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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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