Artist-turned-farmer Rosemary Kralik will never forget receiving the call from the police. A dozen of her yaks had escaped her 722-acre farm in Lanark Highlands west of Ottawa and had been spotted at the nearby golf course. "I didn't even know they played," she quips.
It took a month to round them up - all part of the adventure of raising the uncommon beasts (there are about 2,000 yaks in North America) native to northern Tibet. Similar to bison and other heritage breed animals that are gaining popularity among health-conscious carnivores, yak's meat is lean and protein-packed, low in cholesterol and revered for its sweet, delicate, beef-like flavour.
Ten years ago Mrs. Kralik was visiting a sale barn when the auctioneer led out a pair of shaggy blond Tibeten yaks with handlebar horns and humped backs - the crowd, more interested in traditional livestock, drifted over to the canteen. Mrs. Kralick, however, was lovestruck. "These were the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen," she says.
In the decade since, the cow and bull (names for female and male yaks) have given her a herd of 20.
Mrs. Kralik, who paints portraits to support her small-scale farm financially, gives the animals free reign over 500 acres of her property, where they play in the sun and wander out to the woods to feed on buds, leaves and bark. This time of year, she uses a rake to help detangle their winter coats as they shed.
"They love it. A half-hour of grooming them and they're your friends forever," she says. She aims to keep things stress-free at the end of their lives as well. When the time comes to "put one away" she accompanies the animal to the local abattoir. "I look into his eyes. I stroke him. I thank him," she says, "They understand the vibes." She is convinced that the meat from happy, strong animals ultimately benefits the health of those who consume the meat.
Among the small but growing fan base for yak's bright red meat is Chef Jamie Stunt from Oz Kafe in downtown Ottawa. He puts it on his specials board whenever the meat is available. He recently wowed his peers at a special chef's dinner in Montreal when he served "yak tataki," barely seared and thinly sliced with anchovy mayo and bacon breadcrumbs.
Says Mr. Stunt, "The way the farmer treats these animals is so humane. It's something we feel good about serving."
Oz Kafe, 361 Elgin St., Ottawa, 613-234-0907
Special to the Globe and Mail