When you start to work with livestock, you quickly realize there is a whole specialized vocabulary in the farm yard. And while the “Sound of Music” taught us all that a doe is a female deer, there are still plenty of specialized animal terms out there to mystify us. If you are not certain about the differences between a goat and a lamb, don’t worry. We are here to help.
The most scientific answer is a goat is a member of the Capra genus that can be any age, while a lamb is a baby sheep and a member of the Ovis genus. While the scientific answer may be concise, it doesn’t really give you a lot of practical information.
So let’s dive in a find out goat versus lamb: what are the differences.
Goat vs. Lamb
Before we start talking about how goats and lambs are different, let’s take a closer look at each of the two animals. Then we’ll break down the difference with a side by side comparison. Finally, we’ll look at each difference in a bit closer detail. By the time we are done, you’ll be able to distinguish between goats and lambs like a champ!
What is a goat?
As we mentioned, goats are members of the Capra genus. Long ago (like 10,000 years ago), humans domesticated wild goats for their meat, milk, and other byproducts like fiber and skin. Goats were one of the first animals domesticated by humans. Nowadays, people keep goats for many of the same reasons. Though it has become common to keep goats as pets as well.
Since their domestication, more than 300 distinct breeds of goats have been developed. They vary in size, color, milk production, and temperament.
Goats are often referred to by specific names to distinguish sex and age. Goat is a generic name that can be of either sex and any age. Kid, on the other hand, refers to a young goat under the age of one. Female goats are does, and males are bucks. When referring to kids by their gender, you speak of doeling and bucklings. If that’s not confusing enough for you, there’s more! Lactating goats are nannies, and castrated males are wethers.
As we said, there can be lots of specialized vocabulary associated with animals. Now that we’ve learned the goat terms let’s look at lambs.
What is a lamb?
A lamb is a sheep that is under one year old. So let’s talk about what sheep are. Sheep are closely related to goats, so they are similar in many ways. They also are another animal that was domesticated by humans way back in the day. And while we may associate sheep with their wooly coats, they are kept not only for their fur but also for meat and milk.
While sheep and goats may be cousins, they are distinct species of animals.
They can be distinguished by their physical differences, their dietary differences, and their unique vocabulary. That’s right. Just like goats, sheep come with their own specialized vocabular — which lamb in just a part of.
So let’s learn some sheep terms real quick. A female sheep is called ewe and an intact male sheep is called a ram. But just like goats, castrated male sheep are called wethers.
But while sheep and goats are similar, let’s take a closer look at their difference so you can tell them apart at a glance.
Side by side Comparison
We’ve whipped up this handy dandy little chart so you can quickly see the difference.
|Family: BovidaeTribe: CapriniGenus: Capra
|Family: BovidaeTribe: CapriniGenus: Ovis
|Goats can be any ageGoats under a year are referred to as kids
|A lamb is a young sheep, under one year old.
|Goats have long hair. It can be straight or curly. When used as a fiber it is called mohair
|Lambswool is dense and soft. It is shorter than wool found on adult sheep.
|Goats may or may not have horns.
|Lambs do not have horns. Sheep do not grow horns until they are 2-3 years old.
|Goats’ tails point upward and are slender and hairy.
|Lamb tails point downward. They are thick and wooly.
|Goats are browsers. They prefer to eat plants and shrubs that are eye-level or higher.
|Sheep are grazers. They love to eat grass and ground cover.
|Goat meat is often called chevon. It is lean, low calorie, and high in protein. While uncommon in North America and Northern Europe it is eaten widely throughout the world.
|Meat from a sheep younger than a year is considered lamb. Older sheep meat is called mutton. Lamb meat has more calories and fat than goat meat.
Still curious to know more? Let’s dive in a little deeper.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Goat and a Lamb
There are several visual clues you can look at to distinguish between a goat and a lamb. By examining their age, fur, horns, tail, and how they eat you can quickly know what animal it is. So let’s look more closely at these features.
Do You Mind If I Ask Your Age?
One of the first things to check to decide if the animal you are looking at is a goat or a lamb is its age. If it appears older than a year, then it it is a goat. Lambs are sheep that are less than a year old. But just because its a baby doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a lamb. It could be a kid (a baby goat). So let’s look at some other distinguishing features.
Look at Those Beautiful Locks
While we tend to think of goats as dairy or meat animals, the fur of both goats and lambs is used to make textiles. However, when looking at the two animals you can quickly notice a difference in their “fur.” Goats tend to have longer, more hair like fur while a lamb’s coat is “wooly.”
But sometimes their hair can be misleading. Angoras and other long haired goat breeds can easily be mistaken for sheep or lambs at first glance. There are also certain breeds of meat sheep that lack the distinctive wooly coat we associate with sheep and lambs.
Another feature that can help you differentiate goats from lambs is the presence of horns. Lambs never have horns, so if the animal in question has horns, it’s definitely not a lamb. However, just because it does have horns doesn’t mean it is a goat. Certain mature rams also have horns. And vice versa is true as well. Not all goats have horns.
However, if the animal in question has horns you can determine if it is a sheep or a goat by checking out the shape and location of the horns. Sheep grow horns on the side of their heads while goat horns grow on top. Also, sheep horns are rounder than goat horns which tend to be pointier.
A Tale of Different Tails
One of the easiest ways to distinguish between a lamb and a goat is to look at the tail. Sheep tails are thicker and woolier than goat tails which tend to be thinner and hairy rather than wooly. Also, check which direction the tail points. Sheep tails go down, and goat tails go up.
What’s That You’re Eating?
While goats and sheep are both herbivores, they have different grazing patterns. By watching what they eat, you can decide if it is a goat or a lamb.
Sheep prefer to eat food that grows close to the ground. They are perfect for keeping your lawn trimmed. Goats, on the other hand, prefer to find food at eye level. They like shrubs, trees, branches, and leaves. In fact, goats are best for clearing brush.
And now try to see in this video whether you will be able to separate the goats and sheep?
While at first glance, the difference between lambs and goats may seem confusing. But once you learn the differences between the two animals, you can easily start to distinguish between them.
The more you learn about the appearance of different breeds, the easier it becomes to tell different animals apart. Examining their distinct physical features, like hair, horns, and tails, as well as watching their diet, can help you decide if it’s a goat or lamb.
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.