Myotonic Goats are also known as Tennessee fainting goats, stiff-legged goats, wooden-legged goats, nervous goats, and epileptic goats.
Myotonia is the condition that causes the Fainting goats to stiffen and/or fall over when they are startled. This has something to do with the absorption and release of calcium in the muscle fibers, and is caused by a combination of recessive and sub-dominant genes. The goats can show different degrees of myotonia. When they are startled, some will go stiff and rigid with their entire bodies, and fall to the ground. They are awake and aware the entire time, and if eating when it happens, will lay quietly until they un-stiffen and then continue chewing their food and swallowing! The condition only affects the external muscles, and lasts for 5-15 seconds, after which they will slowly un-stiffen and get up. They usually will walk very stiffly for the first few steps and seem to loosen up as they move, like someone that has been sitting for a long time and whose legs have gone to sleep. Other goats will only stiffen their hind legs or all 4 legs, but will not fall down. They brace themselves and so remain standing, though stretched out. This seems to be more common among older goats that have learned what to expect, and will even lean against something to keep from falling. Very young kids often do not show any signs of having it, but as they get older, the condition becomes more pronounced. This is not always the case though, since I have had one faint at 3 days old, and myotonia has been observed while still in the uterus.
The myotonic goat is a medium size breed, although they have been bred by some people down to pygmy size as pets, and other breeders have bred them up to use as meat goats. The myotonia itself expresses in increased muscle mass, and a higher meat-to-bone ratio. Most myotonics, (especially those with more of the original landrace blood) are parasite resistant, and are very efficient feeders---two traits that make them highly desirable as meat producers. Most will also kid 3 times in 2 years, although extra care must be taken to be sure that a doe is in condition to do this. Twins are the most common, although 3, 4, and even 5 kids at the time have been recorded! Keep in mind that if a goat has over 2 kids, it is sometimes better to bottle feed the extras, or at least supplement them so that the kids all get adequate nutrition. Fainting goats are usually very good mothers, protective and loving with their kids. They kid easily and have a good milk supply. They are a calm and easy-going breed, and they don't jump fences!
The face of a myotonic goat has features that distinguish it from other breeds. The eyes seem to bulge outward more than in other breeds because of the overall structure of the eye socket. The ears stand out sideways, slightly or wholly facing forward, and sometimes have a ripple about halfway down. This ripple can be pronounced enough to make the end of the ear drop downward. The goats tend to have a wide muzzle, with a medium length, mostly straight nose. From the side, there is a slight dip at the eye level.
No one knows what the original myotonic goats really looked like, since they are a landrace breed (meaning that they evolved over time in a specific region). They are considered a native goat to America, and have developed to grow and breed in the hot, humid Southeast. However, they grow a thick coat of cashmere in the winter, and easily handle winters as far north as Alaska! They come in all colors, with some having long hair, some having short hair, and some having "skirts" of long hair from their top-line and legs. Some grow short cashmere, and some grow it long enough to shear and spin. It all depends upon what individual breeders like and are breeding for. The only coat that is NOT acceptable is a coat that hangs in long curly ringlets, like an angora.
The origin of fainting goats is still a mystery. They have been traced back to the early 1880's, when a man named John Tinsley showed up in Marshall County, Tennessee, with a sacred cow and 3 nannies and a buck that fainted. By his dress, he was thought to be from Nova Scotia, but never said. He stayed for a while, married, then sold his goats to Dr. H. H. Mayberry and left town with his sacred cow. Dr. Mayberry bred the goats and started the breed in this country. He did a lot of research, writing to veterinarians and foreign ministers of agriculture trying to find out where the goats came from, but had no luck. Recently, new information has come to light, that suggests the original goats that started the breed may have come from somewhere in the mountainous areas of Europe. Research is still being done, since no goats remain there that match the fainter type.
I am trying to breed the best myotonic goat that I can. I am breeding for :
1. A wide, muscular body on shorter legs with correct stance
2. Parasite resistance and good feed conversion
3. Good mothering ability with twins each time
4. Gentle, calm temperament
5. Good udders with plenty of milk, and ease of kidding
6. Good feet and legs
This site was last updated 11/14/10