2015: The year of the ram (or sheep? or goat?)

Chinese New Year

You may have seen that 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. But also , the Ram, or the Goat? The answer is a bit complicated because it depends on how the word for the animal is translated from the Chinese language into English.

In Chinese, 2015 is the year of 羊 or “yang” — a generic term for various sheep-like horned and and hoofed mammals.

To specify the type of 羊, another noun is added to it:

绵羊 “mian yang” — sheep
山羊 “shan yang” — goat
公羊 “gong yang” — ram

So what’s the difference between these animals?

Allow us to explain:


Lleyn sheep taken by  Jackhynes  in Devon, UK.

Photo of Lleyn sheep taken by Jackhynes from Devon, UK.

Sheep are those iconic, fluffy, wool-bearing animals raised for their fur and meat. Some sheep are also raised for their milk to make specialty cheeses. They are herbivores that primarily eat grass, weeds, and hay. Depending on the breed, domestic sheep may or may not have horns. Farmers shear their sheep at least once a year, and the average sheared sheep’s fleece weighs 8 to 10 pounds.


Bighorn rams on BLM lands near Connor Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, in the Baker Resource Area of Vale District.Photo by Kevin Hoskins/BLM Oregon

Bighorn rams on BLM lands near Connor Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, in the Baker Resource Area of Vale District. Photo by Kevin Hoskins/BLM Oregon

Rams are male sheep with big, curved horns. They prefer mountainous terrain and will often settle arguments by ramming their heads into others — hence their name. With their long fur and split hooves, rams are usually around 5 to 6 feet tall (1.5-1.8 meters) from head to tail, and can weigh upwards of 300 pounds. Their horns alone can weigh 30 pounds (14 kg) — about the same as a toddler.


Pic credit: Xinhua

Photo credit: Xinhua

Goats are small livestock animals, and each breed have horns of particular shapes and sizes, and specific weight ranges. Both male and female goats have beards.

Tip: To tell the difference between a goat or sheep, look at the tail

Some breeds of sheep and goats look very similar, so check out their tails: Goat tails are short and usually point up, while sheep tails hang down and are usually longer and bigger.

So getting back to Chinese New Year:


2015 Chinese New Year Stamp


2015 CCTV Spring Festival Gala mascot, Yang Yang.

Any of the translations for yang (羊) — ram, sheep, goat — work. However, many Chinese New Year images show the animal with large horns (including the 2015 China Post New Year stamp (left) and the CCTV Spring Festival Gala mascot, Yang Yang (right).

No distinction has been made over whether the signs of the zodiac are male or female, so whether it’s a sheep year, you’re having a ram baby, or a goat-year marriage, all depends on the translator’s preference.