love of Goats
Some people talk about sheep and goats as if they are practically the same species, but nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been breeding and milking Nigerian dwarf goats since 2002 and LaMancha goats for about 10 years. It may come as a surprise that I also bred Shetland sheep for 12 years and have had Katahdin hair sheep for six years now.
In this episode, I am talking about how the two species are similar and different and why you might prefer one species over the other.
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Standlee Premium Western Forage — If you’ve been listening for a while, you know how much I love their alfalfa pellets and grass hay pellets. I guess I should say that our goats, sheep, and pigs love the hay pellets. We use their alfalfa pellets for our milking does when they are on the milk stand to slow down the grain hogs so that they don’t get sick from eating too much grain while we’re milking them, and our ewes also love the alfalfa pellets after lambing so that they can get the calcium they need to produce plenty of milk for their babies. And our bucks enjoy the grass hay pellets during those winter months when we can’t find enough grass hay for them because too much alfalfa isn’t good for male goats.
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For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. Today I am going to talk about something all by myself, which is a little different, and it is a question that I get quite a lot. And also, it involves a lot of misconceptions. And that is, I am going to talk about the similarities and the differences between sheep and goats.
A lot of people think that they are very much the same animal. But they’re not. There’s actually a lot of things that are different about them. But first, let me go ahead and start with the things that are the same about them. Now, one thing is that some people may just automatically think that sheep are for wool, and goats are for dairy. But the reality is that both of those species come in varieties that have been bred specifically for meat, some have been bred for dairy, and some have been bred for fiber. So, in terms of sheep, we have hair sheep; we also have some wool sheep that have been bred specifically for meat. And that, basically, just means that they’ve got a really good feed-to-meat conversion ratio. Now, of course, you can eat any sheep, you can eat any goat, but the ones that are bred specifically for meat are simply going to give you more meat. Same with dairy. All of these animals are mammals, and so they all make milk, but the ones that have been bred for dairy are going to produce a lot more, and they’re going to have a much nicer mammary system.
So, if you compare a Boer or a Kiko goat’s mammary system to the mammary system of an Alpine or a Saanen or a Nigerian Dwarf, they are going to be very different. You will find things on meat goat udders and teats that would be disqualifications in the show ring for dairy goats. Like, you might find extra teats; you might find udders that are very poorly supported, so they’re just, like, really baggy instead of having really good support. And, they’re not going to produce nearly as much milk. Some meat goats are barely able to produce enough milk to feed their kids through a lactation. And that’s one of the things that some people say, like, “Oh, sheep will wean their lambs, but goats won’t.” Well, it’s not about them weaning them; it’s about how long they can produce milk. And so, your typical wool or meat sheep, and your meat goats, only produce milk for a few months, like three or four or five months. I’ve heard of some meat goats only producing milk for two or three months. And, of course, that’s not even a good thing if you’re raising them for meat, because they’re not going to raise their kids to be as big and meaty as a goat that has a better milk supply.
Dairy goats can be used for meat, and in fact, wethered dairy goats, which are castrated males, do wind up as meat very often. Now, the amount of meat that you’re going to get from them is not nearly as good as the amount of meat that you’re going to get from a Boer, or a Kiko, or one of the other meat breeds. But, what else is there to do with a lot of wethered dairy goats other than to use them for meat? We even butcher some of our Nigerian Dwarf wethers, and the meat is delicious, but you don’t get very much. I’m sure Boer goat breeders and Kiko breeders would just laugh at me, you know, when I say, “Oh yeah, you can get 25 pounds hanging weight from an 8-month-old Nigerian Dwarf.” Like, 25 pounds hanging weight, they would be saying, “Why bother?” But, you know, if we’ve got extra wethers that don’t sell as pets or brush eaters, then that’s what we do with them.
Fiber… You can get fiber from both of these species. Sheep, of course, produce wool, and all goats produce cashmere. So, if you want to know why a cashmere sweater or a cashmere coat is so expensive, it’s because you’re only going to get a few ounces from a single goat. Some goats are specifically bred for cashmere, and they’ll produce a little more, but still not a ton. So that’s why it’s very expensive. The main fiber goat is the Angora, and Angora goats produce a fiber called “mohair.” And they actually produce way more than sheep do, and they have to be sheared twice a year for that reason. So, if you want meat specifically, or dairy specifically, or fiber specifically, you can get those things from both species, depending on what breed you want to get.
Now, some people talk about dual purpose or triple purpose, and it’s kind of a misnomer, because none of them are going to be as good as a breed that’s bred specifically for a single purpose. So, for example, the Kinder goat is meant to be a dual purpose meat and dairy goat, but it’s not going to produce anywhere close to as much meat as a meat goat breed, and it’s not going to produce as much milk as a dairy goat breed, but it’s a nice combination of the two. And, for somebody that wants meat and dairy both, that’s a good option.
Some people think that sheep and goats are so similar that they can just house them together. But, one of the reasons that some people don’t want to put them together is because they can get the same diseases. CAE in goats is the same as OPP in sheep. So, maybe you have spent a lot of time getting a herd of goats that is CAE-free, and then you go out and buy sheep, and those sheep could bring OPP onto your farm and wind up infecting your goats with CAE—which would not be a good thing. Both species also get Johne’s, which is spelled with a “J.” Both of them also can get Caseous lymphadenitis, usually called “CL.” They can both get scrapie. They can both get sore mouth, which is also called “orf” (O-R-F) sometimes. And, they both get the same worms, especially that really horrible worm that we have spent so much time talking about on this podcast, and that is the barber pole worm; the scientific name is Haemonchus contortus. And so, if you’ve got them together, then they could wind up getting each other sick.
And now before we get into the differences between the different species, I want to take a quick break and thank our sponsor for this episode: Standlee Premium Western Forage. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know how much I love their alfalfa pellets and their grass hay pellets. I guess I should say that our goats, sheep, and pigs actually love the hay pellets, because I don’t eat them. But, I love the fact that my animals love them so much. We use their alfalfa pellets for our milking does when they’re on the milk stand, to slow them down, so that the grain hogs don’t get sick from eating too much grain while they’re milking. And our ewes also love the alfalfa pellets after lambing, so that they can get all the calcium they need to produce plenty of milk for their babies. And our bucks enjoy the grass hay pellets during those winter months when we can’t find enough grass hay for them, because too much alfalfa is not good for male goats. To learn more, visit StandleeForage.com. And now, back to our episode.
Let’s talk about the differences between sheep and goats. The number one thing that most people talk about is that they have different copper needs. Goats need a lot of copper, and sheep are actually very sensitive to copper toxicosis. So, a goat mineral should have about 1800 ppm of copper in it if it’s got around 20% or so salt. If it’s got a much higher level of copper, it should also have a higher level of salt to slow down their consumption. On the flip side, with the sheep, a lot of sheep minerals have no copper in them at all, and if they have any, it’s gonna be, like, around 30 or 40 ppm. And that is what you usually see if you see something labeled “sheep and goat minerals;” the amount of copper in there is probably going to be around 30, 40, 50 ppm, which, to a goat, that is nothing. Because, for minerals, usually they’re only going to consume about 1/3 to 1/2 of an ounce a day. And that’s why the copper level in there for goats needs to be around 1700 to 1800 or so. So, you can’t have them together and expect that they’re both going to do well on the same mineral. If you do have them in a pasture together, then you at least need to put them in the barn in different stalls at night so that you can have the different minerals in there. They don’t have to have it available 24 hours a day; they can get what they need during the overnight hours.
Sheep and goats also eat different foods. Sheep are grazers, and goats are browsers. If you want to get super, super picky, they’re actually, like, intermediate browsers, because they will eat some grass. But, ideally, they should eat browse, which is bushes and small trees and things like that. And this is one reason that sheep have better parasite resistance. Throughout history, sheep had been eating off the ground, so their bodies have been accustomed to consuming worm larva. Goats, on the other hand, have been used to eating up here, in front of their face. There’s an old saying that goats should never eat below their knees, and that’s because that’s where all the worm eggs are. And so, if you try to force goats to become grazers, like sheep, then you’re going to have more of a challenge with worms, and you’re gonna have to really, really be much better about rotational grazing.
And that’s another thing, too, with the minerals. Goats have much higher mineral needs in general. You can get away with not having minerals available for sheep all the time. In fact, we frequently run out of minerals on our sheep pasture, and our sheep are fine. Goats, on the other hand, like, it is not optional. If you don’t have minerals out there for your goats, you are going to have problems with infertility, and worms are going to be worse, and so it’s just not an option for goats. You absolutely have to have a really excellent goat mineral—specifically goat mineral, not “sheep and goat”—to keep your goats healthy.
The next thing is that they speak different languages. Goats rear up on their hind legs to butt heads. Sheep, on the other hand, will put their head down and charge at their opponent. One time I had a school call me and say that the children wanted a goat and a sheep for their little school farm. And so, they wanted to get one of each. And I explained to them that that really doesn’t work if you only have one of each, because they don’t speak the same language. So. And, actually it’s pretty funny. Usually when they’re in the same pasture together, they ignore each other. But on the rare occasion when two of them have a disagreement, and they’re in the same pasture, it’s really funny to see the goat rearing up on their hind legs, and the sheep running at them with their head down, because they just don’t connect the way that they’re expecting to.
Another thing that is different is that breeding is very different for both of these. And that’s because birthing is different. With breeding sheep, most people just pen breed. And that means that you put all your ewes into a pen that you want to breed to one ram, you put the ram in there, and he breeds them. Or, what you can also do if you don’t have multiple pens or pastures to put them in for breeding, is that you get a marking harness. And so, the rams wear a harness. And so, like, this ram has got a red marker, and this ram has a green marker, and this room has a blue marker, and that’s how you know who bred a particular ewe. And, if she’s got multiple marks on her, well then, you’re not gonna be able to register the offspring unless you get DNA testing, because you won’t know which one is actually the sire of those babies. Now, with goat breeding, people are much more likely to hand breed, which is not nearly as involved as that sounds. All you’re doing is you are waiting to see the doe come into heat. And, when she comes into heat, you basically set her up on a date. So, like, I know I want to breed a specific doe to Monarch. So, when that doe comes into heat, I put her in a stall in the barn, I go out to the buck pen, I get Monarch, I bring him in, I put them together for the day, and then tomorrow I take him back out again. So I know Monarch is going to be the sire of those kids, and I can count forward 145 to 150 days for my Nigerian Dwarfs. If you have standard-sized goats, you can go up to 155 days so that you’ve got a small window there for kidding.
And, the reason that most goat breeders like this is because goats do not give birth the way sheep do. I have raised goats since 2002. And I’ve raised sheep since 2003. And I try very hard to be at every single goat birth, because if I’m not, the mortality rate is going to be really high. And that is simply because a lot of does—I call them “divas,” because they just lay there, like, and just think, like, “Well, my job is just to push the kid out. You’re supposed to clean it up for me.” And so, if you’re not there to clean up the kid, there is a chance that the amniotic sac doesn’t break during the birth. And, if it doesn’t break, the kid will suffocate if the mom doesn’t rip it off. Now, I have a beautiful set of photos of a ewe, and it was the first—well, I call them “first fresheners” when they’re goats. But it was the first lambing ewe, and she gives birth to this lamb, and she just pops right up, spins around, and starts to rip the sack off of the baby. Like, she just knew what to do. Unfortunately, a lot of goats don’t have that instinct anymore. So, a lot of them just lay there and they just spit them out. There was one time we missed a birth. And we got there pretty close to when the doe had actually given birth; she was still laying down. There were two kids that were standing up and toddling around, and there were two kids still in the sac, like, right there at the exit, like, right under her tail. Like, she had pushed them out, the sacs did not break on those two kids, and they were dead, because they suffocated. Like, they never had a chance, because she didn’t rip the sacs off. The other reason that we need to be there when the goat kids are born is because of hypothermia. We’re in Illinois. And, if it is below freezing, we’re having, you know, 3-pound kids. And, if they are soaking wet—and they just have hair, you know, like we do. Just plain old hair that’s not very insulating. There’s a very good chance that they could get hypothermia. With the sheep, I don’t know what the minimum temperature is for sheep to be able to do that. This year, we had temperatures in the single digits one night when we had a lamb born, and it was completely fine.
One thing about goats: It’s easier to know when they’re really close to kidding, because you can feel their tail ligaments. With sheep, whether it’s hair sheep or wool sheep, you cannot feel their tail ligaments, because they have this really thick padding at the back end of their spine where the tail starts. And so, I think that’s probably the reason that sheep breeders, you know, don’t talk about that. I know as a goat breeder, it’s something that I thought, “Oh, why don’t people do this?” and “I’m going to do it.” And I couldn’t find them, like, because everything just feels like mush when you have all that massive padding on there.
Another thing that is really different about sheep and goats is the way that the babies will take a bottle. Now, with kids, if you try to give a bottle to a kid that has been dam-raised, it is going to scream, and kick, and act like you are trying to poison it, because it has no idea what to do with the bottle. And, even when they’re first born, it can be challenging to get them to take the first few bottles, for them to learn how to do it. They catch on to nursing most of the time, like, boom, no problem. But trying to get a goat baby to take a bottle is usually a nightmare. We used to be on milk test, and one thing that I hated about milk test with a herd that was dam-raised is that, once every month, we had to separate those kids for 24 hours and give them a bottle while their mom was on test. And it was horribly stressful. There were years back then that we had 50-60 kids, and I pretty much spent my whole day out there, just getting covered from head to toe in milk, trying to get these kids to take a bottle because they couldn’t nurse during the milk test, because we had to show how much milk moms were making. And that’s actually one of the reasons that we quit milk testing, because I just did not have the time to devote the whole day to trying to get milk into these babies that couldn’t nurse during the milk testing period.
Lambs, on the other hand… It’s amazing to me how lambs just boom. “You want me to take a bottle? Sure.” In fact, to just give you an example of how easy it is to give a lamb a bottle: A year ago, before COVID, I was traveling. And, when I came home, my husband said to me, “Oh, by the way, one of the sheep gave birth. And there’s a problem. We started giving the baby a bottle.” I don’t remember the circumstances anymore. Because we weigh all of our babies, and so I think the baby just wasn’t gaining; there was a problem with the ewe’s milk supply. So, he said I needed to give it a bottle. And this was all, like, in passing, you know? He’s telling me this is he’s rushing out to work as I’m getting home from the airport. And, I misunderstood which pen that ram lamb was in, and so, when it was feeding time, I go out there with the bottle, and I walk into the second kidding pen/lambing pen, and I pick up this ram lamb, and I tickle its lips with the nipple, and it grabs it and start sucking and sucks down the whole bottle like it was just starving. And I’m so proud of myself, like, you know, job done. Go back in the house. And, the next day, when my husband was home, I discovered I had given a bottle to the wrong lamb. That lamb did not need a bottle; that lamb was gaining weight like gangbusters, like, he didn’t need the bottle at all. The one that needed the bottle was in the first pen, not the second pen. And, that never would have happened with a goat, you know? With a goat, this kid would have been kicking and screaming and milk would have been going everywhere, and I would’ve been texting my husband saying, “How many times have you given this kid a bottle? How hard is it?” And, hopefully, it would have come out then that I had the wrong baby.
So, overall, sheep are easier. Like, I know the name of the podcast is “For the Love of Goats,” and I do love goats. They are my favorite animal on the farm. And you are probably wondering at this point, saying, “Why on Earth do you have goats? Like, why don’t you just have sheep?” Why does anybody have goats? Well, there are some things that are a little harder to quantify. And, the bottom line is that I have goats for multiple reasons. I prefer their milk. I prefer their cheese. I prefer their… Well, actually, I don’t prefer their yogurt. Sheep yogurt is better. The yogurt is all about the butterfat, and so that is why I love our Nigerian Dwarf yogurt, because the butterfat for Nigerian Dwarfs, breed-wise, it averages 6-1/2%. But, like, we know, since we were on milk test, that in the middle of winter, our butterfats are around 9% or 10%, which is the same as butterfat for sheep milk. So, the sheep milk yogurt is my favorite. But I—like, all the other cheese for goats, I like better. I like goat meat better; it’s a milder taste than lamb. I love lamb. That’s why we have sheep. We raised Shetlands for 12 years, which are a wool breed. We have had Katahdins for 6 years now—and that’s a hair sheep that is used for meat. And they’re delicious. I may be the only person that’s ever been crazy enough to try to milk Shetlands. We’ve also milked our Katahdins at times so that we could make yogurt with their milk, because we really like it. The other thing is, I really prefer the personality of goats. If you want to make a comparison, goats are more like dogs; they’re just much more friendly. Whereas sheep are more like cats. You can win them over, but they’re a lot more aloof. And so, I I just like the personality of goats.
It would have been really easy for me to quit 15 years ago when our goats were dying, and not getting pregnant, because unfortunately, at that time, I did not realize that we had a problem with copper deficiency. And we also wound up with complete dewormer resistance in our goats. And so, we’ve had a ton more problems with our goats. But that’s also how I wound up becoming a goat expert, because it was just a matter of, “Am I going to give up? Or, am I going to figure out why my goats are dying, why they’re not getting pregnant, and keep moving forward?” And that was the answer. Simply because I loved them so much. And that’s why a lot of people have goats! They just have the most charming personalities. They produce wonderful milk and cheese, and the meat is good. And we just love them.
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see shownotes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!
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