Fainting Goat History in Brief
There is, unfortunately, little physical documentation relating to fainting goat history. The story goes that in the 1880s, a farm hand by the name of John Tinsley came to Tennessee from Canada, possibly Nova Scotia. He brought with him four goats, three does and one buck, that would stiffen up and fall over. Where Tinsley got the goats from, is a mystery. It is believed that Tinsley stayed in the area in Tennessee for about a year, but before he left, he sold his goats to a local country doctor, Dr. Mayberry.
Dr. Mayberry purchased the goats so that he could study their unusual neuromuscular disorder. The doctor began breeding the goats and discovered that their offspring would also stiffen up and fall over. He believed that he had discovered a new breed of goat. The breed was quickly known as the Tennessee Fainting Goat. Knowledge of the Tennessee Fainting Goat spread throughout Tennessee and the number of fainting goats increased. As the goat population increased, they were referred to as stiff, nervous, and fainting goats. The name myotonic goats didn’t happen until the mid 1900s.
The Tennessee Fainting Goat was sought after for their calm disposition. They were easier to contain because they were less likely to climb like other breeds. The tendency to faint when startled or stressed helped curb the urge for the animals to climb. Fainting goats were also to found to be easier to breed than other breeds of goat as they are not seasonal breeders. The breed continued to grow in number and some time during the first half of the 20th century some of the goats were taken into Texas. There, they were bred less for their tendency to faint and more for their meat qualities. Through crossbreeding, farmers sought to have bigger, meatier goats that would grow to maturity faster. This lead to less purity of the fainting goat strain.
Some time in the 1980s the breed was rediscovered, but because of the cross breeding fainting goats are now considered a rare breed. At one time, The Livestock Conservancy placed fainting goats on the endangered list. Now they have been upgraded to Recovering status. However, some believe that if the intermixing of breeds for certain traits continues, such as breeding for meatiness, that eventually fainting goats will just become part of history.
For more information on the history of fainting goats, you may be interested in History of the Fainting Goat Breed by Debbie Cassidy.