The Fainting Goats of Tennessee

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Unlike humans, animals rarely faint from surprise, panic attacks or any other strong emotional stress. But there is a breed of goat that appears to do so.

When startled, the so-called “fainting goat” collapses on its side. They fall over, often with legs comically raised towards the sky. After laying motionless on the ground for a few seconds, they recover and bounce back on their feet as quickly as they fell. This curious reaction to fright has made fainting goats the popular subject for many viral, and often humorous, internet videos.

Fainting goats do not actually lose consciousness; they just become stiff from fright—a genetic condition known as myotonia congenita, which causes their muscle to become rigid for a brief period when startled. Once the stiffness goes away, they are back on their feet. This characteristic stiffening of muscles have given the goat many names such as nervous goats, stiff-leg goats, and wooden-leg goats. They are more familiarly known as Myotonic goats.

Myotonia is a condition of the muscle and has nothing to do with the function of the central nervous system. So it doesn’t hurt them and is painless, although it’s not nice to subject them to undue stress by purposefully frightening them. The condition is not unique to goats or livestock; human beings are affected by this too.

Myotonic goats first appeared in the US state of Tennessee in the 1880s, when a transient farm worker named John Tinsley arrived in the country with four of these goats. Tinsley worked in the area for few years and then moved on, but before he went, he sold his goats to his employer Dr. H. H. Mayberry. At least one of these goats had this distinct genetic trait. No one knows where John Tinsley came from or from where he brought his goats. Rumor is that he came from from Nova Scotia, Canada, but no one is sure. The origin of the breed remains a mystery because the condition doesn’t appear to have surfaced anywhere else in the world.

The goats eventually became a local meat source. The goats are muscular, yet docile and easier to care and maintain. They are also raised as pet or show animals as they can be friendly, intelligent, easy to keep, and amusing.


This article is only publisher's viewpoint.

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