Raising livestock like sheep and goats together can seem like a practical way for farmers to manage their herds. However, most experienced farmers know that separating sheep and goats into different pens or pastures is usually best.

If you’ve ever wondered why sheep and goats can’t just coexist peacefully, read on to learn the reasons farmers often keep them apart.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Farmers separate sheep and goats mainly because they have different nutritional needs, social behaviors, and susceptibility to diseases. Allowing them to intermingle can lead to conflicts, inadequate diet, and illness.

Sheep and Goats Have Different Nutritional Needs

One of the main reasons why farmers separate sheep and goats is because these animals have different nutritional needs. While both sheep and goats are ruminants and can eat a variety of plants, their preferences and digestive systems differ.

Goats Prefer Brush and Woody Plants

Goats are known for their ability to browse and thrive on brush and woody plants. They have a unique digestive system that allows them to efficiently break down and extract nutrients from these types of vegetation.

Goats are particularly fond of shrubs, trees, and other plants with a high fiber content. They use their prehensile lips and agile climbing abilities to reach leaves and twigs that other animals cannot access.

This browsing behavior not only provides goats with a diverse diet but also helps control the growth of invasive plants in pastures and grazing areas.

Sheep Graze on Grasses and Forbs

On the other hand, sheep are primarily grazers and prefer to feed on grasses and forbs. They have a different set of teeth and a grazing behavior that allows them to effectively graze close to the ground.

Sheep have a strong preference for tender grass shoots and are skilled at utilizing open pastures. They are less inclined to climb or browse on brush and woody plants, focusing instead on grazing on a variety of grass species.

This grazing behavior helps maintain pasture health by promoting uniform grazing and preventing the dominance of certain plant species.

Separation Allows Proper Grazing

Separating sheep and goats ensures that each animal can access the specific type of forage that meets their nutritional requirements. If sheep and goats were allowed to graze together, goats would likely consume most of the brush and woody plants, leaving little for the sheep.

Likewise, sheep can quickly deplete grassy areas, leaving goats without their preferred food source. By separating the two species, farmers can provide optimal forage options for both sheep and goats. This practice helps maximize nutrition, maintain pasture health, and improve overall animal well-being.

Their Social Behaviors Don’t Always Mesh

When it comes to farming, separating sheep and goats is a common practice. This is primarily because their social behaviors don’t always mesh well together. While both animals are domesticated livestock and have been raised together for centuries, their inherent traits and preferences can lead to conflicts if they are not kept apart.

Goats are Curious, Adventurous Browsers

Goats have a reputation for being curious and adventurous. They are natural explorers and love to roam around, often wandering far from their designated areas. Goats are also known for their browsing behavior, meaning they prefer to eat leaves, twigs, and shrubs instead of grazing on grass.

This browsing behavior can lead to them damaging trees or plants that sheep may rely on for shelter or forage. Additionally, goats have a tendency to climb on objects, including other animals, which can cause stress or injury to sheep.

Sheep Prefer to Graze in Groups

Sheep, on the other hand, are social animals that prefer to graze in groups. They feel more secure and comfortable when surrounded by other sheep. Grazing in groups allows them to keep a watchful eye for potential predators and provides a sense of safety.

Sheep have a strong flocking instinct, and separating them from goats prevents any potential disruption to their grazing patterns or social dynamics. It also helps to ensure that sheep have access to enough grass and forage without competition from goats.

Comingling Can Lead to Conflict

When sheep and goats are kept together, conflicts can arise due to their differing social behaviors. For example, goats’ adventurous nature and browsing behavior can lead them to eat or damage food sources that sheep rely on.

This can result in insufficient food for the sheep, leading to malnutrition or poor health. Additionally, goats may inadvertently harm sheep by climbing on them or engaging in rough play. Sheep, being more docile and less agile than goats, may get injured in such situations.

Separating sheep and goats is a preventive measure that ensures the well-being and safety of both animals. It allows each species to exhibit their natural behaviors and preferences without interference or potential harm from the other.

By understanding and respecting the unique characteristics of these animals, farmers can create a harmonious and stress-free environment for their livestock.

They are Prone to Different Diseases

Farmers often separate sheep and goats because they are prone to different diseases. While both sheep and goats are hardy animals, their susceptibility to certain illnesses differs, making it necessary to keep them apart for the health and well-being of the entire flock or herd.

Goats Can Carry Parasites Harmful to Sheep

One of the main reasons for separating sheep and goats is that goats can carry parasites that are harmful to sheep. Goats are known to be more resilient to internal parasites, such as coccidia and certain species of worms, compared to sheep.

When sheep and goats graze together, there is a higher risk of cross-infection between the two species. Separating them helps reduce the chances of spreading parasites, ensuring the overall health of the animals.

Sheep are Vulnerable to Specific Viral Infections

Sheep are vulnerable to specific viral infections, such as contagious ecthyma (also known as orf) and foot-and-mouth disease. These diseases can be easily transmitted between animals, especially when they share the same grazing areas or are in close contact.

Since goats can act as carriers of these viral infections without showing any symptoms, separating them from sheep is crucial to prevent the spread of these diseases among the sheep population.

Separation Limits Transmission of Disease

By separating sheep and goats, farmers can effectively limit the transmission of diseases between the two species. This practice helps safeguard the health and productivity of both flocks and herds. It also allows farmers to implement specific preventive measures, such as vaccination programs tailored to each species’ needs.

Furthermore, separating sheep and goats enables farmers to closely monitor the health of each group, promptly identify any signs of illness, and provide appropriate medical care.

Other Benefits of Separation

Easier to Provide Appropriate Housing

Separating sheep and goats allows farmers to provide appropriate housing for each species. While sheep prefer dry and well-ventilated shelters, goats thrive in more open and airy environments. By segregating them, farmers can ensure that both animals are comfortable and have the optimal conditions for their well-being.

This can help prevent health issues and improve the overall productivity of the flock or herd.

Simplifies Breeding Management

Separation also simplifies breeding management for farmers. Sheep and goats have different reproductive cycles, with sheep typically breeding once a year and goats breeding multiple times a year. By separating them, farmers can control the timing and frequency of breeding, ensuring better reproductive success.

This allows them to maximize the genetic potential of their animals and improve the quality of their future generations.

Allows Tailored Health Care

Separating sheep and goats also enables farmers to provide tailored health care for each species. While they may have some common health concerns, such as parasite control, there are also specific diseases and conditions that affect one species more than the other.

By separating them, farmers can implement targeted preventive measures and treatment protocols, reducing the risk of disease transmission and ensuring the well-being of their animals. For more information on specific health care practices, you can visit www.farmersweekly.co.za.


While sheep and goats may look similar and serve comparable purposes on the farm, their differing characteristics and needs make keeping them separated the wisest practice. By housing sheep and goats in separate grazing areas and barns, farmers can better provide for their nutritional, social, and health requirements.

The extra effort pays off through healthier, more productive flocks and herds. So the next time you visit a farm and see sheep in one pen and goats in another, remember all the good reasons those fences are there!