January - Sheep & Goats

Learn about Sheep and Goats

Interesting facts:

McHenry County ranks in the top 5 Illinois Counties for goat milk production.

George Washington raised sheep.

Sheep do not have teeth in the upper front jaw.

One pound of wool can make ten miles of yarn.

What are Goats?

Domestic goats are raised and bred as farm animals. There are certain breeds of goats used mainly for dairy production, while others are better for meat production or for their fiber. There are over 210 different breeds of goats around the world. Goats are ruminant animals, like sheep, which means their stomach contains four different compartments. Domestic goats eat plants like trees, shrubs, hay, and grains. Goats live to be 8-12 years old but are known to live up to 15 years and can weigh between 22-350 pounds.

In 2017, Illinois had 36,240 goats, which made Illinois 24th in the United States that year for number of goats.

Goat Meat Sales: Illinois goat sales in 2017 were $2,855,000; Illinois ranks 19th for goat sales.

Goats’ Milk: Goats’ milk is relatively low in sodium and carbohydrates, and high in protein and calcium. Goats milk generally has less lactose (sugar) than cows’ milk. Both goat and cow milk are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals. Illinois ranks 16th in goat milk production in the United States.

Top 5 (reporting) counties in Illinois (2017): 1. McHenry 2. Richland 3. Rock Island 4. Boone 5. Douglas 

What are Sheep?

Sheep have played an important role in human history. They were among the first species to be domesticated and provided both meat for food and wool for clothing. Sheepskin was also used for clothing and shelter.

Depending on the breed, sheep range in height and weight. Ewes typically weigh between 99 and 220 pounds, while rams weigh between 99 and 350 pounds. Ewes are usually bred in the fall and give birth in the late winter and early spring. Lambs are sold to market at approximately four to seven months of age and weigh between 115 and 140 pounds.

Like cattle, sheep are ruminants, which means they have four compartments in their stomach. Sheep do not have any upper front teeth. When eating forages, such as grass and alfalfa, they close the lower teeth against the dental pad of the upper jaw.

Today, sheep are used for their meat, wool and milk. The U.S. is a large importer of sheep milk cheeses, such as Feta, Ricotta, Romano and Roquefort. Most sheep milk cheeses are imported from France, Greece, Italy and Spain. Other products made from sheep include: cosmetics, lubricants, piano keys and many others.


How to select the best lamb

Lamb comes from a sheep under 1 year old, most often around 9-10 months of age. Mutton is from a sheep over 1 year old. Lamb tends to be more tender and milder in taste compared to mutton. Mutton has a richer and stronger flavor and is tougher compared to lamb, but is typically less expensive. • Lamb meat should appear pink to dark red in color and have pink bones and white marbling. Mutton should appear deep red in color with white bones and marbling. Both should be firm in texture. • Look for packages that are cool to the touch and do not exhibit any damage or wear. • Check the dates on the package to ensure you buy fresh. Click here for more information.

Additional Learning Resources:

Sheep reader

Sweater Weather Weaving