SHEEP HERO: from a free shepherd to a small rental house

The film SHEEP HERO by Ton van Zantvoort about the Dutch shepherd Stijn Hilgers, was a hit worldwide. The film has been screened at over 70 international festivals, has won 15 awards and more than 30 nominations. Everyone who has seen the film knows that it didn’t go too well for the SHEEP HERO himself. At the end of the film they sell the sheep and they emmigrate to France. How is the shepherd and his family doing now?

* Note spoiler alert *

That a lot can happen in a year is evident in the life of Stijn Hilgers. He was a shepherd for twenty years, but due to austerity measures and “market forces on the heathlands”, it was simply no longer possible with a deficit of EUR 30,000 a year. Other traditional shepherds also quit and emigrated. Stijn left for France with his family, but returned after six months. The intended cooperation on the farm turned out not to be like what had been presented to them. Stijn then became a shepherd in the Pyrenees – a childhood dream come true – but which he had to end prematurely, because his father Loek was dying.

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What was it like to return to the Netherlands?
“Leaving the Netherlands was not too difficult, but coming back was. We had no work, received no assistance or benefits, and were unable to find a place to live. My father died and the farm where we lived all those years was sold. We temporarily lived with one of our volunteers in Helmond, but that was not sustainable with two young children who had already changed schools twice. We found a temporary house with a shepherd in the “backyard”, over two hours away in Winterswijk. In February we were finally assigned a rental house, where we are now quarantined because of Corona.

What is it like for a shepherd accustomed to space to live in a small rental house?
“It takes some getting used to. It used to be a fear of mine to be part of a “thirteen in a dozen” terraced house. For now it is okay and it also gives the children the necessary rest, so that they do not have to change schools again. Fortunately we also have a small vegetable garden. We don’t know anyone here and now we are not allowed to visit anyone. I miss working with sheep and I also miss Brabant and the people. But we remain positive about it. ”

What does your day look like?
“Anna gets up at 5 a.m. 6 days a week to milk cows at a nearby farmer. Then she cleans the homes of the elderly and later starts milking cows again. I am currently at home with the children and take care of the housework and food. Because of the Corona crisis, I am now a teacher, police officer, psychologist and crisis manager at home…. ” Stijn says laughing.

What are your dreams for the future?
“We have 20 years of knowledge and experience and it is a shame if this is lost. On my father’s deathbed, I also promised him to continue his ideas and our work. We still very much want to start a small-scale sheep dairy and cheese dairy. This is a completely different business from nature management with a large flock of sheep, but our love for working with sheep and making good clean and fair products remains. A small herd of dairy sheep is also very suitable for exploiting a form of eco-tourism. However, these dreams now seem further away than ever. We can barely financially survive, let alone start a new business. That requires capital. For now it is important that the children have a solid basis and we take all opportunities and possibilities, so if you know anything? ”

SHEEP HERO broadcast on NPO2 on May 12 at 22.30

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