Friday, June 20, 2008

Tennessee Fainting Goats

By most accounts, John Tinsley came to middle Tennessee in the mid to late 1800's to work as a farmer brining with him, among other things, a handful of goats.  These goats, the ancestors of the "goats-at-hand" were slightly smaller than your typical goat and had some odd characteristics.  They often walked stiff-leggedly, were not prone to wandering off, and didn't climb low fences or walls.  And they fell down. A lot.

Mr. Tinsley's goats, which he sold before moving on from the area, suffered from a hereditary condition which at the time was quite rare, but has now been selectively bred to produce today's Tennessee Fainting Goats. This condition, Myotonia congenita, causes an involuntary muscle contraction in times of alarm or distress. When these goats are startled the brief moment of panic causes their legs to stiffen, whereby the goat falls over.

Highlights of that video are the mullet at :30 and the mass debilitation at about :50.

In the years since Tinsley showed up, Fainting Goats have been bred selectively, but I can come up with very few reasons why. They are considered Meat Goats by those to whom these things matter, but they tend to be smaller and thus, not so great for meat farming. So their practical value would be limited. Certainly, they would be an acceptable Lawn and Weed Service.  There seems to be a history of using them as Bait, as it were; if a wolf shows up, the goat will faint and be eaten (Circle of Life) allowing other your other animals, who are not hysterical, to escape.

Or the use I would put them to: when you're having a difficult day, head out to the yard and scare the bejesus out of your goats.  They faint, you laugh.  Suddenly the world isn't such a bleak place, yes?

Cruel jokes aside, they remain popular today, the Nashvegas Craigslist regularly features them for sale, which is how I stumbled onto this oddity in the first place. Since everyone gets a festival of their own these days, Lewisburg, TN, hosts the Fainting Goat Festival–featuring a Fainting Goat Show, of course–every October. There are plenty of specialized breeders, and, absurdity of absurdities, an International Fainting Goat Association dedicated to tracing pedigrees (of a genetic disorder mind you) and increasing public awareness and understanding of the Fainting Goat.

For a little more fainting goat entertainment, check out more fainting goat videos and the Fainting Goats wiki page.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think I've seen this exact video before.

They sure are creepy little things.


I'm not sure if the point about it being a disorder is entirely valid though - "disorder" seems a matter of perspective. It's just a mutation right? If it turned out to have positive effects on their survival chances (maybe natural predators had primarily motion sensitive vision...who knows) then it would be a positive mutation.

/end fork

Glad to see you found something to entertain you out there. Andy tells me he gets to hang out with you on Xbox live. Good times.