(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
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!)