Saskatchewan wild boar farm raises 'meat with an attitude'
'It’s a totally different meat than domestic'
Wild boars may look similar to barnyard pigs, but don't be fooled. Their temperament is nothing like the domesticated variety.
"If they feel spooked at all, they'll just charge," said Robert Barton, who raises the animals with his wife Kathleen near Foam Lake, Sask.
"It's like a torpedo coming at you — a 250-pound torpedo. And they do bite."
Wild boars are called wild — even when raised in captivity — for a reason, he said.
Don't try to overpower a wild boar. You won't win that fight. You need to outthink the animals, Robert said. They don't like being herded into a small area. You need to make them think it was their idea.
"You'll get a quarter of them (in the pen) but the rest will just circle round and go back (to the pasture). So, the best way to do it, just go home and brew a cup of tea. When you come back, they'll all (be in the pen)."
'There's no use running'
Robert has learned to handle the animals gently — without yelling or using dogs. If the animals get frightened, they will spook and charge, or jump the fence.
For that reason, when it's time to herd the animals the Bartons use shields to protect themselves.
"There's no use running away because they'll only run after you and bite you. So you've just got to stand up to them."
Boars' sharp tusks will do a world of damage to a soft human body.
"They can't get at you if you've got your shield," said Robert. "But you've got to make sure (a boar) doesn't come from behind. You've got to be watching all the time."
The Bartons were sheep and dairy farmers in England before they moved to Saskatchewan 10 years ago. A wild boar farm was for sale and the couple was intrigued by the unique animals.
At the time, Saskatchewan's market for wild boar meat was non-existent. The farm's previous owner had exported the meat to Japan, where there was a taste for the lean, dense, flavourful meat.
The Bartons started Golden Prairie Wild Boar Meat right before a recession hit. The Japanese market closed during their first full year in operation. They tried to sell the meat in Canada but to no avail.
"We tried to sell them from east coast to west coast and nobody was interested," Robert said.
It's a totally different meat than domestic. It has more structure to it.- Robert Barton
They re-worked their business plan and found a local processor and butcher. Then they hit the road.
They started selling at farmers' markets, offering free meat samples.
"It's a totally different meat than domestic. It has more structure to it."
Sask. chefs embrace boar meat
Their efforts helped build a provincial appetite for the meat and they now do a brisk trade at the farmers' markets in Regina and Saskatoon.
Chef Dan Walker was an early adopter of wild boar meat at Saskatoon's (now closed) Weczeria Food & Wine, which featured a chalkboard menu of seasonal eats. Walker used wild boar belly in his winning dish at Saskatoon's inaugural Gold Medal Plates culinary competition in 2010.
Chef Garrett Thienes, who owns Harvest Eatery with his wife Kristy in Shaunavon, Sask., has used wild boar in the past and will be putting it on the menu again this fall. Thienes also used wild boar en route to winning the 2016 Gold Medal Plates in Regina.
The meat has been on the menu at Regina's Willow on Wascana for years. The Willow Land Chowder features wild boar instead of fish for a Saskatchewan take on the staple Nova Scotian soup.
Since wild boar is a slow-growing animal, the meat is lean. The fat content is on the outside of the animal rather than within the meat. That's how boars store energy during winter.
Baton said to cook the meat low and slow for optimum taste and keep it away from microwaves or any fast cooking method.
He emphasized that boars are "born free and raised wild." Allowing the animals to stay in their natural environment is important to the Bartons.
The animals are well-suited to life on the Prairies. They stay outside year-round and, unless it's butchering time, are rarely handled.
"We say 'meat with an attitude,'" he said.
Jenn Sharp is a freelance writer travelling the province this year in search of stories that connect us to the people growing and making our food.
If you're a baker, beekeeper, butcher, charcutier, cheesemaker, chocolatier, coffee roaster, craft brewer, distiller, farmer, farm-to-table chef, fishmonger, forager, market gardener, miller or orchardist in Saskatchewan, she wants to hear from you.
Her research will be compiled into the ultimate Saskatchewan food guide: Flat Out Delicious: Food Artisans of Saskatchewan. The book will be published by Touchwood Editions in spring 2020.