Freda Harvey and Noel Coleman have a lot in common for two people who have never met.
They each don camouflage work clothes and wear friendly grins on their weathered faces. These two retirees would say they’ve led pretty good lives. And now, they raise fainting goats.
“This is just what I love to do. I couldn’t think of a better way to live,” Harvey said.
Fainting goats, scientifically known as myotonic goats, get their abnormality from a mutation called myotonia congenita, a peculiar condition that causes the goats’ muscles to seize up when startled, causing them to fall over, stunned and stiff-legged for a few seconds. In essence, they faint.
“They can’t help it. They get spooked and just lock up them legs,” Coleman said. “It sure is a sight to see.”
Myotonic goats first appeared during the 19th century in Lewisburg, Tenn., a small rural town located one hour south of Nashville.
Although many goat farmers prefer not to have this genetic deformity in their herd, Harvey, Coleman, and hundreds more like them enjoy raising this quirky breed in Tennessee.
Harvey has farming in her blood. She spent her childhood on a Pennsylvania farm with 12 siblings, and couldn’t imagine a better way to live.
“My mother is 97 and still driving. The farm life is good for you. It keeps you healthy,” said Harvey.
She now lives on her Clarksville, Tenn. farm, a 60th birthday present from her husband, who bought an acre for every year of her life.
The retired military wife maintains H&H Farms, which breeds myotonic goats, along with chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and rabbits. She enjoys living on her sustainable farm while her husband travels for his work.
“Any day above the dirt is a good day for me, “ Harvey said.
Harvey bought her first goats in 2009 as a way to keep up her pastures. Myotonics were the most appealing breed for one reason–their stiff-legged tendencies prevent them from jumping fences and escaping like other goats.
“I’ve sold quite a few to soldiers as pets. They love to have something different,” Harvey said.
She even had one customer who leash-trained a myotonic goat and took it on daily strolls with her walking group.
Cotton Hollow Farm
Coleman has been a goat person for a long time. He can remember watching them faint as a boy on his grandparents’ farm in the 1950’s.
As an adult, he began raising kiko, a similar breed that don’t faint, and myotonic goats with his wife on Cotton Hollow Farm in Duck River, Tenn. When his three sons were born, he sold his goats and began raising show cattle. After his sons grew up, Coleman retired from the Nashville Electric Service and resumed raising goats.
“They’re just fun to mess with. They’re all different, and they have their own minds and personalities,” said Coleman. “Especially the babies. They’re just cute as can be.”
Coleman, 66, now has 17 myotonics, or fainters, and eight kikos, or limber legged goats, as he refers to them. He is slowly selling off the kikos to have a 100% myotonic herd.
Along with his Great Pyrenees guard dog, Coleman spends each morning checking on his goats, paying special attention to theyoungest ones born this spring.
“Since they’re native to Tennessee, the myotonics are better in this environment. They’re really low-maintenance,” Coleman said.
But when a goat gets sick, Coleman admits it’s difficult.
“I don’t know what kills them, but some just die unexpectedly and it’s hard to handle,” said Coleman. “It’s hard to when you do everything in your power to raise them and have to watch one die. They’re helpless. You always feel like it’s your fault.”
Another thing that is out of Coleman’s control when or how the goats will behave.
He said they don’t always faint, but sometimes, “they get so excited when they see me coming to feed them, that they just fall right over.”
Myotonic goats are registered on a scale of 0 to 6 based on how prone they are to stiffening up. Most myotonics typically fall between two and three, meaning a little stiffness in their legs, but one of Coleman’s particular bull goats does more than that.
“Oh, he’s every bit of 5, maybe even a 6. He doesn’t like to be petted, but he just can’t help but freeze up when you get near him. Then you can just pet him as long as you want.”
Lewisburg celebrates history with Goats Music and More Festival
The Goats Music and More Festival is Lewisburg’s annual attraction. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the festival. While there is music and more on the agenda, the main focus is goats.
The World Grand Champion Fainting Goat Show and Kids Goat Rodeo are just some of the biggest events. There’s even a Nannies and Kids Pageant, which does not actually involve goats, but instead children and their grandmothers dressed in matching attire to compete for the prestigious title.
The festival is a mecca for goat enthusiasts from the entire country.
This map shows the myotonic goat breeders in Tennessee, according to the Myotonic Goat Registry.