Spring Rose the geep: a Goat-sheep hybrid
Can goats and sheep breed? It's rare, but Spring Rose proves it can happen
A geep — goat-sheep hybrid — is so rare that one hits the news about once every 10 years. Most suspected geeps, once tested, prove to be just goats or sheep with odd features. But Spring Rose is alive and well in Kentucky.
Catherine Bell owns and breeds Babydoll sheep. She also has Mini-LaMancha and Nigerian Dwarf goats running around the farm along with chickens, a miniature donkey, and a miniature horse. This April, as she was attending to a Nigerian Dwarf giving birth, she was shocked when the baby was not a goat, but a geep. I know there are a few of you skeptics out there, so please sit and allow me to tell this story about Spring Rose, the geep.
Bell does not normally run her goats and sheep together. They have their own pens with males and females separated as well except for breeding season. There are few exceptions to this rule on her farm, Halfpint Farm & Fiber. However, after experiencing larger rams killing a small ram during breeding one season, she decided to place her smallest ram in with her does. What could happen?
Months later, one of Bell’s Nigerian Dwarf does, Jenna, went into labor. After some unsuccessful pushing, Catherine could see the umbilical cord come down through the birth canal. The cord had detached, and the baby wasn’t even in the birth canal. She lubed up and went inside to see if the baby needed to be turned to get in position. She felt that the baby was breach and very big. It did not bode well, and Catherine was certain that the baby was already dead. Catherine pulled the baby, but as it hit the ground, suddenly the baby shook its head. It was alive!
Knowing there was a chance, Catherine hurried to clear its airway and help clean it off. As she ran to the house to grab medicine, she thought to herself, “That baby’s tail had a crimp in it.” Being amid birthing both goats and sheep, mentally she saw the long tail and wooly coat and didn’t think anything of it. As everything from the traumatic birth calmed down, Catherine got a better look at the miracle baby that should have been dead from cord detachment. Something wasn’t quite right. She had pulled this baby from a goat mother with her own hands, but it had a sheep’s tail and long, almost wooly hair. The head just plain looked like someone had molded a goat’s head with a sheep’s head. Could this be a “geep” — goat-sheep hybrid?
This began visits to some very excited veterinarians who first did hair DNA testing against all the bucks that could have bred Jenna. Definitely not any of the goats. Then blood was sent to Texas A&M for DNA testing. In the office of Professor Terje Raudsepp, a karyotype was done from Spring Rose’s blood. It was true. The baby, now named Spring Rose, was a geep. Professor Raudsepp informed Bell that in 20 years, they had been sent 19 samples to test from suspected geeps, but this was the first to be confirmed. Cue excitement from the scientific community with requests to sequence Spring Rose’s entire genome. Also, cue skepticism from the goat owner community as geeps are so incredibly rare that chances are most are not real. However, with a DNA test confirming it, Spring Rose is a geep.
What is a geep? While sheep and goats may appear very similar in build, size, and looks, they are not that closely related. They are of the same family of Caprinae under Bovine, but from there the genus differs in that goats are Caprines and sheep are Ovines. Sheep have 54 chromosomes while goats have 60. Because of this difference in the number of chromosomes, their offspring rarely survive to birth and are usually aborted. Even those that do make it to birth rarely live long. However, Spring Rose is thriving and growing well with 57 chromosomes. She shows all the signs of being able to live a long, healthy life. It is unknown if she will be able to breed. While many animal hybrids are sterile, some well-documented geep have been shown to be able to at least become pregnant.
You may also find the term geep given to a goat-sheep chimera. This is when a very early embryo of a sheep and one of a goat are combined in a lab setting. This does not occur in nature like a true goat-sheep hybrid. Some may also try to call the goat-sheep hybrid a “shoat.” While this could technically be the term for when a ram breeds a doe, it is also the term for a pig under a year old, which causes confusion. The term geep works regardless of which parent is which species.
There have been few other documented cases of a true geep being born, including Butterfly the Geep and an African sheep-goat hybrid called the “Toast of Botswana.” Geep is an oft-used claim when a goat is born looking a little different especially in hair texture, but DNA testing typically shows it to be just a goat. This also occurs in the sheep breeding world. You may find multiple claims of geeps online, and some may be the real deal. However, they still need DNA verification to be proven. Bucks and does have marvelous ways of getting to each other during rut, and not having a buck on your farm is no guarantee that one won’t pay a midnight visit.
Spring Rose is a miracle in multiple ways. It was a miracle that she was conceived and survived to birth. It was also a miracle that she survived a traumatic birth with a small mother. The miracles don’t end there. Catherine is currently trying to sell the geep for funds to take care of her boys with special health needs and pay off the farm. While it breaks their hearts to think of saying goodbye, they know that Spring Rose was sent to help them in multiple ways. She is the best surprise they have ever received.
Catherine wants to express heartfelt thanks to the veterinarians and researchers who helped identify and care for Spring Rose and the friends who helped her with imaging and social media.
Follow Spring Rose on Instagram @spring.rose.geep and Catherine’s farm at @thehalfpintfarm.
To purchase Spring Rose email Catherine, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
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