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Goat 2B Kidding

Little Backyard Farm
Fainting Goats???

No, we’re not pulling your leg. There really is such a thing as fainting goats. You might have a lot of questions — as we did — about this strange occurrence in nature. Such as, do they really faint? Is it bad for the goat? How did fainting goats come to be, anyway? We have the answers.

Do Fainting Goats Really Faint?

Technically, no. Fainting goats do not lose consciousness, but they do stiffen up and fall over when startled. This is how fainting goats came to be named “myotonic” goats — myo from Greek, meaning muscle, and tonus from Latin, meaning tension. These goats all have a hereditary genetic condition called myotonia congenita, which is a condition that occurs across a variety of animals, even sometimes in humans. The difference is that fainting goats have been selectively bred and all fainting goats have this condition.

When a fainting goat is startled or feels fear, muscles throughout the body freeze for a few seconds. Because of this, the goat falls over, although older goats often learn to deal with the condition and manage to stay standing even though their muscles have seized.

This condition only affects the goats’ muscles, and it is thought that the problem occurs on a molecular level. The theory is that the chemical rush that most animals experience from fear or excitement is somehow blocked in fainting goats. Instead of these “fight or flight” chemicals triggering a normal response like jumping or running away, in fainting goats, the muscles lock up instead.

Interestingly, it isn’t just fear that causes this reaction in fainting goats. Sometimes, they faint just because they are excited. People who own fainting goats say that playtime or even dinnertime is enough to trigger the reaction.

Is “Fainting” Bad For The Goats?

The “fainting” isn’t necessarily harmful to these goats. It only affects their muscles, not the nervous or cardiovascular systems. 

Where Did Fainting Goats Come From?

Fainting goats go by many names depending on the region. They are often called myotonic goats, Tennessee fainting goats, stiff-leg goats and scare goats. It is thought that the breed came about sometime in the 1880s when a man named John Tinsley brought four strange goats with stiff legs to Tennessee from Nova Scotia.
People in Tennessee gradually came to like these goats, not because they fainted but because they were calm compared to other breeds. Goats are notorious climbers and escape artists, and Tinsley’s goats seemed less likely to work at holes in fences or find ways to climb out of their enclosures.

On top of that, these goats were valued as meat goats as well as milking goats. Fainting goats reproduce well and they have a short, stocky build that is highly prized among meat goat breeders. By the 1950s, fainting goats had spread around the eastern portion of the United States and breeders in Texas were working on producing larger, heavier fainting goats, which they referred to as “wooden-leg” goats.

Fainting goats, which were largely unheard of outside of farming communities, became such a curiosity that the population started growing rapidly. During this time, a few breed registries cropped up in an effort to preserve the purity of fainting goat bloodlines. Two of those registries are still around today: The International Fainting Goat Association and the Myotonic Goat Registry.

Today, there are a variety of reasons to keep fainting goats. Some still enjoy raising meat goats that also give delicious milk, and others love keeping them for their fun-loving, laid-back personalities. Breeders of registered fainting goats see their work as a conservation effort — working to keep this unique, all-American breed of goats around for future generations to enjoy.-by Amber Kanuckel

Did you know there’s an official scale of stiffness for fainting goats?

According to the Myotonic Goat Registry, the Degree of  Myotonia is an essential part of the breed type but varies per animal. Here is their scale;

1.    Never observed to stiffen, but other Myotonic type traits (see Breed Description) are consistent as is the pedigree.
2.    Very rarely stiffens, never falls.
3.    Stiffens occasionally, and rarely falls.
4.    Walks normally. However when startled or stepping over a barrier, rear stiffens readily, but forelegs less so, and rarely or only occasionally falls.
5.    Walks somewhat stiff in rear and with a swivel at the hip. Readily stiffens and occasionally falls.
6.    Walks stiffly in all legs, readily “locks up” and readily falls.

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