Farm owners are often asked, “Are you kidding?” “Do Fainting goats really exist?” No kidding, Fainting goats are real! These goats are called by a variety of names: stiff-legged goats, scare goats, nervous goats and Myotonic goats. To understand their name, you should know their characteristics and background.
Fainting goats originally came from Nova Scotia. They were first recorded in history, from Marshall County, TN, back in the 1880s. A man named, Tinsley moved to the northern part of Marshall County, Tennessee and brought with him four goats and a cow. These goats showed nervous tendencies. When these goats became startled, their leg muscles would, temporarily, become rigid causing them to lose their balance and fall over!
When myotonia, (stiffening of the muscles) sets in, some goats may not completely loose their balance and fall over, but their knees may buckle. When these goats are placed in situations of extreme stress or fear, their epinephrine and cortisol, (fight or flight hormones) cause increased muscle tension throughout the body. Myotonia, stiffening of muscles, actually helps build more muscle in these goats. The goats do not loose conscious, are not having a seizure, and their central nervous system is fine. Their muscles just tighten up and then relax. This startled condition only lasts for about ten to fifteen seconds, then afterwards these goats are up and running again.
The fainting goats were almost extinct by the 1980s but are now thriving throughout the world. Marshall County, Tennessee is named the “cradle” of the Myotonic goats. These goats have lived here for decades. Keep in mind that just because a goat faints does not mean it is a Tennessee fainting goat. You should understand other characteristics of Tennessee fainting goats to help you with distinguish between breeds.
What other characteristics do these Tennessee goats have? Many of these goats have bulgy eyes with their eyes set wide apart. Their eyes vary in color from varying shades of brown to rare shades of deep blue or icy blue. Their eye placement gives their head a straight-forward type of profile. The nose is wider and more rounded than other breeds, not sharp or pointed. Their medium length ears may be straight, bend downward at the middle or bend downward and forward shading their eyes. They come in varying colors, black and white or a variety of colors with different markings and combinations of patterns. These goats have bodies with increased muscle mass due to the myotonia gene! They have a sturdy framework with bold face expressions. They are, generally, hardy, disease resistant and good mothers. Most wean their kids on their own. They milk, generously, for about four months. These goat breeds are slow to mature, so extra care needs to be given when breeding these animals. They are not fully mature until four years old. Tennessee fainting goats can live twelve to fifteen years or more with the proper goat care.
Here is a fun fact about these goats. Have you ever heard of the expression, “scapegoat”? According to some scholars, shepherds kept fainting goats with their flocks of sheep as insurance against predators. When wolves or other predatory animals would attack a flock of sheep, the fainting goats would become startled and faint. The wolves or other predators would focus so much on the stunned goats, it allowed the sheep to flee and escape. Therefore, the term “scapegoat” refers to the sheep that escaped with the help of the fainting goats.
Fainting goats are wonderful farm animals. These farm fun goats are, mostly, very calm, proud and easily taught. Their sweet personalities will win your heart!
Be sure to see the Myotonic Goat Registry at the country jam, Goats, Music and More Festival, October 8th, 9th and 10th, 2010 in Lewisburg, Tennessee! Admission is free! You will find, fun, food and entertainment for all!