We all learn the common farm animal names as kids. However, once you start working with livestock you quickly discover there is a whole specialized vocabulary for animals based on age and sex. So, if you don’t know how to tell a ram versus a goat it’s ok. We’re here to help.
The most basic difference comes down to scientific classification systems. While goats and rams belong to the same family and tribe they are in different genuses. Goats belong to the genus Capra while rams, like all sheep, belong to the genus Ovis.
Beyond belonging to a different genus, rams have one more distinct feature that separates them from other sheep.
So, let’s look more closely at what distinguishes rams from goats (and other sheep).
Ram vs Goat: A Tale of Two Cousins
When scientists classify animals, they break them down by similarities and differences. Both goats and sheep belong to the same family, Bovidae, and the same tribe, Caprini. You can think of them as cousins.
Just like you and your cousins have similarities, goats and sheep have shared traits from their similar ancestry. Let’s look at an example. Maybe you and all your cousins inherited red hair from your grandmother. That’s a feature you share. But perhaps you have blue eyes and your cousins have green eyes. That’s a difference between you.
We’ll examine both the similarities and differences between sheep and goats so you can tell these two cousins apart. But before we do that, let’s clear up exactly what a ram is and what a goat is.
What is a Ram?
A ram is a mature male sheep. So while all sheep belong to the genus Ovis, not all sheep are rams. In fact, there is a whole specialized vocabulary for sheep depending on their age and sex.
Let’s learn some other sheep terms:
- Ewe: female sheep
- Lamb: Sheep under 1 year
- Wethers: Castrated male
- Yearling: Animal between 1-2 years of age
Humans domesticated sheep thousands of years ago. While nowadays we think of them primarily for wool, they also can provide meat and milk. No matter why you want to raise sheep, if you want more sheep you will need a ram around.
What is a Goat?
As we mentioned, goats are members of the Capra genus. Like sheep, humans domesticated wild goats for their meat, milk, and other byproducts like fiber and skin. In fact, goats and sheep were among 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.
Like sheep, goats are often referred to by specific names to distinguish sex and age. Goat is a generic name that can refer to an animal 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.
Side by side Comparison
We put together this hand comparison so you can quickly see the differences between rams and goats.
|Family: BovidaeTribe: CapriniGenus: Capra
|Family: BovidaeTribe: CapriniGenus: Ovis
|Goats can be any sex.Male goats are referred to as bucks.
|A ram is a mature male sheep.
|Goats have long hair. It can be straight or curly. When used as a fiber it is called mohair
|Rams have a wooly coat typically associated with sheep. The wool has two layers- an outer layer and an underlayer
|Goats may or may not have horns. Goat horns are more narrow than ram hornsGoat horns are smoother
|Rams always grow hornsRam horns are larger and more curvedThey are ridged and bumpy
|Goats’ tails point upward and are slender and hairy.
|Sheep 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.
Now that we know what a goat and a ram are, let’s look at how to tell them apart.
Ram vs Goat: How to Spot the Difference
While goats and sheep have a lot of commonalities there are some key differences. By learning to recognize these differences you will soon be able to know a goat or a ram at a glance. So let’s take a closer.
So Who Is Bigger?
One easy way to distinguish a ram from a goat is its size. Rams tend to be bulkier and weigh more than goats. Part of why rams seem larger is their big, wooly coat. But if you were to put a goat and a ram on a scale side by side, you would find that pound for pound full grown rams weigh more than full grown goats.
That’s a Whole Lot of Horn You Got There
While goats may or may not have horns, rams always have horns. So if the animal in question doesn’t have horns, it’s not a ram. Now, if it does have horns you have to look more closely to tell the difference.
Goats use their horns primarily for protection. Because of this goat horns tend to be thinner and smoother than ram horns. Ram horns, on the other hand, are used for fighting other rams during mating season. As a result, rams can grow massive horns, weighing as much as 30 pounds! Not only are ram horns larger, but they also curve back from their heads while goat horns tend to grow more upwards.
Watch What They Eat
While both rams and goats are herbivores, they have distinct feeding habits. So watching an animal eat can help you decide if it is a goat or a ram.
We often think goats will eat anything. While that’s not true, they are more adventurous eaters than sheep. Goats are foragers. They like to eat shrubs, and branches and are best for clearing brush.
Sheep on the other hand are grazers. They prefer to eat grasses and other plants that grow close to the ground. This makes them the perfect animal for keeping your lawn perfectly trimmed.
Another way to tell a ram from a goat is to check out its 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.
However, if you are looking at a domesticated sheep or ram you might find its tail hard to see. That’s because there is a long tradition of docking sheep’s tails for their health. Docking can help prevent a build up of bacteria and parasites.
We All Have Different Coats
We tend to think of goats as dairy or meat animals and sheep as wooly. You may be surprised to know the fur of both goats and rams is used to make textiles. However, you can easily a difference in their “fur” when you look closely. 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 rams at first glance. There are also certain breeds of meat sheep that lack the distinctive wooly coat we associate with sheep and ram.
You can also watch this video comparing goats and sheep, but that will also give you some idea:
While goats and rams have many similarities, in the end, they are different species of animals. It may seem confusing at first but it doesn’t take much practise to learn to identify which animal is which. By looking closely at their size, horns, fur, and feeding preferences you can easily learn to tell them apart.
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.