What Are Myotonic Goats?

Myotonic goats have a very docile temperament. They also have a condition known as Myotonia congenita, characterized by the inability of muscles to quickly relax after contracting. This results in the goat appearing to faint for several seconds before recovering and going about their business as if nothing has happened. The condition is not painful to them and does them no harm. When they stiffen, they often fall over, yet they are fully aware of their surroundings rather than actually fainting and losing consciousness. "Fainting" is usually seen when the goats are excited or frightened and they get a rush of adrenaline, causing their muscles to contract.

 

Myotonic (fainting) goats can be traced back to the 1880s. An itinerant farm worker named John Tinsley came to central Tennessee, with four unusual, “Stiff” goats. When Mr. Tinsley left Tennessee he left the four goats behind. The goats grew in popularity across the region as farmers found they were easier to keep compared to other goats. Due to their "fainting", they were less apt to climb fences and escape from pastures. During the 1950s, some Tennessee Fainting goats were taken to central Texas where they were bred for meat qualities and larger size, and came to be known as “Wooden Leg” goats, another nick-name for Myotonic goats. Often these goats were placed in the pasture with cattle. Ranchers were willing to let predators take the "fainting" goats rather than lose young cattle to attacks.


Nearly extinct in 1988, the Myotonic breed was declared endangered. Today the American Livestock Conservancy lists the breed as a "recovering" heritage breed.