Sunday, November 22, 2015

DIY Dog Food

When I was 19 I worked for a specialty pet supply retailer located in a wealthy suburb of Dallas. The stores would later be bought out by a little California upstart named Petco, but before that happened our focus was entirely on pet supplies. No fish, no birds, no pets for sale of any kind. Part of my job was to know the premium brands of pet food inside and out, from the ingredients to the protein/fat percentages to the most important detail... what our markup was.

At the time Eukanuba was a favorite to push, along with the ever popular Science Diet. My personal favorite at the time was NutroMax. We all made fun of ANF, referring to it as Assholes Necks and Feet (a moniker we learned from the Science Diet rep). And Purina? Pedigree? *gasp* ALPO? That trash was not even allowed through our back door. As far as we or the sales reps were concerned, it was barely a step above feeding your dog table scraps. Just barely. To allow your dog to dine on your leftovers was considered the ultimate idiocy, and we heaped scorn upon those who dared to confess to that particular crime.

Fast forward a few decades and my how the worm has turned.
Faced with an aging Chihuahua with a rapidly diminishing number of teeth I found myself shelling out stupid amounts of money for premium canned food. Add another Chihuahua so tiny she could only handle the tiniest of kibble, and then two monsters who wolfed down about $100 worth of kibble a month, and my wallet started screaming the minute I pulled into the Petco parking lot. I was doing good to afford their appetites every two weeks. Forget about stocking up. I flat couldn't afford to.

When Toothless's canned dog food took another price hike, and word got around that half the dog food coming out of China was tainted, I decided I'd had enough and started researching alternatives. Raw feeding. BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). High Carb. Predator. Cooked. I listened to breeders who had gone completely off the commercial pet food grid, to mushers who were feeding up to 40 dogs, to homesteaders using what they had. And then I got to work.

My first attempts went surprisingly well, if a bit messy and a lot more work than initially expected. I chopped, diced, weighed, stirred, and came up with a concoction that looked disgusting but smelled pretty dang good. Best of all, Toothless gummed it down and spent a half hour licking the bowl afterwards. It wasn't long before I began to notice an improvement in her overall health and activity. Her coat felt like mink, her breath wasn't on par with a rotted armadillo, and her potbelly vanished.

This is my original recipe:
1.5-2lb meat (chicken, turkey, lamb, fish)
1 cup cottage cheese
2 cups organ meat (liver, hearts, kidney, etc)
2 eggs
1/8 cup olive or coconut oil
2 cups sweet potato, pumpkin, winter squash, turnip, rutabaga
2 cups veg and fruit (carrots, apples, pears, cherries, cranberries, black berries, etc)
10 oz green beans
1/2 tsp per 1 lb meat powdered eggshells

Meat, organ meat, sweet potato, veg, fruit, green beans all went into the crockpot on low. Later it was mixed with the remaining ingredients and run through a sausage grinder and packed into mason jars to put in the freezer. This makes about 5 pounds total.

Incidentally there's some argument on using coconut oil for dogs, because it has been shown to increase the chance of pancreatitis.  I decided to stick with olive oil just to be safe, but do your own research.

When serving I added one or more of the following to the bowl:
Cinnamon or ginger for digestion
Tumeric for anti-inflammatory and arthritis
yogurt or kefir
wild salmon oil

AND A MULTI-VITAMIN! Before you feeding nazis get on my ass about deficiencies, I give them a multi-vitamin. Seriously, I spent my twenties and most of my thirties existing on microwave popcorn, mac&cheese and diet Dr Pepper and had no noticeable health issues, so don't give me shit about how being 12% shy of the RDA for B-12 is going to wreck my dogs. Commercial dog food is a fairly modern invention, and prior to its arrival dogs did just fine.

After about 6 months of doing it this way I made a few changes, mostly to speed up the process. Now I toss the chicken quarters in a roasting pan and stick them in the oven until they're cooked. The veg and fruit go into a steamer until they're soft but not overcooked. The jars in front are, left to right, ground pumpkin seeds (wormer, fiber), crushed eggshell, and probios which I had for another dog that was on antibiotics at the time I took the pic.

I've also changed the green beans to 10 oz of dark, leafy greens. My typical mix is rabbit or chicken, eggs, pumpkin, carrots, apricots or peaches, kale/beet greens, because that's what I grow or raise and so that's what I have. Once cooked, it gets shredded, chopped, smushed, whatever, then all goes into a big pot to get stirred up.

Then run through my $5 food processor until it's almost a paste.

I also switched to packing it in meat bags like you see sausage in. I picked up 100, 1 pound bags from Butcher & Packer ($6 for 100, can't beat that anywhere) and a meat bag sealer as well. Now when I make her food I do four batches which makes about 20 pounds total. She eats 1/4 pound a day so that's a 80 day supply for her.

When the big dogs' expensive ass premium food went up another $10, making it $55 for a 25 pound bag, I decided it was time to start making their food as well. Freezing wasn't an option. We have 4 freezers but I'd prefer not to fill one completely up to the rim with dog food. Making fresh dog food every other night didn't appeal to me either. That left canning it.

Since I'm using a pressure canner and high heat, this changed a few things. Obviously cottage cheese won't fare well under that sort of processing. In Toothless's mix, I added powdered eggshells to compensate for the high calcium need dogs have. However, using a pressure canner allows me to leave the bones in the chicken. I got the idea after opening a can of Merrick's canned dog food and finding a whole chicken thigh in there, bone and all. Pressurized canning turns chicken bones to mush and I can easily smush them with a spoon. They're safe for the dogs to eat, unlike oven baked bones which splinter and cause all sorts of nastiness, or raw ones which carry a risk of salmonella unless you can afford organic, pastured poultry to feed your dogs. I can't, so I'm stuck buying the super cheap leg quarters that comes in 10 pound bags for $5.

I raise rabbits but not enough to use for these guys. I'd need to process 365 a year. Not gonna happen. This deer season we are hoping to get a deer to use in place of the CAFO chicken, so fingers crossed please. I don't know if deer bone will go mushy in the processor though so will update as soon as I find out.

The new mix tends to vary depending on what I have on hand. Right now I have 16 pumpkins sitting in the garage along with who knows how many butternut squash.  That's a green pumpkin in the photo. The peach and apricot trees produced gallons and gallons, much of which is being made into wine ATM but some will go to the dog food. The way I'm doing it now is this:

1 quart jar
2 drumsticks OR 1 thigh/back (skin on and bones in) and 2 whole eggs
diced liver, about two quarter sized pieces, plus a bit of assorted organ meat (whole set of rabbit lungs, or a chopped chicken gizzard, whatever I have)
2 parts pumpkin, 1 part carrot and assorted fruit to pack remaining space
OR 1/4 cup rice and add water to cover, leaving 1" headspace
If I do the rice, I add whatever veg I have on hand to fill the space.
1 tablespoon of grated ginger to help with digestion.

Process as you would for chicken. For me that's 90 minutes@15# pressure, though I frequently run it 120 minutes just to be sure.

Yes I said whole eggs, and they're raw when they go in. It takes 12 minutes to hard boil an egg. I process for an hour and a half (or 45 minutes if I'm playing Hay Day and ignore the timer going off). When they come out, they're HARD boiled. I cut them in half before feeding, and they're a little green on the outside edge of the yolks just like eggs tend to do when you over boil them, but the dogs love them.

It IS time consuming. My beloved All American canner can only handle 7 quarts at a time, and I go through 14 a week. I spend all day Sunday trying to run 4 batches so I can get an extra week set aside. The benefits outweigh the irritation though. For one, I'm spending less than half as much, and if we can get a deer then their food will be the cost of a set of canning jar lids. But most impressively is the fact that the dogs have STOPPED FARTING! THEY STOPPED FARTING! OMG if you only knew how bad they had been before. That Dobie could run vultures off a plague doctor's body wagon.

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