Myotonic Goats

The first records of the Myotonic goat breed indicate it was first bred as a meat goat, and it remains so today.

by Dani Yokhna
PHOTO: Jean/Flickr

Use: The first records of the Myotonic goat breed indicate it was first bred as a meat goat, and it remains so today. Because the Myotonic goat is a more laid-back goat, the meat is said to be very tender. The breed is considered an ideal converter of rough forage to meat—meat-to-bone ratio averages 4:1. The breed is also used as purebreds and for crossing with other goat breeds, like the Boer, because of its reproductive efficiency.


The Myotonic goat gets its rather medical-sounding name from its strange affliction called myotonia congenita, an inheritable muscle condition related to bulky muscling. Although it appears as though the goat “faints” when startled, the painless condition is due to changes in the ion channels in the muscle cell membranes and has nothing to do with the nervous system. However, the strange reaction gave rise to the Myotonic goat’s other names—fainting, nervous, stiff-leg, wooden-leg, and scare.

The breed’s origin remains a mystery; however, the first mention of the Myotonic is in the 1880s when a farm worker brought four goats with myotonia to his new employment in Tennessee. His employer, Dr. H.H. Mayberry, purchased the goats and began breeding them as meat goats. Because the goats were poor climbers and jumpers (and remain so today), they were easy to fence in; this, plus their tasty meat, made the breed very popular in Tennessee. The Tennessee Myotonic is one of the two major strains of the breed (the other is Texas Myotonic). Both strains originated from a single source and have remarkable similarities. Because not all goats with myotonia congenital are purebred, the Myotonic Goat Registry was developed to track and register purebred animals. The registry also respects that foundation herds with wonderful goats are responsible for making the Myotonic goat what it is today, so no single strain or herd is pointed out as being the best or purest.

Conformation: The Myotonic goat can come in various heights and can range in weight from 60 to 175 pounds. This is because breeders haven’t focused on this aspect of the Myotonic, but instead on attributes that set the goat breed apart. The Myotonic goat maintains a stocky, blocky and heavily muscled appearance. It’s facial profile is usually straight or, on a rare occasion, slightly convex, with prominent eyes and a ripple in the ear that starts halfway down the front edge. Horns, if present, are quite large. Various coat types and color variations are allowed, but black and white is most frequently found because this was a favorite color among the earlier breeders. Hair coat is also variable, from short and smooth to long and shaggy, depending on the regional environment where the strain developed.

Special Considerations/Notes: Most goat breeds are very susceptible to parasitic infection but research has shown that the Myotonic goat is somewhat resistant to parasites as compared to other goat breeds. In addition to producing a delicious and tender meat, the Myotonic goat’s sweet personality makes it a wonderful pet. The goat breed is on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Watch list.

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