Mini Silky Fainting Goats: Smitten with Silkies
These Miniature Fainting Goats will Steal Your Heart!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
It’s love at first sight when meeting a Mini Silky Fainting goat. People are captivated by the adorable animal’s pint-sized stature, carefree wispy bangs, and long and lustrous, velvety hair that hangs straight from the body in a range of colors and patterns from snowy white to raven black. Their average weight ranges from 60 to 80 pounds for bucks and 50 to 70 pounds for does. Males stand in height at the withers from 23.5 to 25.5 inches, while females measure 22.5 to 23.5 inches.
The breed, a cross between a long-haired Tennessee Fainter and Nigerian Dwarf goat, was developed by Renee Orr of Sol-Orr Farm of Lignum, Virginia. She remembers the positive response friends had when first seeing the offspring in 1998 when she and her late husband, Steve, began breeding Silkies for their enjoyment.
Previously, when visiting Frank Baylis of Bayshore Kennel and Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Renee had an idea when viewing his 10 long-haired Tennessee Fainting goats. “We were raising Nigerian Dwarfs. I wondered what it would be like to crossbreed them, hoping for something small in size with the lovely look of the fainters. We eventually purchased two of his bucks and began breeding them with our does. Their offspring developed into lovely and lively little goats. We continued breeding, eventually presented our goats to the public in 2005, and then formed the Miniature Silky Fainting Goat Association to meet the breed’s growing interest. We’re dedicated to providing information and registry services, and the promotion of Silkies through MSFGA sanctioned shows. What a wonderful adventure.”
Why Do Goats Faint?
Imagine the shock long ago when farmers first encountered some of their goats falling to the ground in a paralyzed condition. Were they shot? Was it poison? What could have caused such a tragedy?
Then, without warning, up jumped the goats, wagging their tails and romping about nonchalantly. The same behavior repeated itself when the goats were startled, surprised, or even excited before mealtime. Little did people know the condition has a name — something found today in the Tennessee Fainting (Myotonic) goat and crosses, horses, dogs, and humans.
It’s a condition known as myotonia congenita, a genetic mutation (a permanent alteration in the DNA) where muscle fibers stiffen momentarily, resulting in some goats toppling over. Older animals seem to adapt, sensing an oncoming episode by balancing themselves on outstretched legs, preventing a fall.
When startled, the animal’s ears and eyes send electrical signals to the brain, prompting a flight or fight response. Instead of tensing up and then relaxing, the skeletal muscles contract involuntarily, lasting anywhere from five to 30 seconds. There’s no pain involved, and they don’t actually faint (vasonagal syncope), where the body loses consciousness due to decreased oxygen flow to the brain. Once the muscles relax, the goat bounces back as if nothing had happened.
“It’s a trait that some Silkies inherit,” explains Jari Frasseni, a show judge and breeder of Myotonic and Mini Silky Fainting goats near Pocatello, Idaho. “It’s not a standard necessary in showing. What matters in the ring is each animal’s conformation — the body should appear physically balanced and well proportioned, with long, straight, and flowing coats.
“We’ve seen an increased interest in Silkies because of their small size, stunning appearance, charming personalities, and quiet nature. They don’t require a lot of space, and they aren’t climbers, bound for escaping over a fence or wall. Instead of being bred for meat, dairy, or fiber, these sweet animals attract attention because of their looks and sweet temperament.
“As reputable breeders, we want the best for all our animals, so interviewing prospective buyers is important. A red flag immediately goes up if a person asks to see them faint. These goats are not performers, responding on command, nor is myotonia congenita a reason to tease or taunt them. I’ve sent people away who can’t seem to understand Silkies are not windup toys for one’s amusement.”
Dawn Broaddrick of Big Sky Silkies in Talala, Oklahoma, agrees, “These enchanting goats are becoming very popular, so it’s crucial that we educate people about their proper care and needs. Silkies are social beings, requiring the company of other goats to feel comfortable and connected as a herd animal. They often will bond with other animals, and most assuredly with humans.
“This is especially true with my husband and our Silkies. John has bipolar disorder that he manages with treatment and medication. But stress can sneak up, causing mood swings and anxiety. Fortunately, he discovered something that helps when feeling overwhelmed — quality time with Silkies. After 30 minutes, he feels calm and relaxed.”
This has inspired Dawn to research more about animal-assisted therapy at nursing homes and health facilities with her Mini Silky Fainting goats. “Their small size and sweet nature would be ideal for making a connection and brightening one’s day.”
Two Silkies are doing just that at Lil’ Steps Wellness Farm in St. Malo, Manitoba, Canada. Cindy and Cristabelle are part of the comprehensive wellness facility specializing in treating children, teens, and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and anxiety.
“It’s so encouraging seeing our goats and other animals interact with individuals,” explains Lucy Sloan, BA Psychology and Animal-Assisted Counselor/Director. “They’re an open book when it comes to intuition and sensitivity. I marvel at what they accomplish by simply being in the moment with a person.”
Cristabelle, the quieter of the two goats, helped a little girl explain her health issues at school soon after Lucy received a telephone call from the child’s mother when reading about Lil’ Steps in a magazine article.
The youngster suffers from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) —episodes similar to neurological seizures, but brought on by emotional, physical, and psychological factors. Individuals experience sudden and temporary loss of attention, memory lapses, confusion, fainting spells, and body tremors.
It’s a difficult situation for anyone, especially a child trying to fit in at school. Teasing and bullying are common, often causing isolation, anxiety, and depression. Hopefully, a little goat that sometimes stiffens and falls when startled can enlighten and educate others.
Cristabelle’s presence helped explain more about different disorders with people and animals. She relished being held and petted by everyone, proudly standing with a happy little girl beaming with delight as cameras snapped, and students applauded.
Mini Silky Fainting goats are a breed to consider. They’re a complete package — stunning good looks and the ability to connect with humans in a deep and meaningful way. They are truly ambassadors of joy!
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.