We’ve all seen funny internet videos of goats screaming and fainting and had a good laugh at the goats’ expense.
For the goats, however, screaming and fainting are entirely different from what humans assume.
Goats who faint aren’t passing out from fright; they are falling over from having rigid muscles called myotonia congenita or Thomsen’s disease. Goats aren’t screaming as a human would; they are bleating to communicate distress, among other things.
Although goat bleating often sounds like a human voice, they are communicating with other goats.
Individual goat calls are influenced by the herd around them and mean different things.
For more about goats screaming and fainting, read on!
Why Do Goats Faint?
Goats who faint belong to a particular breed called the Tennessee Fainting Goat or myotonic goats.
This breed is believed to have originated in Tennessee, USA, in the 1880s.
Scientists do not know if their condition was a spontaneous mutation or from the introduction of another breed.
Because of how their legs look, goats with this condition are also called stiff-legged, nervous, or wooden-leg goats.
Tennessee fainting goats have a hereditary condition called myotonia congenita.
It causes the skeletal muscles to become rigid when they are voluntarily contracted, as in surprise and preparing for flight from a predator.
The muscle stiffness lasts from 5-20 seconds.
Unless the goat falls and injures itself from freezing and falling from a jump or a height, there’s no harmful effect from fainting except stress from being frightened, which isn’t very nice for the goat.
The goat remains conscious through the entire episode.
As they age, some goats can run away stiff-legged without falling over, either because they are less startled or they manage the myotonic attack better.
Ordinary goats experience the fight or flight response normally and can run away unhindered.
Why Do Goats Scream?
Goats, like most animals, communicate with each other in many ways.
One of these is bleating, which often sounds like human screaming.
Reasons goats bleat include:
- Hunger – a hungry goat is a loud goat, especially if you’ve got goat treats and they know it
- Calling goat to goat – such as baby goats calling for their mother or to find out where the rest of the herd is at
- Fear – they will let out a startled yell and let the other goats know something is happening
- Excitement – they may be excited to see each other or you or to get treats or just because they are excitable animals
- Distress – such as being a victim of bullying in the herd
- Fluctuating hormones – from a female in heat or a pregnant female goat
Some goat breeds are louder and more vocal than others, such as Nubian goats.
Boer goats are a quieter breed and are quite popular, being one of the most common breeds for showing.
Further Reading: List of quiet goat breeds
Keeping Your Goats Quiet
Truly quiet goats probably don’t exist, but with some forethought, it is possible to prevent unnecessary screaming.
Some goats bleat when they are isolated and lonely.
This is one reason you wouldn’t want a single goat, but to keep at least three, so if you have to take one away to work with them, the other two have each other for comfort and don’t vocalize as much.
Goats are herd animals and take solace in each other’s presence.
If you have noise concerns, some ways to prevent goat screaming are to ensure they feel safe by limiting stress and keeping them together as much as possible.
Another precaution is ensuring they have enough mental stimulation and physical exercise to not bleat out of boredom.
Using a goat play structure, you either build yourself or repurpose (kids’ playsets are great for this!) will help your goats be active and happy as they love to climb and be up high.
Trampolines are another good play item; they love to jump on them and hide under them for shade or comfort.
The stereotype of a goat on top of a car is a true one.
Goats will climb on top of your car and dent and scratch it in their quest to have the highest vantage point, so make sure they cannot get to it.
Ensure your goats’ play area is safe and secure and doesn’t have sharp metal or other harmful items.
Make sure you keep climbing structures away from the fence, so they do not jump over the fence and escape!
Why Have Fainting Goats?
Tennessee fainting goats are known to be heavily muscled, in part because of the muscles tensing in their myotonic attacks.
They are well-proportioned and a good meat goat.
These goats are also suitable as dairy goats.
Some farmers raise miniature silky fainting goats for textiles as they produce lush cashmere hair.
Fainting goats climb and jump a little less and are easier to keep enclosed.
They also have a gentler temperament and are amusing pets, as we have seen on the internet.
Farmers have also used myotonic goats as bait, the theory being the predator would focus on the fainted goat, allowing the rest of the herd to escape.
This practice has largely been discontinued.
Do Other Animals Faint Like Fainting Goats?
Myotonia congenita has been reported in goats, horses, dogs, cats, mice, and humans.
Studying this disease in humans has greatly enhanced our understanding of it in goats.
The disease is rare in humans, only affecting one in a hundred thousand people.
Scientists have developed animal models of the disorder to test potential treatments and therapies.
Tonic immobility, or freezing in fear, is one-way animals fool predators into thinking they are dead, but it is not the same as what happens with the fainting goat.