by Sally Colby
It’s easy to laugh at a goat that becomes stiff and falls over onto its side as if fainting. Thanks to videos shared through social media, these fainting goats have become fairly well-known in a short time.
But fainting, or Myotonic, goats aren’t just for laughs. They’re an important meat breed, and that’s why Sherry Siebenaler, of North Hero, VT, raises them.
“A man showed up in Marshall County, Tennessee, with four goats,” said Sherry, explaining what little is known about how the breed originated. “No one knew where he was from, but they assumed he was from Nova Scotia per his dress and mannerisms. He had three does and a buck, and they all had the myotonia condition that makes them faint. The man was going to move on, but a doctor in town had fallen in love with the goats and thought they were unique, so he bought the goats. He continued to breed them for that genetic fault, and that’s where all the Myotonic goats originate.”
Sherry grew up on her family’s dairy farm, and had a couple of Toggenburg dairy goats when she was young. She eventually sold the goats and started raising Morgan horses, but her love for goats remained strong. Her interest led her to research various meat goat breeds. “I came across the Myotonic goat and really wanted one,” she said, “but I couldn’t find one because of where I lived. They were all in the south.” Sherry eventually located and purchased two Myotonic goats — Bobby and Snowflake. She also obtained several goats from a breeder in Tennessee, and started to develop a herd free of CAE, CL, scrapie and other small ruminant diseases.
The myotonia trait is a genetic mutation, and although they’re referred to as ‘fainting’ goats, they aren’t really passing out. According to Oklahoma State University’s breed description website, myotonia means that when Myotonic goats are startled, the neurochemicals that would normally prepare them for a fight-or-flight response are withheld. The result is that the animal becomes stiff-legged and falls to the ground. While in a ‘faint,’ animals are not in pain and are aware of their surroundings.
Sherry loves the fainting trait, but she’s breeding for more than that. Right now, she’s in the process of growing her herd to meet the demand for goat meat, and plans to offer a unique, value-added product made from goat meat. She will eventually add a line of goat sausage, which she says is quite popular. Sherry says there’s a strong demand for goat meat, and that Myotonic goats have an especially high carcass yield.
With her retail meat license, Sherry can sell meat directly from the farm, but she wanted to work through some of the details of creating her specialty product. For that, she went to the Mad River Food Hub in Waitsfield, VT, where she learned more about how to produce her product from start to finish. “They walk you through the facility, show what the facility can do for you, how to use the equipment,” she said. “They helped me make my product and package it. I handed it out as free samples and everyone wanted more. Eventually, I want a USDA kitchen here at home so I can bring my meat home from the butcher, make my product and sell it.”
Sherry received a grant and guidance through a farm viability program at the University of Vermont, which helps farmers with all aspects of an agricultural enterprise, from developing a business plan to soil management. She plans to build the herd to 40 does, 20 of which will kid in spring and the rest will kid in fall. She’s putting up a dual-purpose barn that will be used to store round bales and to provide housing for the goat herd.
“I’m breeding for the old meat style goat and a clean herd,” said Sherry. “The herd is entered in the federal scrapie program. I’m going for export scrapie certification so I can eventually export certified scrapie-free goats.” The downside of that program is that once the certification process begins, no outside does can be added to the herd. Sherry wanted additional bloodlines, so she purchased four doelings from Goat Flower Farm in Lancaster, PA. “I lost a year on the export scrapie certification,” said Sherry, “but it was worth it to get that bloodline.”
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