Archive for Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Owners fall for their fainting goats

June 27, 2007

Wayne and Kathy Gillett have to be careful around their kids, they never know when one might faint.

The one-month old "fainting goats" the McLouth couple keep on part of their 20 acres are especially prone to the muscle seizures this rare breed is known for.

The least of actions could startle Blake, Andy and Anabella: an umbrella opening or footsteps from behind. And then there are the obvious triggers, like when Wayne, retired plumber, drove his tractor near their fence.

In a matter of seconds, it's as if a drunken stupor sets in. First, they flee. Then one will stumble and drop over on its side, with legs and head erect, fully conscious. The other will freeze mid sprint when it's hind and front legs have met under her stomach and be stuck in this position for 10 to 15 seconds.

The origin of the goats is unknown and there is speculation whether they carry a recessive gene that causes myotonia congenita, a condition that causes muscle stiffness. Despite the mystery, it seems to be the novelty of the trait itself that has kept this breed popular worldwide in recent decades, which reversed their threat of extinction in the early 1900s. In the United States, thousands of fainting goats are kept as pets, to breed or for meat.

The Gilletts rescued their first nannie named Annie about three years ago, because a Lawrence man wasn't allowed to keep her within city limits. Kathy, who grooms dogs at Shampooch in Kansas City, Kan., didn't realize then how endearing Annie and her offspring would become.

"You become their herd. They graze nearby like a dog," she said. "I can't believe how in love with them I can be."

"People get them because of their temperament," she said. "Not a lot of insects bother them, they are healthy animals and they are easy to keep, especially in a small area."

Five years ago, Darell Clumpke, vice president of the International Fainting Goat Association, bought two goats at an exotic animal sale in Mecca, Mo., for $35 each. He bred them and currently has 30 registered goats on his 10 acres in Emporia. He said he sells them across the Midwest for about $250.

"It's more money when you sell them when they're registered, they're worth more," Clumpke said. "I make enough to pay the feed bills over time, but I don't make money. It's more a hobby than anything else. It's a lot of fun."

He even has people drive by his farm and ask just to see the goats, he said.

"When I'm going to feed them they get excited and lock up," Clumpke said. "They are standing there perfectly and I can't even get through the darn door to feed them because they're all locked up in front of the door."

Stephanie Dicke, secretary of IFGA and resident of Columbus, Neb., said the goat's history is undocumented, but it is believed that in the early 1800s a migrant farm worker from Nova Scotia appeared in Marshall County, Tenn., with four fainting goats. She said the man worked for a doctor and when he left the state, he left the goats. The doctor tried to perpetuate the breed, she said.

His efforts were a success at the time, namely for ranchers who began using the breed as "sacrificial goats." Ruth Prentice, IFGA treasurer, said the fainters risked extinction because they were the first to go when a predator lurked on the ranchers property to attack unsuspecting valuable cattle.

"A predator is not going to chase something when one has dropped at its feet," she said.

To preserve these four-stiff-legged creatures, the IFGA formed in 1989. A few hundred IFGA members are scattered across the states. The registrar is located in Marshall County, Tenn., where the goats were originally bred. The association actually was a branch off the Tennessee Association, which died out in the early 90s. About 9,000 goats are registered in the states with the IFGA, "a mere drop in the bucket," Prentice said.

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