What happens when a romantic goat gets in with the lady sheep? An Irish farmer found out the answer five months later with the birth of a baby geep, a rare cross between a female sheep and a male goat.
Mating between goats and sheep is not unheard of, but live offspring from the unions are rare, so when Paddy Murphy saw the goat in with the sheep he did not think much about it.
When a black offspring was born from his white sheep one night last month, Murphy realized something might be amiss, but it took the light of day to show him more of the differences, like a pair of goat horns on top of the baby’s little head. Murphy said the baby also had long, spindly legs that allowed him to run around at full speed after only a week, not typical for a normal lamb. Murphy says the little guy is so fast he has to be penned to catch him.
Billy goats have infamous libidos and apparently disreputable reputations when it comes to romance. They are not concerned with typical barriers between species if an unsuspecting ewe is nearby. But usually those romances end in stillborn offspring.
The baby is as yet unnamed. It has the horns and long legs of a goat, and the coarse, wooly coat of a lamb. Its mother is raising the sheep just like a normal baby.
Geeps were created in a lab at the University of California-Davis in 1985, but that creation was a chimera, not a hybrid. A chimera is when a fertilized embryo from a sheep is mashed together with a fertilized embryo from a goat, and the resulting mix is implanted into a mother sheep or goat to grow. That creature actually has four parents, and would not happen in nature.
Real hybrid crosses between a goat and a sheep, like Murphy’s geep, are rare. Sheep have 60 chromosomes while rams have only 54. The genetic gap means cross-breeding generally doesn’t work and babies do not survive. But other hybrid geeps have been born in Germany, Malta, Chile and Jamaica.
Hybrids can be distinguished by having a number of chromosomes somewhere between that of the goat and the sheep, usually about 57. Murphy says he is not really interested in testing DNA, but if someone wants to come out and check they are welcome.
Hybrids are most likely cuter too. Chimeras are a sort of mosaic between a sheep and a goat, and have a splotchy appearance with parts of their body growing wool and part growing hair. According to Murphy, his little hybrid geep looks like a goat trapped in a lamb’s body.
The sheep farmer also owns Murphy’s pub, and he says the unusual creature’s arrival created quite a lot of laughter in the establishment when he showed pictures.
Although the geep is cute now, it should perhaps watch its step. Apparently geeps take after their billy goat fathers more than their sheep mothers. A previous geep born in Botswana had to be castrated due to driving the sheep and goats crazy with its overactive sex drive.
By Beth A. Balen