Tennessee Fainting Goats

Tennessee Fainting Goats! is it dead? sure looks like it doesn't it?!  Many people keep these types of goats as pets; they sure are good for a laugh!  However because if its stocky, muscular build, this breed of goats is being increasingly used as a meat goat. 

Technically the goat doesn't actually faint, since the goat never actually loses consciousness.  These goats [also called Myotonic, Nervous, Scare, Stiff Leg, Wooden Leg goats] actually have a neuromuscular condition which developed naturally, that causes them to stiffen and sometimes fall over when startled or excited. It is a relatively rare breed of goat, with an estimated world population of under 10,000. 

Tennessee Fainting Goat 
Breed Assets

Myotonic goats breed aseasonally, and are easy kidders.  They also have the capability to produce two kiddings a year.

Because of the difficulty these types of goats have with climbing and jumping, many find these goats easier to keep than other types of goats.

Why do they "faint"?

It is caused by a condition called Myotonia Congenita, which is the medical term used to describe stiffening. The chemicals which are supposed to rush to the muscles and joints to prepare for "fight or flight" are withheld in the Myotonic under exciting or frightful circumstances.  Myotonia occurs in the muscle fiber, not as a function in the central nervous system, and causes no problem for the goat. It is completely painless and harmless.  The degree of stiffness varies from goat to goat, with the meatier, more muscular animals displaying more stiffness. The "fainting" gene is recessive, and is usually not expressed in crossbred animals.  

For more on learning why this occurs, see link below: How Stuff Works.


Sometime during the 1880s, an itinerant farm labourer from Nova Scotia named John Tinsley came to work at Dr. H. Mayberry's farm in Marshall County, Tennessee.  He brought with him four unusual stiff goats.  They gradually became known throughout the region for their muscular build, along with their high reproductive rate and most particularly for their extreme difficulty in climbing fences and escaping pastures (unlike other local goats).  Tinsley suddenly left one day after selling the animals to Dr. Mayberry.  

During the 1950s some Tennessee Fainting Goats were taken to Texas, where they were selectively bred for size and meat qualities.  

In the late 1980s both the Tennessee and Texas branches of this breed were rediscovered and bred into two major types. One group of breeders worked to breed the animals for meat, working to improve growth rate, conformation, and reproductive efficiency, while the other group of breeders selected for extreme stiffness and small size, promoting the breed as a novelty animal.

Appearance and Build

Because of selective breeding, Tennessee Fainting Goats can be anywhere from 60-175 pounds.  Consistent throughout the breed in comparison to any other goat is their thick muscling and thick conformation throughout. There are two strains of the breed:  those found in Tennessee and the Eastern USA are smaller, while the Texas herds are larger due to selective breeding.

The breed has a huge range for colouring as well, although it will usually be black and white.  The ears are larger and more horizontal than Swiss breed goats, but smaller and less drooping than Nubian or Spanish goats.  The facial profile is usually concave.  Most goats are horned, and horns vary from large and twisted to small and simple.  While most of the goats have short hair, long-haired goats are not unusual and some animals even produce cashmere.  


  1. How Stuff Works
  2. Livestock Conservancy
  3. Onion Creek Ranch
  4. Oklahoma State University
  5. The Guardian

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