Myotonic goats are also called Wooden Leg
goats, “stiff leg” or Tennessee fainting goats.
These are one of the few goats that are
indigenous to the U.S. There are two strains of
this animal. Most of those found in Tennessee
and the eastern U.S. are smaller. Most Texas
herds tend to be somewhat larger, probably
due to selective breeding for the meat market.
In fact, some ranchers have renamed them
Tennessee Meat Goats.
They also have a market as pets because they
are unique. Myotonic means when they are
frightened or excited they “lock up” and often
fall over (faint) and lie very stiff for a few
seconds. It is an over-simplification, but the
chemicals which are rushed to humans’
muscles and joints to prepare them for “fight
or flight” are withheld in the Myotonic under
exciting or frightful circumstances.
No one really knows their origin, but there are
two theories. One of the possibilities is that a
private herd sold to a Tennessee farmer
around 1880 was the beginning of the breed. A
man named John Tinsley arrived in Marshall
County, Tennessee, with four goats, a billy and
three nannies, which he had brought from
Nova Scotia. When he moved on a year later,
he left his goats behind. It is believed that all
the Fainting goats in the U.S. can trace their
origins back to these four.
The other is that there was a spontaneous
mutation of a herd in Tennessee about 1885
which resulted in the recessive gene.
The American Livestock Breed Conservancy
has placed this breed of goat on their “rare”
list, with an estimated world population of
under 10,000. They have now been discovered
as excellent crossbreed stock for the Boer
goat, a meat goat which was imported from
South Africa. The “fainting” gene is recessive,
therefore it is usually not expressed in
Reference and Permission:
Professor Clint Rusk
Department of Animal Science – Oklahoma
|McKnight William J. Farm
2964 Ownby Road
The Truth About Fainting Goats
-Dr. Phillip Sponenberg,
The first thing to know is that Fainting goats don’t
actually faint, but have a muscular condition called
myotonia congenita. So, the episodes leading to
the common name don’t occur in the brain at all,
but are limited to the muscles.
The condition prevents the muscle cells from
relaxing quickly after contraction, and this leads
to the situation where the limbs stiffen, and if the
goat is off balance, it can fall over. The stiff
episodes are over in a few seconds.
This trait gives these goats a host of common
names, including fainting goats, stiff leg goats,
nervous goats, or wooden leg goats. The
important detail is that they never lose
consciousness during these episodes.
We know from related conditions in people, dogs,
and other animals that the condition itself is
painless. In goats, it actually has some
advantages. These goats were long valued in
their original Tennessee homeland because they
are easy to fence in. They cannot climb or jump,
which makes them much easier to manage and
contain than other goats.
In addition they are quiet, good mothers, resist
parasites well, and have heavier muscling than
goats without myotonia. All of these attributes
combine to make them a good choice as a meat-
producing goat, a role for the breed that has been
increasing recently. They are also popular as pet
goats due to their quiet attitudes.
This breed of goats, in common with many local
breeds, became quite rare in the late 20th
century. Numbers plummeted to the point that the
Livestock Conservancy listed them as threatened.
Populations have now increased so that they are
much more secure, and listed as recovering. As
far as anyone knows, they are uniquely American,
so guarding their status here is essential to their
Dr. Phillip Sponenberg is the professor of
pathology and genetics at the Virginia-Maryland
Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at
Article written by Mathew Pyrce, May 14, 2014