Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Scott Dickson was awarded a butcher’s licence this month and will now control the entire process, from raising the animals to cutting the chops.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Jackie McBride-Dickson surveys the ranch’s breeding stock.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

The Takhini River Ranch raises a complement of ewes for breeding.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Scott Dickson compares a fattier, larger sheep (right) with a leaner, younger lamb alongside Gold Rush Inn executive chef Robert Brouillette.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Ranch owner becomes a licensed butcher

On a homesteaded ranch 35 kilometres out of town, Scott Dickson and Robert Brouillette could be found appraising a swaying stock of hanging lambs last Friday.

By Gabrielle Plonka on November 29, 2019

On a homesteaded ranch 35 kilometres out of town, Scott Dickson and Robert Brouillette could be found appraising a swaying stock of hanging lambs last Friday.

“In the future, this is the size I would go for,” Brouillette told Dickson, gesturing toward the largest of the half-dozen: a 63-pound sheep marbled with sinews of muscle and fat.

Brouillette, the executive chef of the Gold Rush Inn, is making plans for the meat raised and cut at Dickson’s brand-new butcher outfit at the Takhini River Ranch. He listened attentively last week as Dickson showcased his products, from meat hanging whole to freezer-packed chops and ribs. Dickson removed the lid of one container to reveal 10 kilograms of corned beef, marinating in spice and salt.

“You could make Reubens out of that,” Dickson said.

Travelling to a second walk-in cooler, Dickson presented three heaping shelves of vacuum-packed beef, set aside especially for Gold Rush plates.

Brouillette took several cuts of beef shank from the selection, to be used for an Osso Bucco short rib feature at the Gold Pan Saloon that weekend. He promised to sample the corned beef, and discussed plans for a Takhini Ranch burger after the holidays.

This close interaction among chef, butcher, farmer and product is exclusive to the Takhini River Ranch, which was newly minted as a licensed butcher this month. The farm is a hyperlocal one-stop-shop that gives chefs the opportunity to get close and creative with the products they serve.

Takhini Ranch co-owners Scott Dickson and Jackie McBride-Dickson are firm in their commitment to do everything themselves.

They raise their own animals with home-grown hay before slaughtering using a mobile abattoir, hanging and butchering the products on-site. Their meat is grass-fed and hormone-free.

“With your animals, they get stressed out (when moved), so we prefer to do it here,” Scott said of slaughtering the animals on-site.

Doing everything on-site also means controlling the hang time of the animals.

“We decided we wanted to handle the process from start to finish,” Jackie said.

That control means they can work with local chefs to provide specific, curated products.

Brouillette told the Star he enjoys brainstorming with Scott, exemplified most recently by the Tomahawk steaks they worked on together for an agriculture banquet recently.

A Tomahawk is a ribeye steak cut with several extra inches of bone, thusly named for its resemblance to a single-handed axe and the striking visual impression it makes.

“That’s the fun part, Scott can cut everything,” Brouillette said. “I say, ‘Scott, cut some Tomahawks,’ and his eyes get big, he says, ‘That’ll be fun!’”

Because the entire process is controlled in one place, Brouillette says, creativity can span to the earliest stages of raising meat.

Next year, he plans to work with Scott and Jackie to adjust the feed given to animals. Adding beer, beets or chocolate milk to animal feed can impact the flavours, he said.

“To me, this means everything,” Brouillette said. “It’s honestly what we want to do as chefs, as much as possible, to be able to serve good local products to the customers.”

While relatively new to the butcher scene, Scott and Jackie have been raising animals on their 160-acre farm for several years.

They purchased the land, entirely forested, in 2006. They cleared it themselves and built a house, a butcher shop and space for raising sheep, cows and pigs.

“I think we appreciate it much more; (because) we homesteaded it,” Scott said. “We had help from the neighbours … but I did a lot of it myself.”

In 2018, Scott and Jackie were awarded Yukon’s Farmers of the Year for the “love, care and attention” they paid to the craft of cattle-raising.

Last year, Scott graduated from Old’s College with distinction as a professional meat processor. Now that they’ve established themselves as a butchering outfit, they have plans to build a commercial kitchen and release a line of products: meat pies, sausages and classic shepherd’s pie (cooked with lamb) as well as bread and sausage rolls.

According to Jackie, the ranch’s growth coincides with a long journey of learning to homestead step-by-step.

“We started with just a few cattle; we learned that,” she said. “We’re still learning. It’s a lifestyle and a process, and our clients help us.”

Jackie and Scott have established close client relationships with the aim of welcoming open communication and feedback. Their work is constantly shifting according to the needs and desires of their clients.

“The sky is the limit,” Scott said of the ranch’s future.

“We’re trying to have a sustainable farm,” Jackie added.

They hope to establish wind and solar power technology to their farm over the next few years.

Scott and Jackie purchased the Takhini River Ranch more than a decade ago because of Jackie’s love of horses and horseback riding.

One thing led to another, they said, and their farm grew with their knowledge of the trade.

Now, the Takhini River Ranch is home to 60 breeding ewes, the result of several years spent building the herd, and 50 head of cattle.

They grow three varietals of alfalfa as feed for the stock. This Christmas, they hope to begin selling lambs for the first time as an alternative meat for Christmas dinner.

Scott said he never intended to take up homesteading, though he comes from a long line of outfitters and this history provided some experience in animal care and butchering. The family operation, Dickson Outfitters, is the oldest in the Yukon and is currently operated by Scott’s brother.

“I never knew I was going to become a farmer,” Scott said. “It just started evolving.”

He was inspired to take a butcher course by several friends who had gone to Old’s College.

“I met a whole bunch of wonderful people, the teachers there were top notch,” he said of the experience.

Scott graduated from Old’s with a network of industry professionals and a full database of recipes, both of which he will utilize as the Takhini Ranch grows.

Now that Takhini is licensed as a butcher, Jackie and Scott are looking forward to diversifying their client base.

Scott, who originates from Burwash Landing, is a member of the Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nation. He works for the nation’s council as a special project manager, and the farm is on traditional Ta’an Kwäch’än territory.

Now that the Takhini Ranch is licensed as a butcher outfit, Yukon First Nations have the opportunity to purchase meat for general assemblies and potlatches.

“They usually go and hunt moose for the potlatches … but moose are becoming farther and fewer between,” Scott said. “There is an opportunity for them to come to us instead of hunting moose. Same with the sheep. We’re doing baby steps, but there’s so much further we can go with it.”

Shawn Fummerton, the executive chef at the Coast, has plans to heavily feature Takhini River products in the rollout of the hotel restaurant’s new menu in January, and will serve Takhini lamb at the Festival of Trees this weekend.

“Scott takes such pride in what he does,” Fummerton said. “Seeing the care that goes into (the products), and knowing what these animals eat, and how it affects the taste and quality … you know exactly what you’re getting.”

Fummerton, who moved to the Yukon from Toronto in August, said he was pleasantly surprised by the expanse of products available through local farms in the territory.

“I’m blown away by how willing (farmers) are to work with a lot of local chefs, and really push that forward,” he said. “Letting us be the ambassadors of your hard work –– there’s something really exciting as a chef, to be able to do that.”

Fummerton plans to localize the Coast’s menu using Takhini Ranch products.

Taking the farm-to-table approach one step farther, he is planning for a cyclical process where the restaurant’s produce scraps are returned to the farm to be used as feed.

“We’re going to work with them to incorporate everything,” he said. “That cycle from chef to farmer and back.”

Comments (9)

Up 5 Down 12

FN Forever on Dec 4, 2019 at 10:28 am

OK you guys asked for it. Dave, I didn't say every FN hunter has ethics, in general FN hunters hunt to eat, they don't hunt for antlers, the thrill of the kill to post on FB, they hunt to eat. Are there bad apples, yes, there are bad apples in every group, hell Dave you could be in that group. I know for sure you like to dump on minorities every opportunity you get. JW is not commenting these days, have you taken his place?
Joe you obviously were not loved enough as a child or are in dire need of a hug. No where in my statement did I infer we were in touch with nature and hunting with spears. What I said was, we have been hunting for a long time and game populations have for the most part remained healthy. Yes we use modern means, who's to say we might have even invented a few of them. Bottom line, give it a rest with the higher then almighty stuff you are shoveling and get to know some FN people, in general we are good folks.

Up 24 Down 3

Dave on Dec 3, 2019 at 9:25 am

@FN Forever, why do I personally know FN hunters that shoot every moose or Caribou in sight and keep going out hunting whether they need the meat or not then? It’s just a game to some of them who are trigger happy. I personally watched a FN hunter shoot an entire small herd of woodland caribou, chased them on snowmobile and just wiped the entire little herd out on a southern lake where they couldn’t find cover. Several other FN people watched this little episode. I won’t post names but I’m sure you know as well as I do some of the same people so don’t give me this FN one with nature BS. We don’t all drink the Kool-Aid you’re dishing out.

Up 20 Down 4

Joe on Dec 2, 2019 at 10:35 pm

@fn forever....you have not hunted moose here forever and you certainly didn’t shoot them with 30-06 in the spring while riding quads. It appears you benefit from modern technology yet you believe you have the right to harvest game at will. Enough with the traditional bs, same place same rules.

Up 12 Down 1

Beauchamp on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Great to see local business.... abattoir in Takhini.

Up 14 Down 4

Atom on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:34 pm

@FNFE....many would beg to differ....all harvest contributes to population number realities...I thought we were past this us and them? Sad

Up 10 Down 41

FN Forever on Dec 2, 2019 at 11:21 am

Dear Brian, FN hunters have hunted moose in this country since the beginning of time. FN hunters have never been responsible for the decreased population of anything, we have always managed out harvest appropriately. That is why the FN Right to hunt is protected in all YFN Final Agreements. If YTG succumbs to pressure to harvest in certain areas or mismanages harvest is on you.

Up 28 Down 4

Brian on Nov 30, 2019 at 6:44 am

This is great! I love to see successful stories like this. The butchering on-site is great, reduces costs of processing, allows the animals to not stress out, therefore not having tense meat full of adrenaline. Less hanging time. Just like how most farms operated a long time ago. As long as they don’t adopt a Corporate structure for business growth, and stay at a stable, sustainable level.
Other farmers should be getting on the wagon.
I could have gone without the Moose comment. The Yukon Government regulates Licensed hunters, where moose populations are low, licensed hunters are on a Draw for a tag. While non licensed hunters are still harvesting moose in those areas, and not owning the responsibility to help increase the population. It’s not the people it’s the politics that upset the licensed hunters.
However, this is a step in the right direction for local farmed meat. Now this is a showcase for 100 mile diet.

Up 23 Down 2

Rob on Nov 29, 2019 at 8:47 pm

Atta boy Scott and Jackie..great job!

Up 57 Down 3

Cherryl Chambers on Nov 29, 2019 at 4:39 pm

Wow what a great story...congratulations

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