First of all, the Tennessee Fainting Goat is a breed of goat, they are not just a goat that displays myotonia.
Breed – a distinctive type of particular species of animal or, sometimes, plant having recognizable inherited characteristics that are the result of a long period of selective mating.
Tennessee Fainting Goats have been called many different names over the years, Nervous, Stiff Legged, Wooden Leg, Fainting, and Myotonic Goat.
Most people will know these goats as Fainting goats or Myotonic goats. As a breed these goats have distinctive, and quickly recognizable characteristics that are only seen in this breed of goat.
These goats don’t actually “faint” and become unconscious, they just stiffen and sometimes fall over when they are unexpectedly startled. Tennessee Fainting Goats have a genetic condition called myotonia that causes their muscles to stiffen when they are startled or get excited. This stiffening often causes them to lose their balance and fall over. They are not having a seizure and it doesn’t hurt them. They are fully conscious and once they relax, (10-15 seconds), they get up and are on their way.
The effects from the myotonia can range from a mere stiffening in the legs, where the goat’s knees are locked, to a complete stiffening of the body, where if the goat is off-balance it will fall over.
This stiffening of the muscles builds muscle, much like a body builder would by lifting weights. Tennessee Fainting Goats have powerful muscular bodies and smaller bones, thus a higher meat to bone ratio, which makes them a great meat animal.
Tennessee Fainting Goats are a medium sized goat (compared to other breeds) and can be horned or polled.
They are a multi-purpose breed, raised for pets, meat, milk and fiber. In general they are a very proud, calm and docile breed, and have personalities that will capture your heart. One must keep in mind that myotonia is not the only characteristic of this breed.
Just because a goat “faints” does not mean it is a Tennessee Fainting Goat.
Their myotonia, (or stiffening of the muscles) builds muscle, much like a body builder would by lifting weights. Tennessee Fainting Goats have powerful muscular bodies and smaller bones, thus a higher meat to bone ratio, which makes them a great meat animal.
Some of the most important characteristics of this breed are with their facial features, the eyes and ears, muzzle, and body conformation. Many of these goats have eyes which look like they protrude from the socket. It is the way the bone is structured that causes the eye to look that way.
The bone structure of the forehead, surrounding the eye is rounded and then narrows as it goes back towards the ear. The eyes are set wide apart and tend to face more forward than other breeds. There is often a “break” or “dip” just below the eye, but not dished, separating the head from the facial area.
The ears of the Tennessee Fainting Goat come in three basic styles. All styles of ears are medium in length and width and are held horizontally from the side of the head, but slightly turned so that they are facing forward. At times the ears are fully horizontal, like wings on an airplane, other times facing forward, depending on the mood of the goat.
1st type…..this ear is straight. It does not have a ripple.
2nd type…..this ear will have a slight horizontal ripple, on the inside of the ear, about mid-way, and will bend slightly downward. These ears seem to be straight some days and other days they are slightly bent.
3rd type…..this ear will have a more pronounced horizontal ripple on the inside of the ear, about mid-way, and will bend downward and forward, shading the eyes. The ear does not droop at the base, but bends in the middle.
There isn’t a particularly favored ear style, all three are acceptable, but each breeder may have their own preference.
The head of the Tennessee Fainting Goat is short to medium length with a fairly straight profile, a slight dip just below the eye set is common, but not roman nosed as seen in the Boer or Nubian breeds. The nose is medium in length and is wider, flatter and more rounded than other breeds, not “snippy” or “pointed”.
Their bodies have an overall greater muscle mass due to the myotonia gene. Young animals show visible signs of increased muscle mass and it increases and becomes more apparent as the animal matures. They are more stocky with obvious width for height. Their body is full, wide and deep, with heavy muscling throughout.
The bones of the Tennessee Fainting Goat appear to be finer than other breeds of similar size, however the bone density is much greater throughout their body, making their bones stronger. This enables them to carry the weight of the extra muscling that naturally occurs with their myotonia.
The muscling should be consistent throughout their body and be heavier in the rear. Muscling increases with age and Does will also show a lot of chest and rear muscling, as well as along the spine.
Coat length varies from short and smooth to long and shaggy. Some animals have a skirting effect around their front and back legs with the rest of their coat being short or medium long. Others have a fairly short coat with longer hair along their spine and combinations thereof. The only type of coat that is not acceptable is one that hangs from the animal in ringlets, like that of the Angora breed.
In the winter months, especially in colder climates, many Tennessee goats will grow abundant cashmere coats, varying from animal to animal. Some will have a short cashmere coat while others have enough that can be carded and spun into a yarn to make gorgeous soft sweaters. Some animals will have such a wonderful cashmere coat that it curls slightly at the tips. These beautiful warm coats will fully shed out in the warmer weather and should not be confused with the Angora type coat.
The Tennessee Fainting Goat comes in all colors. Though some believe the original color of these goats was black and white, there is no proof as to what color the original goats were.
Today all colors, combinations, patterns and markings exist. The most common color remains black and white (possibly because it’s a dominant color), however, all colors and schemes are acceptable with no color or combination being better than another.
Along with a vast array of coat colors, eye coloring also varies, from the usual brown, with varying shades in between, to the rarer blue ranging from the deep blue to a lighter ice blue.
Wattles are accepted by all breed standards, but some breeders believe this is a pygmy or dairy characteristic and do not like wattles on their goats. I personally do not care for wattles on our goats, but I would take into account a goat’s overall build and other characteristics before I shunned them just because of wattles. This is a personal choice of a breeder.
Tennessee Fainting Goats have a life span equal to other breeds of goats and with proper care can live 12 -15 years or more. They are slow growers and are not fully mature until 4 years old. They are very feed efficient, meaning they are able to sustain and grow on less feed intake than other breeds of similar size.
Care needs to be taken when breeding these animals because of their slow maturation rate. If the does are bred too soon they may not reach their full adult potential and not become as densely boned as they should causing future problems of not being able to carry their muscle mass once mature. They should not be bred until they are a minimum of 16 months old to make sure their growth isn’t effected.
Tennessee Fainting Goats are easy kidders and excellent mothers. First time moms need no encouragement to clean or feed their kids and they are very protective of them. The kids are born alert and are up and about in no time searching for their first drink of milk. Some kids may start to show myotonia within hours of birth, but most will start showing by 1 month of age with some taking even longer.
Tennessee Fainting Goat does should NEVER be bred to breeds larger than themselves. Breeding does to Boers for the commercial market is a disaster in the making. The babies are way too big for the does and could result in dead kids and a dead doe. If you are breeding for the commercial market always use a Tennessee Fainting Goat buck on Boer does.
From a preservation stand point, using Tennessee Fainting Goat does in any cross breeding program is truly a shame and a waste of precious female breeding stock. The future of this unique breed is in our hands. Help to preserve them for future generations to enjoy. Much of the text above is used courtesy of Cheryl McKay, Riding Mountain Treasures.