When it comes to domestic animals, we really don’t have a hard time telling different species apart. Different breeds, sure, sometimes, but not different species!
For instance you’ll never get your cows mixed up with pigs or your chickens mixed up with horses. Even chickens and ducks look highly distinct.
But there are a few species out there that make determination significantly more challenging. Let’s look at goats and lambs, for instance.
It can look so similar it can be very difficult to tell them apart! But actually, our goats and lambs different? What are the differences between them?
Goats and lambs are entirely different species, and there are physical differences to help you tell at a glance. Lambs have wool where goats have hair, and the ears and overall body shape of the two species are recognizably different.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you’re looking at a young lamb and an adolescent goat, it can be tough to tell at a glance.
But there’s always a way to tell them apart at the end of the day. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the differences between lambs and goats.
Brass Tacks: Are Goats and Lambs Different Species?
Let us clear one thing up right away: although these two animals might easily be mistaken for one another, they are in fact two completely different and distinct species.
Domestic goats, or Capra hircus, and domestic lambs (young sheep), or Ovis aries, are separate species that have been bred and kept by humans for thousands of years.
They are not the same animal, not even close! Well, they do look close, but there are many differences, I promise…
Is a Lamb a Sheep, or a Goat?
A lamb is a young sheep, aged less than one year. They are considered a member of the same species just like their adult counterparts: Ovis aries.
How Can You Tell a Lamb from a Goat?
Telling a lamb, a young sheep, from a goat can be tricky, it’s true. This is made worse because sheep grow extremely quickly, and might look just like an adult within 6 months!
This means that you could be expecting a tiny, fluffy loveable baby sheep when you should actually be looking for one that looks totally mature, physically.
It might blend right in with a herd of adult goats, if you aren’t alert!
But don’t worry, the physical differences between a lamb and a goat, while sometimes subtle, are not that hard to spot once you know what to look for.
Lambs Have Wool, Goats Have Hair
This is one of the most distinctive and reliable differences between lambs and goats, and one that can be easily overlooked by those not familiar with livestock.
Lambs have wool, which is a very thick, curly coat of hair with an extremely soft texture. Goats, on the other hand, have a much thinner and coarser coat of fur which looks a lot like straight or slightly bristly hair.
Both can actually be used for a variety of textiles and other products, but once you see (and feel) the difference between the two you will not mix-up your goats and sheep anymore!
Overall Size Difference Between Lambs and Goats
Another telltale difference between a lamb and a goat is the overall size. Younger lambs are considerably smaller than mature goats, though this size difference narrows quickly across most species.
However, most sheep species can grow considerably larger than goats, so if you see what appears to be a large goat in your herd, there is a good chance it might actually be a sheep.
Check the Head and Ears
The ears of most goat species tend to be quite distinctive compared to those of lambs, and all sheep.
Goat ears tend toward a long, straight shape, while lamb ears are much shorter and more curved or rounded.
Goat heads, too, have an overall pointier shape than that of sheep and lambs.
The face on goats is usually quite narrow and more angular, whereas the faces of lambs tend to be softer overall, and most have a less distinct chin line.
The facial structure can be quite similar sometimes, though, so if you are in doubt, look to the ears.
The Horns of Goats and Sheep are Different
Goats and lambs can develop horns, thought the presence or absence of horns depends on many factors, not the least of which is breed or sex, sometimes both, and whether or not the animal in question has been polled or disbudded.
Generally, goats are more likely to have horns and have shorter, thinner and more shallowly curved horns than those of sheep.
Sheep horns are much rarer in domestic species, but particularly in the case of rams their horns can grow to be quite impressive!
Their Eating Habits are Not the Same
Most folks consider goats and sheep alike to be grazing animals, but that is not strictly true in the case of goats!
Goats are browsers, or browsing animals, while sheep are indeed true grazers. What’s the difference?
Grazing animals have evolved to consume large quantities of low-nutrient grass. They have broad, flat teeth that help them to cut and grind tough grasses.
Grazing animals tend to live in open grasslands where food is plentiful and easy to find. They move in herds across vast areas to take advantage of the fresh, new growth of grasses.
Examples of other grazing animals include cows and antelopes.
Browsing animals, on the other hand, have narrower teeth that are better suited for snipping off leaves and twigs from trees and shrubs.
They tend to live in forested areas where they can find plenty of leaves, bark, and other vegetation.
Browsers can reach up higher than grazers, and their long necks and flexible lips help them to pick out the leaves and twigs they want.
Besides goats, deer are common grazing animals – and so are giraffes!
Domestic Sheep and Goats Behave Very Differently, Generally
Aside from their eating habits which are hugely different, we also see significant behavioral differences between goats and lambs.
Goats tend to be a bit more independent overall than sheep, and they are also much more adventurous by our human standards.
They like to explore, climb, jump and generally run amok – which is why it’s so important that goats do not escape from their enclosures, and also so hard to keep them in!
Lambs, being sheep, on the other hand can be quite timid in comparison and usually prefer to stick much closer together in groups for safety.
They don’t usually wander too far or attempt to climb instinctively like goats might be tempted to do.
This is because sheep are truly flocking animals, and that means they prefer to move as one unit, and will not stray too far from the flock without good reason.
That said, there are exceptions to both cases: some sheep, particularly wild sheep like bighorns, are among the most optimized animals for living and traveling in rugged, steep mountain terrain.
You also have goat species which are more placid and prefer to stick closer to ground level, like the pygmy goats.
All in all, however, these behavioral differences can be a great way to tell your lambs from goats.
You Can Definitely Taste the Difference Between Lamb and Goat!
Something else to consider is that lamb and goat meat taste way different, most of the time.
Goat meat tends to be much more earthy and gamey, and particularly meat taken from older animals can be quite strong in both flavor and scent.
Lamb meat, by comparison is usually a lot milder, almost sweet at times, and quite savory, similar to fine beef though it still has a unique quality.
Is Lamb or Goat Meat Better?
Invariably, most people will choose lamb as the superior meat. This is because most people are used to the taste of lamb, even if by proxy due to its similarity to beef, and find it more appealing than goat which can be a little funky.
However, that doesn’t mean that both don’t have good merits or offer good nutrition.
Speaking of nutrition, goat meat is actually much leaner than lamb and lower in saturated fat which can make it a healthier overall option, depending on your needs and preferences.
In all cases, both are still great sources of protein, minerals, and vitamins.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.