Sheep or goat, goat or sheep: tell the difference

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You've probably seen them as you drive through the national parks in Alberta or BC: those furry, horned animals on the side of the road, usually grazing. Often attracting a crowd, cars pulled over to the side. But are those sheep or goats? 

Admittedly, they are adorable, but these animals can still pose a safety risk - and start a debate. Perhaps the biggest of which is "wildlife jams": the traffic jams that occur on narrow stretches of highway as couples, families and even their dogs bound around trying to get a close-up with a real wild animal. 

Sheep and goat are less of a serious concern when hiking, but it is still good to know the difference between them, if for no other reason than to defuse the debate quickly, and enhance your appreciation of the animals. 


Top 3 differences for telling goat and sheep apart

1. Coat colour and texture
One of the most distinctive ways to tell these two animals apart is the coat - both texture, and colour. A goat will have white hair all over their body and a sheep will have a thick, mostly brown wool coat.

 

2. Shape of the tail
Another easy way to spot which animal you’ve run into is the tail. A goat's tail will almost always be short and pointed upwards, unless they are scared or sick, and a sheep’s tail will hang downwards.

3. Curved versus straight horns
The third thing you should look for is horns. Female sheep generally do not have horns, while male sheep horns are large and curl back beside their heads. Goat horns are much shorter, smaller and point upwards with no curling. 

If you ever see a sheep with large, curled horns, it is best to not get too close. While they are not typically aggressive, big horn sheep can get hostile when agitated or during rutting season.


Which of these three are sheep and which are a goat?

Can you tell after reading our tips?

  • Rocky Mountain big horn sheep
    Mostly brown colouring, males with long curled horns, these are big horn sheep.
  • domestic sheep herd
    Just kidding - these are domestic sheep, not mountain sheep!
  • mountain goat
    White fur and straight horns are signs you are witnessing a mountain goat.

 


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