Bafta-winning short film 73 Cows (available online) doesn’t look controversial. It’s beautifully shot in the British countryside, full of early morning mists and lush Derbyshire fields, but its content will undoubtedly divide. That’s because it tells the story of cattle farmer Jay Wilde, a figure who has already proven so divisive among his neighbours they’ve dubbed his Bradley Nook Farm the ‘funny farm’. See, Wilde and his family had been breeding cattle for decades when he realised it was destroying him.
Wilde still tears up thinking about it on camera. His herd had distinctive personalities, he says, and he felt like he was betraying them each time he took a handful to the abattoir for slaughter. It was “soul-destroying” work, he sighs. You get the feeling Wilde only carried on as long as he did because of wife Katja, just as passionate about finding an alternative use for the farmland but better equipped to put her emotions to one side in order to pay the bills in the short term.
Finally in 2017 the pair managed it. Not only did they find a home for all 73 of the herd at a Norfolk sanctuary (though it cost them up to £50k in lost revenue), they managed to find what they regard as a viable alternative, in the form of vegan organic production.
Plenty will scoff, no doubt. It’s early days and the venture might not pay off. And this film won’t convince anyone of anything they didn’t already believe - it’s undeniably a sympathetic look at one farmer’s journey. But Wilde looks like a man with the weight of a herd of cows off his shoulders - 73 to be exact.