Joe, Alex, Max and Tara Lawrence on their farm with two of their 35 Myotonic goats.
“Basically, it’s managing a database of breeders and animals”
By Mary-Glenn Smith
In 1998, when Joe and Tara Lawrence first built their new house in Adger, they decided a goat would be a practical way to help clear some of the brush off their property.
"It all started with just wanting one goat," explained Tara.
Little did they know at the time that "one goat" would become such a huge part of their lives ten years later.
"A co-worker of Joe’s brought in the AFC Cooperative Farming Newsand there was an ad saying ‘fainting goats: come see them fall,’" Tara began.
The “Wall of Fame,” as it is called, in the Lawrence’s living room.
At first they thought the ad had to be a joke, but since they were looking for a goat anyway they decided to give the farmer a call and go see what fainting goats were all about.
After a lengthy speech from the farmer about the goats, he quickly clapped his hands and half the herd fell over.
"At that moment we knew we had to have one," Tara said.
The goats really fainted.
The Lawrences left the farm that day with a billy goat and the next day called and told the man they would be back to buy a doe and a kid.
"From that day on, it was like eating potato chips, you couldn’t just have one of them," Tara explained.
Today, Joe and Tara along with their two sons, Alex, 15, and Max, 11, own and operate a Myotonic goat farm, known as Outlaw Farms.
The family just recently purchased the Myotonic Goat Registry from its founder, Gene McNutt of Chapel Hill, Tenn.
Alex Lawrence, 15, with a prize-winning Myotonic goat.
"He had a real desire and a passion for the breed and a vision for where he wanted to go with the breed," Joe said as he explained why McNutt founded the registry.
At first McNutt approached Tara about doing some work for him with the registry. With Tara’s love for the breed, she immediately said yes to his offer. A week later, McNutt asked if she would be interested in purchasing the registry and again she said yes. Tara left her job at a CPA firm and two weeks later she purchased the registry. The family drove up to Tennessee with their stock trailer, loaded up the office, signed a contract and returned to Adger as the owners of the Myotonic Goat Registry.
"Mr. McNutt wanted the registry to go to someone who he knew would be the best for the job and the breed," Joe said. "He had several other offers, but none seemed to be as concerned with preserving the breed as much as Tara was."
"Tara loves this breed and is going to promote it, make it grow," Joe continued. "It’s not about the money. There has to be a certain amount of money coming in to run the business, but it’s more about promoting the animals."
A Myotonic goat, Eddie, fainted.
The Myotonic Goat Registry is believed to be the largest registry of Myotonic goats in the world with 651 members and over 10,000 animals from all over the United States and Canada. Members are called breeders and most of them actively show and breed goats.
"Basically it’s managing a database of breeders and their animals, keeping up with the animals’ pedigrees, so anyone wanting to have their animal registered can send the paperwork to us and Tara plugs it in to a database for a fee," Joe explained. "The registry is growing by leaps and bounds."
"Not only do Myotonic goats faint or fall over and become stiff, they have to meet a breed standard," stated Tara, who manages the whole registry.
The breed standard is based on size, head, coat, stiffness relating to their level of myotonia congenita, and conformational traits established by the registry.
The Myotonic Goat Registry has a board of advisors, a show committee and a youth director. The registry recently set up a new youth program to promote the animals to the younger generation. A child joins the program for $12 a year and once they have been a member for two years they will be eligible for a scholarship.
"Hopefully with the new youth program we will have somebody to leave all of this to," Tara said.
"Myotonic goats are currently considered a rare breed according to the government," Joe added. "At one point, they were almost extinct."
"Myotonic goats have been traced back to the 1800s," Tara said as she described the breed.
"The legend goes that a migrant worker from Nova Scotia named John Tinsley appeared with four Myotonic goats," Tara continued. "He came and worked on a farm for just one season and then left his wife and his four goats behind."
"The legend surrounding them is about as unusual as they are," she added.
The Lawrences bought their first goats ten years ago just for pets and to help keep their property cleaned off. Today the family breeds, raises, sells and shows Myotonic goats.
"We started with a variety of sizes and colors," Tara said. "The original goats were a white one, a silver one and a tri-color. Now we only have black and white commercial-size animals."
There are currently 35 goats on Outlaw Farms, all of which have their own special name.
"All of them have to have a name," youngest son Max explained. "We’ve got some pretty funny names."
Two years ago, they decided they would start concentrating on quality stock. They wanted to breed bigger, meatier, show goats.
"We have purposely stayed a small herd so it was manageable and so we could offer quality animals and, more than anything, we wanted to produce a structurally-correct animal," Tara stated. "We want an animal that is hearty and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, and is large and could be used as a production animal on the commercial end."
"Almost every goat we have on the farm is show quality," Joe said of his current herd that was started roughly a year and a half ago.
Alex and Max do most of the showing. They have competed in shows throughout several different states with the farthest one being Indiana.
The family will usually take about 15 goats to a show with them. They compete in different classes based on the age and sex of the goat.
"We pick out what happens to be looking good on the farm at that time to take to the shows." Joe said.
The "Wall of Fame" in the Lawrence’s living room proudly displays awards, ribbons and trophies won at shows over the past two years.
"Our goal is to preserve the breed," Tara said. "We also want to educate the public through the shows."
Myotonic goats, sometimes known as fainting goats, stiff-legged goats, wooden-leg goats or nervous goats, are the only breed of goats that faint. But the goats don’t actually faint, instead they have a condition called myotonia congenita.
The condition causes their muscles to become extremely stiff and lock up, and if the goat isn’t balanced it will fall over as if it fainted. This only happens if the goat gets scared. Most goats will usually only stay out for about 30 seconds when they faint.
"Different things can make them faint," Joe explained. "If they are already on alert they won’t faint, you just about have to surprise them to make them fall out. But sometimes the darndest things will scare them, something like a leaf falling out of a tree."
Along with breeding and showing, the Lawrences also endorse the Myotonic goat for its quality meat.
"Generally the condition (myotonia congenital) causes muscles to get really, really big, so they are considered a meat animal," Joe said. "They have a really large meat to bone ratio, more so than other larger goats. You get a lot of bang for your buck. We hope by promoting and growing this breed they will become a more marketable animal as far as the meat goat industry goes,"
"The meat is so tender, it’s unbelievable, it just falls apart in your mouth," Alex added.
Most of the goat meat consumed in the United States comes from Australia.
"We want to someday walk into a grocery store and buy goat meat," Joe said. "We want to promote our domestic animals rather than foreign animals."
Most of the animals sold at the Lawrence’s farm are sold directly off the farm, whether for meat, pets or breeding. For more information on the registry, the breed or for a farm visit, go to www.outlawfainters.com or www.myotonicgoatregistry.net.
Mary-Glenn Smith is an AFC intern.