A farm in Lancashire has added a new source of income by allowing the public to book a goat to join in on their lockdown video calls.
Since taking over Cronkshaw Fold Farm from her mother in 2016, Dot McCarthy has diversified the farm into a sustainable business, including educational trips, weddings and accommodation.
But when lockdown made many of these income streams impossible, she adapted her business model from bricks and mortar to 'bricks and clicks' - a term for businesses that combine in-person and online services.
“We started virtual activity videos with our local community,” said Dot. One activity involved communicating through mirrors and flashes of sunlight to spell out letters of the alphabet.
“We taught local kids to mirror signal the word PIES - we love pies in Lancashire - and as we’re up on a hill overlooking the valley, we were able to watch all their mirror signals from people’s houses.
"These sessions were super popular locally and got picked up by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who posted about them on her Instagram.”
Cronkshaw Fold Farm also received unexpected publicity from Dot’s second digital offering: charging £5 to book a goat to join a Zoom call.
“This started as a joke,” she said. “I came up with the idea, told my employee Emma and we agreed it was completely wacky and we should prioritise other money making ideas.
"I put it on the website that evening anyway along with Emma’s email address for bookings. When I woke up, I had loads of missed calls from Emma saying she’d been inundated with emails and couldn’t keep up with the demand for goat calls.”
The success of Dot’s venture has led to newspaper articles, podcast features and an interview on ITV’s This Morning.
“We’ve had everyone from the European management team of Facebook, to NHS staff in need of a cheer up, to virtual church services - the vicars always seem to choose Mary the goat and I am pleased to say we have made over 50k so far,” she said.
When Dot wasn’t busy doing Facebook lives and Goat Zoom calls, she was hard at work bagging up manure to sell to local people growing their own fruit and vegetables.
“We made more than £1000 in just a few delivery runs and our part-time farm school teacher picked up lost work hours doing manure admin instead.”
She also ramped up production of her own fruit and vegetables by turning the barn usually used for weddings into a plant nursery.
As a farmer always on the go, Dot uses Starling Bank to keep her finances well-managed with a simple-to-use mobile bank account.