These goats 'faint' dead away

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Abner faints while his mother, Phoebe, looks on.

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Abner faints while his mother, Phoebe, looks on.

Julie Russell was always a country girl at heart, so when she moved to Dayton more than three years ago from Fresno, Calif., she wanted to raise some kind of country pet.

Goats came to mind.

First it was pygmy goats. Then, after spending a small fortune on a Cesarean section for a mother pygmy goat, she looked for something else.

"I got on the Internet and found fainting goats, and that was all it took," she said. "This is the first time I've ever lived on acreage and I've always been a country girl at heart, and I wanted a farm animal that wasn't too hard to care for.

"Whenever they get startled, they stiffen up and fall right over," Russell said.

The condition, called myotonia, is painless and the animal remains conscious during the "faint."

Russell said the older goats learn to spread their legs out during an episode so they don't fall over, but younger ones fall and then get up looking surprised.

Myotonia does make the goats - on average about 17 to 25 inches at the shoulder - extremely muscular.

Fainting goats are mainly pets, but can be used for meat, Russell said.

"They do breed them for meat because of their condition they are pretty meaty," she said. "But mine are strictly for pets, and as lawn mowers and weed eaters."

Fainting goats go back to the 1880s, when John Tinsley, a farm laborer, brought four unusual, stiff goats from Nova Scotia to Tennessee. Tennessee farmers bred the goats primarily for meat, though sheepherders found them useful for a more insidious purpose.

They would include a few fainting goats in their sheep herds, and when the herd was approached by coyotes or wolves, the sheep would run and the goats would faint, providing the predators with an easy meal while the more valuable sheep escaped.

Thanks in large part to that practice, fainting goats were close to extinction by the 1980s. It took some very dedicated breeders to restore the population.

Fainting goats are considered "threatened" by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which means there are only about 1,000 annual registrations in the United States and about 5,000 worldwide.

Russell said that, in their own environment, the goats don't faint often; mostly in the morning, when she opens the pen.

"I come out here first thing and pull the gate open, and they go right over," she said.

One of the bucks had the habit of fainting immediately after mating.

"The doe just looked at him as if to say, 'What are you doing?'" she said with a laugh.

Despite their condition, fainting goats make terrific pets, Russell said. They are docile and friendly, with some inclined to follow visitors all over the pen.

And unlike her experience with pygmy goats, fainting goats give birth easily and have strong maternal instincts. Twins are the norm, triplets fairly common, and the goats can even have quads and quints, Russell said.

"They're great kidders, and they make great moms," Russell said. Kids are what baby goats are called.

"We work really hard to make the kids friendly from day one so that when they go to someone they'll be a friendly little pet," she said.

Russell has two golden retrievers, but doesn't let them in the goat pen. Dogs are among the natural predators for goats, but one of Russell's pooches likes them just fine.

"I bring baby goats into the house, and the dogs are very motherly," she said. "The female golden retriever will get in the box with them and act as their mother."

She told of how she once had to bottle-feed a baby goat named Dominic whom the mother goat had rejected. "He was raised in the house, so he thinks he's a dog," she laughed. "He walks on a leash, and he'll really take you for a walk."

Rolling Rock Ranch has a total of 17 goats: eight kids; two breeding bucks; two wethers, or fixed males; and five does. They come in all colors, with black and white being the norm. Some of the Rolling Rock Ranch goats are red and white or brown and white, a few with blue eyes. Russell said she planned to focus more on breeding blue-eyed goats. Both males and females have horns, and the goats cost from about $200 to $350 each. Eight kids were enough for these goats; the last two babies were born June 30.

People who want to have fainting goats should have at least an acre of land, Russell said. They also are herd animals and should not be kept alone.

"I usually won't sell just one baby to someone who doesn't have other goats," she said. "It's not fair to the goat."

- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 882-2111 ext. 351.


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