Fainting Goats (Or Are They?)

The Fainting Goat breed is one of the most talked-about goats online, especially in mainstream. These critters are the stars of some pretty epic videos and GIF animations online, looking extremely funny when dropping to the ground at any moment of shock. However, many witnessing the event have no clue to the scientific facts behind this breed of does and bucks that seem to pass out at the drop of a hat.

First, these “fainting” creatures are not common. If you ever get a chance to see this type of goat in real life, you are lucky, because they are a rare breed. Discovered in the Appalachian state of Tennessee, this goat was encountered by explorers for the first time (documented) around 1880, though the exact year is unknown. Biologists and animal enthusiasts have found them quite fascinating since. Studies have been conducted over and over to figure out what makes the animal appear to faint. The consistent result of those studies is… congenital myotonia.

Congenital myotonia is known as a disease affecting the skeletal muscles according to Wikipedia. As the name suggests, these goats are born with the condition. Their muscles have a delayed relaxation process after any abnormal or fast muscle contraction, hence their “faint” after shocking. In layman’s terms, when the animals move their muscles too quickly the fibers do not unfreeze. It’s like having legs of cement – any animal or human would fall over. Tennessee Fainters are also known as Myotonic Goats.

Fainting goats do not feel pain when this happens, although they remain conscious throughout – the “fainting” description is a misnomer. It’s a condition that has no harmful effects directly related, though it could obviously be indirectly related to injury if the animal were to fall onto a rock or a jagged object.

This type of goat is considered one of the smaller breeds. On average, this Tennessee breed generally ranges in height from 17 to 25 inches in height. Their weight is also considerably less than some of their mountainous goat cousins. Fainting billies and nannies usually do not reach more than 170 pounds, full grown.

Although some theorists believe that it was not used at all for the purpose of consumption in the 1800s and early 1900s, and that they were bred for dairy purposes, there’s no doubt that from the 1950s onwards at least some breeders in central Texas were selecting to develop the Fainter’s meat qualities. This larger variety became known as the Wooden-Leg Goat.

Slow to mature and reach full adult status, these critters are no longer considered one of the prime breeds for meat. Though they are still eaten by many, those that fancy a serving of goat on the dinner plate will generally stay away from this type, probably because their rarity makes them more valuable as living creatures than as candidates for the butcher’s block.

When viewing a Fainting goat, the appearance should be quite distinct from other breeds. These “pushovers” have ears that are shorter. Their eyes are a rather “buggy” type. The facial structure goes from straight to concave.

A very historic animal, it is believed by some that these goats are survivors of some of the harshest periods of earth’s recent prehistory. The breed was enriched with great genetic traits because only the strongest of the “fainters” survived.

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