MYOTONIC, THE BREED or DISPLAYING MYOTONIA?
Onion Creek Ranch and its satellite ranches raise goats that are 100% Myotonic animals, i.e. they have no other breed influence in them. Both Tennessee Meat Goats™ and OCR Myotonics™ have distinct breed characteristics that clearly identify them as fullblood members of the Myotonic breed. Our group also produces myotonic crosses, and we clearly identify them as such when they are offered for sale.
Considered a rare breed because there are estimated to be less than 5,000 of the Myotonic breed in existence, fullblood Myotonics are also raised by other breeders around the United States . . . usually in relatively small and closed herds. Onion Creek Ranch near Lohn, Texas owns approximately 600 fullblood Myotonic goats. This is believed to be the largest single herd of Myotonic goats in existence today.
Working with Pedigree International in Humansville, Missouri, this writer has established a Myotonic Herdbook to record and track pedigrees in the Myotonic breed.
Besides being incorrectly identified as "fainting" goats, Myotonic goats are often confused with the animals that are registered in two organizations which use the term "fainting goat" to identify their animals. These organizations were established by breeders who "bred down," either by mating similar smaller-to-smaller animals or by crossing with breeds like Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy. The goal has been to create small goats to sell for pet and companion-animal use. The primary requirement for registration is that the goats display myotonia. A picture of the animal stiffening and falling over is usually required as a part of the registration paperwork. In one of the organizations, there are other criteria . . . one of which is small size not to exceed a certain number of inches in height. The focus is on stiffening rather than on breed characteristics or purity.
Myotonia is a dominant genetic trait, which means that it shows up frequently in cross-bred animals. A goat that is 50% myotonic may display myotonia.
When a goat is 75% or more myotonic, the condition is often visible. In these "fainting goat" organizations, goats can be registered that are less than 100% myotonic. As a result, goats registered in these two "fainting goat" associations may be Nigerian Dwarf crosses or any other crossbred goat that displays myotonia. The focus of these "fainter" associations is to register animals that display myotonia without holding the animals to a consistent standard. There is a very distinctive look to a true fullblood Myotonic goat; a genuine Myotonic has no other breed influence in its genetics. This writer has seen pictures of registered "fainting" goats that look like Alpines. There are some 100% Myotonic goats registered in these associations . . . primarily because they were the only registries available until Pedigree International opened its Myotonic Herdbook.
This writer stands ready to support the establishment of an organization to promote the Myotonic breed when the following two conditions are met by all parties involved:
1) Registration and pedigree tracking will be handled by an independent firm such as Pedigree International. This will allow the breed organization to focus on promotion and marketing the breed's excellent meat characteristics.
2) The breed organization will use correct terminology such as "Myotonic" and "Tennessee Meat Goat™" to promote the breed as a healthy edible meat. The breed organization will focus on positive terms to describe the breed in order to advocate a positive image to the consumer/end user.
A distinctly American breed, the Myotonic goat was first discovered in the United States in Tennessee. The defining genetic trait is a naturally-occuring neuro-muscular condition that causes the goat to stiffen and sometimes fall over for five to 15 seconds when startled. These goats have been called by various slang terminology . . . Tennessee fainting goats (a misnomer, since they don't lose consciousness, hence they don't faint), wooden-leg, nervous, scare, and stiff-leg goats. The most accurate slang terminology is "stiff-leg," though the correct breed name is Myotonic.
The degree of myotonia displayed varies within the breed, with the more muscular (meatier) animals showing more stiffness. Like humans who develop muscles by exercising and lifting weights, the constant contraction and relaxation of the muscles develop the meat characteristics. Myotonia is carried on an autosomal dominant gene, not on the gene determining sex, so both females and males may stiffen.
Myotonia congenita is the medical term that is applied to this neuro-muscular event. This means that the condition is inherited from prior generations. Myotonia was likely originally the result of a genetic mutation. As with all evolutionary changes, once the trait becomes the *norm,* it is no longer considered a "defect." Myotonia occurs in the muscle fiber and causes no health or functional problems for the goats. Stiffening and sometimes falling over for a few seconds occurs when the rear legs and the back of the neck are affected by a myotonic episode. Respiration, heartbeat, and other bodily functions are not affected. It is common to see Myotonic goats shoving each other at the feed trough, then stiffening and falling, while continuing to eat as the body goes through the myotonic phase.
Myotonia occurs naturally in several other species, including pidgeons (tumblers), dogs (chow chows), quarter horses, mice, sheep, and humans. Myotonia can be induced in humans occasionally by the use of cholestrol-lowering drugs. Because the human lifestyle is so much more complicated than that of goats, myotonia is considered an impediment in the human species. Myotonia has also been observed by researchers in utero in goats.
Myotonic goats are a landrace breed, which means that most of them have lived in small, closed, isolated herds for many years and have adapted to fit the unique local conditions in which they reside. They are strictly meat goats . . . . extremely muscular, self-sufficient, untamed, and wholly without dairy-goat influence. Full maturity occurs at three to four years of age, with frame size being attained by approximately two years of age. True fullblood Myotonics are a medium-sized breed.
Though sure-footed and adaptable to all terrains, Myotonic goats are not fence jumpers and are therefore easy to contain. Predator problems are no more prevalent with this breed than with any other breed. Because they are sprinters rather than long-distance runners, all goats are subject the predators. Livestock guardian animals and good fencing are essential to the protection of any goat breed.
Myotonic goats have an interesting and 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 exactly where Tinsley came from; he had an unidentified accent and wore a cap similar to a fez or a beret. He was believed to have come from Nova Scotia. (Interestingly, this writer was recently contacted by a Myotonic goat breeder who imported his original black-and-white stock from Nova Scotia . . . giving some credibility to this area as the Myotonic breed's point of origin.) Tinsley brought with him three or four female goats (does) and one male (buck) that stiffened when startled. After selling the animals to Dr. Mayberry, Tinsley left and was never heard from again.
During the 1940's, a group of the larger Myotonic goats was imported from Tennessee to Texas by rancher Boone Heep Sr. of the Austin, Texas area, where they lived and thrived for many years. After Mr. Heep died, the ranch property passed through a succession of owners, during which time the goats were moved away. This writer bought this Heep Ranch property in 1988, having no knowledge of Myotonic goats or their unique history. By sheer coincidence and quirk of fate, I began buying Myotonic goats, raising them, and improving the meat capabilities of the breed . . . . only to much later learn that the original Texas herd of Myotonic goats long ago resided at my ranch property.
Onion Creek Ranch . . . initially near Buda, Texas and now near Lohn, Texas . . has been breeding larger, more heavily-muscled fullblood Myotonics to unrelated, larger, heavily-muscled Myotonics since 1990. To distinguish these improved Myotonics from the typical animal, OCR has trademarked the names "Tennessee Meat Goat™" and "TMG™" to identify its unique Myotonic goats.