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Farms from North Carolina to California are lending out their cutest, most video-friendly animals to company meetings and virtual happy hours. 2 owners share how it's keeping business and spirits up during the pandemic.

Mambo a goat for hire in the grass
  • A North Carolina horse farm called Peace N Peas Farm is letting people pay for their miniature donkey, Mambo, and other farm animals to tune into video calls.
  • In less than a week, the miniature donkey Mambo has been booked for appearances on virtual happy hours, corporate meetings, and school classroom experiences.
  • Peace N Peas Farm owner Francie Dunlap told Business Insider that the money made from virtual meetings with Mambo are helping offset her two daughter's lost income.
  • Across the country, California-based Sweet Farm launched Goat-2-Meeting, in partnership with LogMeIn, the software development company that produced GoToMeeting, and has raised $250,000 since it launched.
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Staff and students stuck at home during social distancing measures are all too familiar with the trend of Zoom-bombings. Most disturbances are unwelcome, but there's one meeting crasher who is being greeted with cheers and laughter.
Mambo, an eight-year-old miniature donkey, is bringing much-needed humor to video hangouts for business, teaching sessions, or pure pleasure.
Peace N Peas Farm in Indian Trails, North Carolina, launched the service in mid-April based on requests from friends. In just two weeks, Mambo has been hired to join nearly 100 video meet-ups.
Mambo donkey looking at the sky
Adhering to her state's stay-at-home requirements, farm owner Francie Dunlap was holding virtual coffee hours with friends. As she sat on the front porch, the others could catch glimpses of the farm. They began asking to see the animals, and as soon as Mambo appeared on screen, they suggested she make him available to help lift people's spirits.
Dunlap rushed to create a WordPress website, a platform she has used to build sites for her other farm enterprises, and within 24 hours she received around 15 bookings. Within two days, Mambo's schedule for the first week was filled.
Mambo has been the star, but people can also request visits with horses and chickens on the farm. (The ducks are currently on maternity leave for nesting season.) The service costs $50 per half hour.
"It's been really interesting to see the participant's point of view," said Dunlap. "As soon as they see the donkey, they think they are being crashed."

An escape from the doom and gloom draws customers in

As the coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people on lockdown for nearly two months, with uncertainty looming as to when it will end, virtual meetings are the new norm for remote workers, friends, and families. Isolation, coupled with grey, dreary weather in the northeast, has compounded the stress and anxiety of the situation.
When employees stopped showing up for weekly check-in meetings, Robert Clinton, a transportation engineer project manager at VBH, a consulting company to the state department of transportation and private projects, recognized the fatigue. He had heard about Mambo's virtual service, signed up for an appointment, and promised staff a guest at their next meeting.
"Just the anticipation of something new and exciting coming up made their week go by better," he said. "They were making all sorts of crazy guesses at who the guest would be, and everybody was so excited when they saw Mambo."
Clinton also joins a weekly virtual happy hour with friends across the country, many of whom work in land development and are stressed about what the future holds, he said.
"It really brightens people's day and gives them a chance to laugh," he shared. "We've had a lot of rain and grey days here in Rhode Island. Just being able to see the sunshine was like having a chance to look outside on a sunny day and lifted everybody's spirits."
zeus the horse in a zoom calculus class
Dunlap also works with teachers to provide virtual classroom experiences for school children, which dovetails with the farm's origins: The family launched the operation when their children were young to provide a classroom for the homeschooled family supplemented through a variety of learning experiences with animals and honeybees.
"I had forgotten what it was like to not have animals. Seeing everyone's reactions to them has really been fun," she said.

A chance to compensate for lost income and raise money for struggling sanctuaries

Mambo the donkey in a zoom meeting
Although meetings with Mambo was launched to bring much-needed levity to the current high-stress situation, the business has also helped offset lost income for both of Dunlap's daughters.
Her older daughter, Kelsey, is an upper-level dressage horse trainer who relies on competitions to promote her business — all have been cancelled or postponed so far. Her younger daughter worked at a local gym.
Mambo's appearances are not the first virtual animal appearance services to go viral during the coronavirus pandemic. California-based Sweet Farm launched Goat-2-Meeting earlier in April, offering various interactions with their farm animals and the option to tour the farm virtually.
Since the launch, they now have 3,000 bookings spread between 30 trusted affiliate sanctuaries. The animals have made appearances in meetings held by politicians, law firms, tech startups, and decision makers at Fortune 100 companies. Sweet Farm's llama was even requested for a virtual wedding so the couple could be "married in the eyes of the llama," according to Sweet Farm Foundation cofounder Nate Salpeter.
Mambo the donkey in a zoom meeting
Salpeter said the initiative has raised over $250,000, which has benefited all the participating sanctuaries and helped cover operating expenses typically funded through on-site visits. Goat-2-Meeting now has a partnership with LogMeIn, the software development company that produced GoToMeeting, a platform that supports more than a billion customer interactions and 20 billion voice minutes per year.
"It is helping us use the tools to bridge across communities and around [the] world to expand our education programs about animal welfare," he said. "They have been providing a lot of amazing support to get the programs out there and make things accessible to everyone."
In North Carolina, it was the horses that were previously the biggest stars, with one being ranked No. 10 in the country in its discipline. Dunlap said that Mambo has enjoyed the attention and that participants often get the biggest thrill when he turns his backside to the camera.
Mambo takes appointments weekdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., except from 1 to 3 p.m. when he gets a well-deserved lunch break.
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