The occasion was the Gala Premier of The Moo Man, a documentary film which I mentioned some months ago. This charming and thought provoking film stars charismatic farmer Steve Hook and Ida, a cow quite obviously his favourite amongst the 55 cow herd, on this Sussex organic family run farm.
The film makers Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier some five years ago became aware of the Hook family farm when raw unpasteurised milk was delivered to Andy’s door, with the story of the farm and a picture of a cow on the bottle.
The purpose of making the film was to counter the bad publicity which dairy farming was receiving after footage of secretly filmed images taken on badly run intensive farms, were being shown to the public.
Steve plays himself, a man totally devoted to his animals and their welfare. Throughout he wears his heart on his sleeve and shows a visible pride in producing milk of the highest quality from happy, healthy cows.
During the 98 minute film a number of issues are raised, all of which are hugely relevant to his family business and the dairy industry at large. He talks about TB, badger culling, milk prices, supermarket domination and Chinese lanterns.
There is a strong message to buy local and steer away from buying tasteless, valueless milk from supermarkets in favour of milk like the Hook‘s unpasteurised “raw” milk.
Throughout the film it is the cattle which drew the laughter and tears. Their contrary antics, in particular Ida’s trip to Eastbourne for a photo shoot on the front which caused surprise amongst the locals, and great enjoyment when Ida decided she was having fun at the seaside, and like a reluctant child not wanting to return home after a day out, she took some persuasion to load into the trailer.
We saw the dogged determination and hard work which livestock farmers regularly face. As Steve helped a number of heifers and cows to calve, the somewhat undignified arrival of a disappointingly high number of bull calves, following Steve’s promise to “pull if you push!” left the audience transfixed.
As Steve is seen caring for Ida when she fell ill in the field, I hope the public will realise that this is what traditional farmers ‘do’ who care for livestock. The farming community really care for their charges, which appears to be in stark contrast to the chilling stories of the neglect and cruelty which some of our elderly and dying are receiving from the NHS.
Ida sadly does not survive, she has wire in her gut which could well have been the result of a stray Chinese lantern. Steve is clearly distraught but naturally moves on and is positive for the future of the family business. As young heifers join the herd, and now Ration appears to have filled the gap left vacant in Steve’s heart after Ida’s demise, things are looking up.
The film will have a further 40 screenings across the country, including in Hailsham, London, Leeds, Lancaster, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Along with the film will go the Hook family, including Steve’s father Phil and his four young sons, to spread the word and answer questions from the audiences.
This film should be shown in schools and colleges particularly in inner cities where youngsters appear to have little idea about the reality of food production. It does raise questions as to why anyone would want to work day in and day out caring for these cattle, coping with shed loads of muck, mud and rivers of slurry. And slithery, slimy calves which are invariably born in the middle of the night.
On this scale it cannot be for the money. Steve explains how the family have struggled as the cost of milk production exceeds income as the cost of cow cake and everything else rises.
They are doing their best but I doubt the film will encourage anyone other than those passionate about cattle and a glutton for hard work, to follow in the Hook family’s footsteps. It does however send out an important easily forgotten message.
Andrew Pulver the Guardian’s critic said “Steve put a human, articulate face on the vexed and vexing subject of food production. The film is a low key pleasure” Fairly spot on.
At the end of the viewing Steve was asked if ‘The Moo Man Two’ was being considered. He acknowledged there were other aspects of farming of which the public should be made aware, but he was modest regarding his participation in any further productions. However, watch this space!
Carola Godman Irvine