Scientists are studying a special kind of goat that faints when it’s frightened.
They’re curious about what triggers Billy’s blackouts.
They are known as fainting goats, and they’ve been around for years.
I had a friend who obtained a college grant to work with fainting goats. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it beat plucking chickens in a poultry plant in August.
I thought about my college buddy and his goat grant awhile back when I saw a story about a Fainting Goat Festival in Marshall County.
Evidently, despite years of research, the goats are still swooning away.
The goats suffer from a disorder called myotonia congenita, which causes them to go into shock over any unexpected fright – the way humans do, for example, when the plumber presents them with the bill for fixing a leaky pipe.
Any sudden sound, such as clapping hands, will cause the dizzy-headed goats to flop over.
The condition is hereditary.
If a goat’s mom or dad fainted, it’s probably destined to faint too.
The little kid comes home from school one day and hands its mom a report card full of straight A’s. She faints in her tracks.
Later, as a teenager, the big kid phones home to tell his pop he’s wrecked the family car. He hears a thud on the other end of the phone, then silence.
“Hello, dad? Hello? Dad, are you there?”
His mom picks up the receiver: “How many times have I told you? Never scare your father like that!”
The good news is when the goats faint they aren’t out long, and when they recover they’re as good as new. They wobble to their feet, shake their heads, collect their thoughts, and get back to doing whatever they were doing before they had the daylights scared out of them: nibbling tin cans, butting farmers and eating the Wall Street Journal.
Incidentally, contrary to popular myth, goats don’t actually eat tin cans even though they often appear to be doing so. What they’re really doing is chewing and licking the glue that sticks the paper labels onto the can.
We learned that from a billion-dollar Federal Goat-Eating Study, which was worth every penny. We wouldn’t want a misinformed public thinking that goats actually ate tin cans, would we?
Back to the fainting goats: What, exactly is the purpose of studying them? With all the problems and challenges in the world today, do fainting goats really rank high on the list?
Just imagine, a Pentagon official saying, “Sorry to barge in, Mr. President, but it’s urgent. We just received a top-secret report that Iran’s got the bomb and it’s aimed at Chicago!”
President: “I’ll have to get back to you on that.
General; I’m up to my ears right now on the Fainting-Goat Project.”
I suppose if the military relied on goats for troop transportation or hauling artillery, the Pentagon would be concerned about their tendency to faint under fire.
But because it doesn’t, I’m not sure that fainting goats present much of a threat to national security.
About the only thing fainting goats are good for is entertainment.
Some folks are amused by watching them fall over when frightened, although causing someone to faint for fun is a bit cruel. (I was broken from the practice in the second grade when Ms. Wigglebottom found the lab mouse in her coat pocket.)
But the goats don’t seem to mind, and I suppose from their perspective it’s not a bad way to make a living – hanging out on a research farm with nothing do all day except eat and faint.
It would be interesting to know what “normal” goats think of their faint-hearted cousins. Do they accept them and allow them to fit in? Do they play pranks, like sneaking up behind them and popping a paper bag?
Hopefully, researchers can come up with answers to such pressing questions and help us better understand our scaredy-cat goats.
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org