A distinctly American breed, the Myotonic goat originated in Tennessee. The defining genetic trait is a neuromuscular condition which developed naturally that causes them to stiffen and sometimes fall over when startled. These goats are called by various lay terms--Tennessee fainting goats (a misnomer, because they do not lose consciousness, hence they don't faint), wood leg, stiff-leg, nervous, or scare goats. The most accurate common name is the STIFF-LEG. Myotonia is seen in other species--human beings and tumbler pigeons are but two examples.
Myotonic goats have an obscure origin. Sometime during the 1870's a transient farm worker named John Tinsley showed up in Marshall County, Tennessee at the farm of Dr. H. H. Mayberry. No one knows where he came from; he had an undetermined accent and wore a cap similar to either a fez or beret. He was thought to have come from Nova Scotia, and along with him came three or four does and a buck of a unique strain. Tinsley suddenly left one day after selling the animals to Dr. Mayberry. This is the best documentation of the origin of the breed.
Myotonic goats are a distinctly landrace breed, which means that they have adapted to fit the local conditions in which they live. They are definitely meat goats, being very muscular and self-sufficient. The degree of stiffness varies within the breed, with the meatier, more muscular animals displaying more stiffness. Not unlike humans who exercise and lift weights, the constant contraction and relaxation of the muscles build the meat characteristics.
Though quite sure-footed and adaptable to all terrains, these animals are not fence climbers and are therefore easy to keep fenced. Predator problems are no more prevalent with this breed than any other; all goats are subject to predators, as they are fleet but short distance runners. Guard animals and good fencing are essential with every goat breed.
Myotonia congenita is the medical term to describe stiffening; this
simply means that the condition is inherited from prior generations.
Myotonia was probably originally the result of a genetic mutation as the
evolutionary process took place. However, myotonia is no longer
considered a defect. Myotonia occurs in the muscle fiber, not as a
function of the central nervous system, and causes no problem for the
This site was last updated 09/30/18