Monday, December 24, 2007

Adventures in Raw Feeding

(contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I have four dogs, ranging in weight from 65 to 110 pounds, and all of them are fed at least 50% raw. Sprocket, the 14 year old golden, gets 90% raw, using the Honest Kitchen (Force or Embark) because you rehydrate it with warm water, and all his supplements mix into it really well. Plus, he loves it, and at his age it is extra-important for him to eat well. The other three (Brody the Pyr, Ozark the Pyr mix, and Darwin the golden) get 1/2 raw and 1/2 Nature's Variety, Wellness or Merrick dry. Still, the expense of feeding this many BIG dogs raw food, even with employee discounts and manufacturer-sponsored sales programs, was becoming a concern. The pre-made Nature's Variety frozen raw food cost me anywhere from $1.93 to over $3 a pound, and I feed two pounds of raw a day. I know the importance of raw food in their diet, but how to keep doing this, and not end up in the poor house?

I don't cook. If I had my way, my house wouldn't have a kitchen at all, just a hotline to every place in town that delivers. Oh, and a really great bathroom. But the answer to making my dogs' raw food more affordable was (deep breath)... make it myself.

I have to say, I'm just starting out in this endeavor. I've recently joined Midwest BARF Buyers (a raw meat-buying co-op), so in January I should be able to order large quantities of pre-ground (with bone) raw meat at a great price, provided I can find someone to pick it up for me. The pick-up is on Wednesdays, in the middle of the day, when I have to be at work.

So for now, it's just me and the local grocery store. I went shopping yesterday for Batch #2, checking to see what was on sale. I ended up buying:
5# tube of high-fat ground beef (it was on sale for $6)
3# of ground turkey (about $1.38/lb)
1.5# of chicken gizzards (cheap!)
1# of chicken liver (also cheap!)
1# of cottage cheese
a sweet potato
green beans

I ground the gizzards, liver, fruit and vegetables, added it to the ground beef and turkey, also pulverized 4 raw eggs (including shell), added some garlic, some Missing Link Plus and fish oil, put on my Playtex Living Gloves and mushed it all around in my giant turkey-roasting pan (as if I ever roast a turkey) like the world's biggest meatloaf, then it was time to make it into portions. Brody, Ozark and Darwin each have two Gladware containers, and I used my $5 kitchen scale to measure out their individual portions. Brody's portions also get a Chondro-Flex joint support in the middle (like a special treat!), and Darwin's portions get a scoop of Standard Process Canine Immune Support. Within about 1/2 hour, I had a week's worth of raw food for all three of them!

Another added benefit is that it makes it easier for my husband to feed them at 5:00 AM. He's the first up in the morning, and believe me that feeding the dogs better be the FIRST thing that happens every morning! Now all he has to do is give them each one of their patties and a cup of the dry food, and it's set. Their supplements are already in there.

I'm not happy with the limited protein choices (ground beef, ground turkey, chicken or beef livers) at the grocery store. I'm also looking at tripe and chittlings (EW, intestines, but dogs love it), but am looking forward to having the increased options from the buying group. This way I will be able to feed other proteins such as lamb at an affordable price. There are other places you can get things like rabbit and wild-caught beaver, but that will be an occasional purchase, as it would drive my cost per pound up quite a bit.

The two batches I've made so far have cost around $1.30/lb! That is at least 60 cents less than my least expensive option in the "pre-made raw frozen" products, and less than HALF of many of the choices! By spending a half hour to an hour once a week, I've found I'm able to feed all my "Big Boys" the food I know is best for them, and make it more affordable, too!

The next step? Buying a good grinder that can manage to grind chicken and turkey wings, necks and backs. Bone is an important part of the canine diet, and my food processor made it QUITE clear that chopping up bone was Not In Its Job Description. By the way, the food processor was a gift from my mother-in-law about five years ago. After 25 years in the family, you'd think she'd be aware that cooking is not something I do, but now I have a weekly use for it! The dogs! (Don't tell her... she'd be horrified!) (OK, tell her... it might be funny!)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Visit the Dog Show!

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

We're planning to have a booth at the upcoming Land O'Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show on January 4, 5 and 6 at the River Centre in St. Paul. We haven't really done any events like this, but thought it would be a good way to get out and meet pet-lovers in the community, and also get the word out that we're out here as a holistic option for their pets' care. Plus, we get to spend the day surrounded by a whole bunch of wonderful dogs!

It's also a great opportunity for you to not only meet a lot of wonderful dogs and their trainers, handlers and breeders, but to get a wealth of valuable information, too. Besides the usual "dog show" that many people are familiar with from television, this event also features obedience competition, which is so much fun to watch.

Just think of all the things you can learn! If you want to train your dog, you can ask obedience competitors where they train and what methods they use. If you are considering adding a dog to your family, you can talk to experts in that breed. Besides their extensive knowledge of their breed, they love to "talk dogs." You'll find out the good points of the breed, as well as the drawbacks. These folks are passionate about their breed, but also are quick to point out that it is might not be the breed for everyone. You might find out that the breed you've set your mind on requires more coat care or exercise than you're able to handle, that it isn't typically good with children, may not do well alone at home through a long work day, or isn't likely to get along well with your other dogs or cats.

Many breed clubs and breed rescue groups will have booths at the event as well, and are good sources of information.

One word of caution, though! Be sure to ask the permission of the human at the end of the leash before touching any dog you encounter. Some of the obedience competitors are very focused and don't want to be distracted before going in the ring. The handlers of the dogs about to enter the conformation ring, however, may be even more opposed to having anyone touch the dogs. They have been meticulously groomed, so always, always ask, and it's best to approach someone after their breed is finished showing.

Above all, be sure to stop by our table and say hello!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Guardians for Pets

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I had a friend ask me today if I would allow her to put me in her will as the guardian of her three golden retrievers, should anything happen to her. She said it was important to her that they be kept together, and that they be showered with love and security for as long as they live. Being a "golden person," she knows I'd be happy to do that for them.

But this got me thinking. My own dogs are all from either Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota or NorthStar Great Pyrenees Rescue, so I know that these groups will take care of finding them great new homes if something should happen to me (and my husband), since I don't have any strong feelings about keeping any combination of them together. They're all more connected to me than each other, which is probably a good thing. Therefore, I'm not as worried about a "pet will" as others might be.

We've all seen the stories on the news about wealthy eccentrics leaving fortunes to their pets. I'm all for it, being a "pet person," but have to admit I don't see much sense in it. The important thing for all pet owners to consider, though, is whether they have any plans in place for what should happen to their pets if they should pass away. Do you know who would take them in, care for them, feed them and love them? Are you able to leave some sort of fund to help with special care your pet might need? Don't assume your kids or grandkids - or even your spouse - will be willing or able to care for your beloved pets.

Nobody likes to think about this sort of thing, but for the sake of your precious animal companions, give it the same thought you would put into choosing guardians for your human children.