Boar by Ryan Brook
Boar by Ryan Brook
Like most farmers, Robert and Kathleen Barton are frequently out of bed long before the sun rises. The two-and-a-half-hour drive from their farm near Foam Lake to the farmers’ markets in Saskatoon and Regina means they are on the road before 4:00 a.m. so they have time to set up coolers and cash registers before greeting their first customers. The meat from the wild boar that the Bartons raise is lower in cholesterol and fats and higher in protein than pork and beef. The Bartons’ animals roam their property freely and are raised without hormones or antibiotics—facts that keep their customers coming back.
The Golden Prairie Wild Boar Meats stall is often sold out before the markets close. “We’re not down to a price, we’re up to a standard, and it’s a great thrill when you sell something to a customer and they are back the next week to tell you how much they enjoyed it,” says Barton. “Nothing beats word of mouth.”
Running one of the few remaining successful wild boar farms in the province, the Bartons, who originally hail from the northwest of England, have found that by focusing their efforts on farmers’ markets and local sales, they have been able to avoid the wild swings in the export market that has all but ensured the industry will never truly flourish in the province.
Before the late 1980s there were no wild boar in Canada, but as agriculture prices faltered and focus on diversification increased, a growing number of farmers attempted to add wild boar production to their operations, importing the first breeding stock from Europe and Russia. Enthusiasm for this niche soon faded as it became apparent the domestic market was very limited and, as noted in a provincial government report from 1998, “The industry is not organized for orderly marketing, competition is fierce, prices fluctuate and cooperation among marketers is absent.”
“Anybody who is not serious about it has disappeared,” says Robert. “Some of the wrong guys were in it. They thought it would be a bit of easy money, something to do with their marginal land, but you can’t cut corners with wild boar. You’ve got to do it right.”
According to a survey commissioned in 1998, 84 per cent of farmers who were raising the animals did not consider wild boar to be their primary occupation and as the costs clearly began to outweigh profits, production dropped dramatically from its high water mark in 2001. The agriculture census of 2011 noted that only 3,344 boar were being raised on 30 farms, down significantly from the 12,108 animals on 81 farms recorded in 2006.
In addition to poor markets and cumbersome export regulations, pioneering wild boar farmers found that keeping the animals contained required costly new electric fences sunk deep into the ground to prevent the notoriously clever and destructive animals from burrowing underneath. “They are very cunning and you’ve got to stay at least one step ahead of them,” says Robert with a wry chuckle. “Thank goodness they weren’t created with hands, that is all I can say.”
Ultimately, most would-be boar producers realized they would not be able to wring a profit from the enterprise. Some farmers cut their fences and let their remaining herds out onto the prairie thinking perhaps the animals would not survive on their own and would eventually die off. As it turned out, nothing was further from the truth.