Like most newsrooms in New York City, Motherboard has been banished from its physical office to work from home for the last six months. At first, virtual meetings were cute and fun—waving at people from inside my apartment, instead of half-asleep across a cold conference table, was a slice of normalcy in the middle of the Covid-19 chaos.
More than half a year of virtual meetings, however, has gotten old. When I saw Cronkshaw Fold Farm's virtual goat rentals, a service that will add a live goat to your Zoom meeting (or Hangouts, Skype, whatever platform you use) for a small fee, it seemed like something that could snap us out of the virtual meeting haze for at least a few minutes.
The goats are based in Lancashire, England, where farmer Dot McCarthy has been offering them as guests for virtual meetings since the start of the UK's Covid-19 lockdown in March.
Cronkshaw Fold isn't the only virtual goat in the game: Sweet Farm, south of San Francisco, offers "Goat-2-Meeting" appointments that are a little more involved than a Zoombombing goat, with a tour of the farm and introductions to a variety of whatever rescued llamas, pigs and goats are feeling camera ready that day, according to their site.
Five minutes of goat time from Cronkshaw Fold costs £5, or a little over $6. The farm is using the profits to continue its goal of saving up to install renewable energy technologies for the farm.
"Climate change is shit and we want to do all we can as soon as we can to address it," McCarthy told me in an email. Profits from the calls have also helped them pay wages for farm workers during Covid.
"We start at 6.30 a.m. and go every 10 minutes until 9.30 p.m. UK time, seven days a week," McCarthy said. "We also do it [after] hours for those calling from different time zones, we just charge a bit more to cover staggering down to the barn in our PJ's in the middle of the night!"
I booked these goat colleagues for a 4-4:05 p.m. EST time slot, which was around 9 p.m. in Lancashire. While the site allows you to choose what goat you want to visit your meeting and provides personality descriptions for each, it being late in the evening I decided to leave the starring goat up to the farmer.
I asked my coworkers to tune in to the meeting early if they wanted to catch five minute of goat bliss, but they dialed in a little late (actually, while Motherboard EIC Jason Koebler was in the middle of announcing that the Waypoint team raised more than $150,000 during their Save Point fundraiser for National Bail Out). But eventually, Cronkshaw Farms asked to join the meeting and threw the whole meeting into momentary chaos.
In the chat box, the goats introduced themselves as Daisy (who was banned from goat yoga, due to head butting other goats, according to her description on the site) and her kids, Lulu and Sebastian.
We kept going with the meeting as the goats hung out in a lower video corner, listening to Motherboard's plans for the week, I assume. It was, to be honest, kind of awkward to me, but I’m told other Motherboarders found it enjoyable!
McCarthy told me that even though I very thoughtfully warned my coworkers that a goat would be bombing our meeting, some teams use them as a prank. "It's been ace joining calls all over the world watching those who booked the goat trying (mostly failing) to keep a straight face while their completely baffled comrades try to figure out 'WHY IS THERE A GOAT!?'" she said. Why is there not a goat, is my question for all future meetings here on out.