‘Fainting’ goats welcomed at Sylvester Manor

Cricket, safely leaning against a rock, off duty from clearing brush and restoring pasture land. (Credit: Halsey Quinn)

Cricket the goat, safely leaning against a rock, off duty from clearing brush and restoring pasture land. (Credit: Halsey Quinn)

Sylvester Manor, with all of its 243 acres, is home to countless crops, trees and animals. However, despite popular demand, the Manor was goat-less until two months ago, when Cricket and Copper arrived.

“People love goats,” said Julia Trunzo, farm manager and designated “goat lady” of the Manor. She noted that goats are great for kids’ programming and also for the land. Farm sources say goats help to reclaim pasture land that has been taken over by unwanted plants.

“Grit,” a farmers’ website, says that reclaiming pasture “can mean greatly increased area from old fields and increased profitability for grazing or haying operations. Some towns and government agencies even occasionally contract with goat owners to clear brush and other vegetation on municipal lots, power line rights-of-way [and] roadsides.”

Good for kids, fun to watch, bearded stewards of the land. Check. What’s the downside?

They are infamous escape artists. These expert climbers, or sometimes jumpers, can easily break free from a pen, making goats a potential danger to crops and Manor volunteers who get in their way when one has its head down and a determined attitude. The solution?

“Fainting” goats. Not only is it harder for this skittish breed to break out, it’s also harder for them to stay on their feet once they’ve made a run for it.

Fainting goats are born with a muscle condition known as “myotonia congentia,” hence their more formal, and not nearly as interesting name, myotonic goats. This hereditary disease, which can occur in humans as well, causes the skeletal muscles to stiffen when the goats are startled, surprised or scared, which can lead to them toppling over. “Fainting” is a misnomer, however, because while the goats do fall over, they never actually lose consciousness.

Fainting goats are famous in Tennessee, where every October in Marshall County they are celebrated at the “Goats, Music and More Festival.”

Ms. Trunzo got Cricket and Copper, the Manor fainters, from a farm in Maine, appropriately called “Falling Goat Farm.” They are “adorable, yet so far unfainting,” said Maura Doyle, Sylvester Manor’s historic preservation coordinator.

Ms. Trunzo admitted she’s only witnessed one fainting spell in the past two months. The Manor goats, she added, are “not very easy fainters.”

It seems fainting goats are affected by varying degrees of their muscle condition and tone. Cricket and Copper are shaping up to be goats better able to stay on their feet.

This wobbly duo has been integrated into many of the Manor’s programs. Like all goats — fainting or sure-footed — they’re especially popular with youngsters, so Cricket and Copper get rock star attention during field trips.

Soon, they’ll be able to step up — or fall down — and interact with the kids of the “Young Farmers” program that runs from July through August.

Programmatic purposes aside, these fainting goats are part of a much “bigger picture of agroforestry and silvopasture,” said Ms. Trunzo. These two terms refer to that process of obtaining agricultural products from woodsy areas. The new goats occupy an area off to the left of the landmark “Windmill Field” in a forested area of steep topography that at present can’t be farmed.

Cricket and Copper are as ravenous as non-fainting goats, eating absolutely everything. They maintain the area, “helping to control non-native invasives,” Ms. Trunzo said, a solution to one of the Island’s most serious ecological challenges.

Cricket and Copper are following in the hoof steps of a group of pigs that cleared out the same section of forest last year.

As part of the big picture, the goats are experimental. If they work well to maintain and control invasive brambles, Ms. Trunzo will look into purchasing more or breeding them.

For now, Cricket and Copper are the only goats of the Manor. Anyone can go visit the happy pair whenever the farm stand is open. They are friendly and love visitors. Their name notwithstanding, they’re stand-up goats in every way.

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