History of the fainting Goat


The History of the Fainting Goat  by Debbie Cassidy

The history of Fainting Goat breed is at times rather elusive. Documentation is sketchy at best. Most will agree, however, that it dates back to the early 1880’s. The old story tellers believe that a man named John Tinsley once traveled from place to place. He was believed to have been from Nova Scotia, Canada, but no one knows for sure. He was just a farm worker according to the story. He arrived at a farm in central Tennessee with his four very unusual goats. He had one buck and three does. These goats often got stiff and would fall down. No one knows where he got these unusual goats from. He stayed in the area for about a year. It is believed that he married a local lady while he was there. Before leaving the area, Tinsley sold his unusual goats. No one knows where he went after he left the area.

Dr. Mayberry began to breed the goats and realized that when they were bred, their babies would get stiff and fall down as well. This led him to believe he had discovered a new breed. According to the December 25, 1929 Naples Record, this strange phenomenon is seen in all of the offspring of the pure-bred goats without exception. This breed soon became known as the Tennessee Fainting Goat.  The Tennessee Fainting goat gradually became well known in the Marshall County area ,as well as, Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Coffee Counties. They began to increase in their numbers. People started referring to them as; stiff, nervous, and fainting goats. They were never called Myotonic goats until the mid-1900’s.

This new found breed (Fainting goats) was prized for their calm disposition. They were treasured for being less apt to climb like most other breeds making them easier to contain (Their inability to climb was because they had a strong degree of Faint-Ability).  They discovered they were easy kidders and not necessarily just a seasonal breeder. Documentation states that the original goats were a smaller goat weighing from 50-170 pounds. They stood anywhere from 17-25 inches at the withers. Documentation also shows that they had short and long hair and came in many different colors and patterns.

All the Fainting goats here today are believed to have evolved from the four original goats.  They increased in numbers over time. Sometimes during the 1950’s (some suggest the 1930’s) some of the goats were taken to the hill country in Texas. Here they were further selected for their meat qualities and selective breeding as a meat goat began. At this point the breed is now being bred away from the traditional Fainting goats originally found in Tennessee. Faint-ability at this point became less of a priority, while breeders began actively breeding for a bigger, meatier, and faster maturing goat. Crossbreeding did increase their numbers but it also threatened the survival of the breed. The same thing also happened with the Longhorn cattle. The same thing also happened to the Crillo horses. To maintain the Fainting goat breed we must breed towards the breed type and NOT away from it.

In 1980’s (one hundred years after arriving to the United States) the breed is once again rediscovered. At this point the breed is considered a rare breed that has almost become extinct. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (now the Livestock Conservancy) stepped in and placed the breed on the endangered list. Over the years, the number of goats have increased enough to be placed on the recovering list. *Just a note to say that the increase in these  numbers reflected all goats that were registered. Remember that many of these goats included in the count did not match the standard for the Fainting goats.  The Fainting goat’s numbers would not have been as high if all the goats counted were only those that are historically correct. * AFGO believes that we are still not out of the woods as of yet. A word of warning should also be noted that if the breeders choose to crossbred and continue to breed for what they prefer and not what the standard calls for, the survival of these goats will once again be threatened.

With the push to protect and preserve the breed, the breeders have basically taken either one or two different paths. One group of breeders have chosen to breed for the bigger Myotonic goats, while the others have chosen to breed for the smaller Fainting goats.

The myotonic group is breeding for the bigger, meatier goats for commercial purposes.  They refer to their goats as the Myotonic goats because of a condition called myotonia. Myotonia causes the muscles to relax slower than normal. This same condition is found in pigeons, humans, and several other species. The Myotonic goat breeders still consider them to be a landrace breed. They also register and track the percentage goats. The Myotonics  have a different look than the original Fainting goats. They are bigger in height and carry more muscling. Many have lost the characteristics of the dished head and the buggy eyes. Sometimes they are even seen with a Roman style nose. Even their degree of Faint-ability is commonly less. While the Myotonic goats are a very nice breed of goat, they should not be confused with the original Fainting goats. When selective breeding takes place, sometimes you will lose the “look”.  This is what has happened to the Myotonic goats. They now have their own “look”. AFGO considers them a different breed. The market is growing for the meat goat as more and more people from different ethnic backgrounds choose goat meat as their main choice of meat. The Myotonic goats can help fulfill this need where the Fainting goat is unable to do so. The Fainting goats remember are a slow maturing goat and small in size.

At this point we must consider the Myotonic and the Fainting goat as two different breeds. A breed is when two animals of the same type pass on predictable traits to their offspring. Traits such as: the  facial profile, ear sets, and buggy eyes. Both the Fainting goat breed and the Myotonic breed  pass on certain traits to their offspring. The traits are, however, different between the two breeds. To be considered a breed you should only have one consistent look. Two looks represent TWO BREEDS.

The breeders of the Fainting goats are striving to keep their breed as close to the” look” and characteristics of the old original Fainting goats as possible. The Fainting goat breeders are striving to maintain herds that have strong faint-ability. The faint-ability is being lost with many herds. This is where AFGO comes in. AFGO realized that there were basically now two different breeds being promoted (the Myotonic and the Fainting goats). It was noticed that the Fainting goats were becoming over looked as the  breeders continued to seek out goats with a more muscular appearance. The Fainting goats may soon find themselves out of gene pool altogether.

In 2011 AFGO felt that there was a big enough need to preserve the smaller more original breed of goat. We consider the Fainting goat breed to be a formal breed and no longer a landrace. We choose to continue to call them the Fainting goats since that was what the first original goats were called. The name is part of their history. If it doesn’t faint then it is not a Fainting goat. We refer to these first original goats as historically correct.

AFGO chose to use the old standard that has been around and accepted for years. This standard closely describes the” look” of the old historically correct goats and was written by people that both loved and had knowledge of this breed. Only goats that match this standard will be registered at AFGO. The new Myotonic goat breed does not match this standard. They are too big. They have different facial profiles and different ear sets. They DO NOT have the degree of Faint-ability that the Fainting goat breed has. Maybe soon will theMyotonics will get their own standard. It is impossible to be an accepted breed without a standard that the breed can strive for.

AFGO believes that a “line” is nothing more than a group of bloodlines! All bloodlines are acceptable as long as the goat being registered matches our description. There are some bloodlines that are known to have crossbreeds in them. Those linages AFGO watches closely for. Goat of those linages will be individual judged according to the standard and Faint-Ability.  AFGO also believes that no goat is 100%. We try to maintain them as pure as possible. We still allow for the found goats because some of these goats are often from some of the oldest and purest herds around. These goats are part of history too and will help preserve the breed. Their owner’s just didn’t register them.

This is a picture that was shared from The Journal of Heredity June 1930

This picture shared by The Journal of Herdity June 1930,


  1. Medical definition from Merriam Webster

  2. American Livestock Breed Conservancy

  3. The Naples Record, Naples New York, Wednesday, December 25,1929

  4. The Country Gentleman– June 9

  5. White and Plaskett

  6. Wikipedia-article by Dr. Phill Sponenburg