Filmmakers Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox follow families on the road to The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair
Google the phrase “cute cat videos,” and you’ll get around 925 million results. Do the same with “cute goat videos,” and there are only about 25 million results. Why the lack of goat representation? If you prick them, do they not bleed? We demand justice for cute goats!
Filmmakers Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox, at least, don’t need to be convinced of goats’ photogenicity. The pair behind the documentaries Pugly and Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit turned their lenses on goats for their new film Year of the Goat, airing Saturday on CBC and streaming on CBC Gem the same day.
In it, they follow a group of goat-fanciers as they raise their animals and take them to regional goat shows and ultimately to the major leagues: The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s Dairy Goat Competition.
McNamara and Hancox spoke about the film, the families and the goat that chewed through their camera cord.
Q: What makes goats such compelling subject matter?
Hancox: Goats are different from some other livestock animals in that they actually make great pets. They are loving, attentive and really interested in people — a lot like dogs. They are expressive and fun animals with personality to spare. Perfect for TV.
Q: What was filming like with goats everywhere?
Hancox: Goats tend to be inquisitive and very keen about camera equipment. Our documentary features a lot of goats licking the camera lens. This was a pretty common occurrence. They also head butt each other and people, especially if they are being ignored. This made operating a camera and holding a steady shot tricky, as goats would constantly be ramming into our legs to get a little love and attention. Finally, goats love chewing on things. Anything. A goat once chewed threw our sound cable mid-shoot, requiring our crew to get extra creative.
Q: To what lengths do these families go for their animals?
McNamara: Raising goats requires patience fortitude and a sense of humour. When a doe is pregnant, the family must keep vigil to be there in the middle of the night to help with the delivery. And then there is the baby care, the vet bills and the feed. The best a small-scale goat breeder can hope for is to break even for the expenses of feeding and caring for a goat to keep it healthy and happy.
Q: What kind of pressure are these families on to turn a profit?
Hancox: Most of the families in our documentary operate hobby farms, which means they produce milk mostly for their own homesteading purposes. Some of our characters make a tiny bit of money selling goat soap and other related products. One of our families had been in the commercial dairy business. They were forced to shutdown due to an illness outbreak several years ago. It’s a very tough business to be profitable in, and it’s heavily regulated. To be a success, farms need deep pockets and hundreds and hundreds of goats.
Q: What about the bond between the goats and children?
McNamara: Kids on farms learn about compassion and caring for animals when they are sick — and how to detect when an animal is happy or not. Almost all of the children in the film are members of the 4-H Club, where they learn all there is to learn about animal husbandry and care, and respect for their animals.
They also learn how to “show” their goats at goat shows. So while spending a lot of time practicing with their animals, a strong bond develops between the child and her show goat. As one of our characters told us: Cows can be nice and even friendly, but they just can’t compare to goats when it comes to expressing affection.
Year of the Goat debuts Saturday, Oct. 24, CBC and CBC Gem.