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Farm Animals - Tennessee Fainting Goats

Updated on November 4, 2013

Have you ever seen "Tennessee Fainting Goats" in action?

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Since we moved to rural Tennessee more than seven years ago, I've been intrigued by the name "Tennessee Fainting Goat." I've never seen one but was eager to learn more about this unusual species.

Tennessee Fainting Goats, also known as Tennessee Stiff Legs, Tennessee Wooden Legs, Nervous Goats and Fall-Down Goats, look pretty much like any other goat you may see in a pasture. Their distinct feature is observed when the goats are surprised or startled. Fainting goats will stiffen and sometimes fall over. This condition is bred purposely and is sanctioned by the International Fainting Goat Association.

This malady is more commonly known as Myotonia congenita or Thomsen's disease. It is due to a combination of recessive genes. The breed was thought to have been discovered in Marshall County, Tennessee in the early 1800s by farm worker, John Tinsley, who had four goats that fainted. Some stories say that he brought the goats from Nova Scotia to Tennessee but no one is completely sure. Myotonia congenita can be found in other animals but seems to be more prominent in goats, perhaps because of selective breeding.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) takes a less than positive slant toward the breed due to intentional breeding of animals with a defect. The Humane Society is more tolerant.

Fainting goats can be generally of any color and coat description and can be large or small. Their most noticeable characteristic other than stiffening is their bulgy eyes.

Fainting Goats in Action

Why breed fainting goats?

Fainting goats are primarily bred for three distinct reasons:

1 - As pets. These goats are very docile and easier to care for than other goat breeds. Their propensity for fainting makes them less likely to escape by climbing or jumping fences as most other goats do. Their uniqueness also makes them desirable pets. They are alert and good with children. They are also parasite resistant. When acquiring fainting goats as pets, get more than one. They are not solitary animals and prefer company. "Showing" fainting goats at livestock fairs is quite common and there are breed standards that must be met.

2 - For meat. Many farmers raise goats for meat. The fainting goat has leaner meat and is sought after for that fact.

3 - For herd protection. Not as common any more, fainting goats would accompany sheep herds and when approached by predators, the goats would be easier prey since they fell over when surprised. This saved the sheep.


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  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    Thanks Seeker7. I'm glad you liked the hub. I think the goats are cute, too.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi very interesing hub. I haven't heard of this species of goat and they are so cute! I'm kind of the same as some of the other commentators about breeding them for the fainting attribute, although there are animals in the wild who do similar things or play dead. But I loved this hub, fascinating animal behaviour.

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    Thanks for reading, AliciaC, Multiman & PhoenixV! I had no idea this hub would create so many opinions.

  • PhoenixV profile image

    PhoenixV 6 years ago from USA

    Very interesting. It looks very odd behavior. I'm wondering if some predators would think there is something wrong with them and ignore them like an opossum. Very interesting hub!

  • profile image

    Multiman 6 years ago

    Interesting article on these goats and I voted up though I do not think we ought to deliberately breed a disability into an animal.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I've never heard of fainting goats before. I do feel very uncomfortable with the idea of deliberately breeding a goat so that it has a disability and with deliberately trying to get it to faint. Thanks for the interesting information and video - this is something that I'll be thinking about for some time!

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    I appreciate your thoughts, Tamarajo, reprieve26, love2dogs & stephhicks68. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  • Tamarajo profile image

    Tamarajo 6 years ago

    I didn't realize they were common to Tennessee. My daughter in law faints when startled and we tease here about being like the fainting goats.

    Interesting article.

  • Reprieve26 profile image

    Reprieve26 6 years ago from Oregon Coast

    Interesting, thought provoking hub. I'm torn-- the goats are adorable and their "fainting" behavior is sort-of funny to watch; but, at the same time, I agree with the other comments that intentionally scaring the goats in order to get them to "faint" does seem mean. Plus, intentionally breeding an animal with a "flaw" (for lack of better word) seems a little bit cruel. I mean, these guys are easy pickings for predators...

    Thanks for posting this hub and giving me something interesting to ponder on my way to work today!

  • love2dogs profile image

    love2dogs 6 years ago from NH

    I have heard of them before. The video is awesome because I have never seen them in action.


  • stephhicks68 profile image

    Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

    Poor goats - entertaining us with their frightened antics!

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    I forgot about that with the possums & have actually seen that happen! Thanks for stopping by, dirt farmer!

  • The Dirt Farmer profile image

    Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

    Doesn't sound cruel to me. Possums react similarly in an involuntary manner as a protective measure. And although their lives aren't long, they've been around since the dinosaurs. Hope these sweet little goats last as long. A fun hub! Thanks.

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    Thanks for commenting, drbj and loriamoore. Supposedly, the scaring and falling over doesn't hurt the goats (thank goodness) but I agree it is strange.

  • profile image

    loriamoore 6 years ago

    They're hilarious!

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

    I dunno. As funny as it looks to see a goat become stiff-legged and fall over when scared, don't you think that scaring them to produce that strange reaction is the equivalent of animal cruelty? The SPCA may be looking for you! :)