HYBRID SHEEP AND GOATS

In "The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication" Charles Darwin wrote: "Captain Hutton, in India, crossed a tame goat with a wild one from the Himalaya, and he remarked to me how surprisingly wild the offspring were."

Although sheep and goats seem similar and can be mated together, any offspring are generally stillborn due to chromosome mismatch (sheep have 54, goats have 60). At Botswana Ministry of Agriculture, a ram housed with a nanny goat impregnated the goat and a live offspring was produced with 57 chromosomes. It was called "The Toast of Batswana" and is intermediate in type: coarse outer, woolly inner coat, long goat-like legs and heavy sheep-like body. Although infertile, the hybrid had to be castrated because it continually mounted sheep and goats in the enclosure. In 1969, Australian farmer Dick Lanyon, near Melbourne, Australia, put a billy-goat among his sheep to scare off foxes during the lambing season. In September of that year he claimed to have dozens of ‘lambs’ which were half-sheep-half-goat, and more were arriving each day. The goat was locked up while scientists examined the supposed hybrids.

The longstanding belief in sheep/goat hybrids may be due to the resemblance to each other such that some primite sheep may be misidentified as goats. In "Darwinism An Exposition Of The Theory Of Natural Selection With Some Of Its Applications" (1889), Alfred Russel Wallace wrote: '[...] the following statement of Mr. Low: "It has been long known to shepherds, though questioned by naturalists, that the progeny of the cross between the sheep and goat is fertile. Breeds of this mixed race are numerous in the north of Europe." Nothing appears to be known of such hybrids either in Scandinavia or in Italy; but Professor Giglioli of Florence has kindly given me some useful references to works in which they are described. The following extract from his letter is very interesting: "I need not tell you that there being such hybrids is now generally accepted as a fact. Buffon (_Supplements_, tom. iii. p. 7, 1756) obtained one such hybrid in 1751 and eight in 1752. Sanson (_La Culture_, vol. vi. p. 372, 1865) mentions a case observed in the Vosges, France. Geoff. St. Hilaire (_Hist. Nat. Gén. des reg. org._, vol. iii. p. 163) was the first to mention, I believe, that in different parts of South America the ram is more usually crossed with the she-goat than the sheep with the he-goat. The well-known 'pellones' of Chile are produced by the second and third generation of such hybrids (Gay, 'Hist, de Chile,' vol. i. p. 466, _Agriculture_, 1862). Hybrids bred from goat and sheep are called 'chabin' in French, and 'cabruno' in Spanish. In Chile such hybrids are called 'carneros lanudos'; their breeding _inter se_ appears to be not always successful, and often the original cross has to be recommenced to obtain the proportion of three-eighths of he-goat and five-eighths of sheep, or of three-eighths of ram and five-eighths of she-goat; such being the reputed best hybrids."'

Although often cited as a hybrid, the famous "geep" is not a true goat/sheep hybrid, but was a laboratory experiment which fused a sheep embryo with a goat embryo (a type of animal called a chimera). The geep is a mosaic of mismatched goat and sheep parts; the parts which grew from the sheep embryo are woolly while those which grew from the goat embryo are hairy. Each set of cells kept their own species identity instead of being intermediate in type. It could be fertile, but will produce either goats or sheep depending on whether its reproductive organs grew from the goat embryo or from the sheep embryo.

Above: Male and female hybrids between sheep and mouflon (1910).

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