Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food

For years now I have wanted to get away from kibble in my dogs’ diets.  It is unnatural, laden with chemicals and filled with things we wouldn’t necessarily choose to feed ourselves.  I have a six year old German Shepherd who, after having mandatory vaccines to be boarded one year, has suffered off and on with skin conditions and nervous issues.  He is sensitive to foods and has never seemed to regain full health after his ordeal.  It is mainly for him that we are finally jumping into feeding dogs naturally, with no kibble.

The thing that has held me back from making this move is the many conflicting recommendations on how best to feed dogs homemade food.  On one end of the spectrum you have the raw camp saying that dogs must only eat raw meats, bones and offal and nothing else.  On the other end is a personal hero, Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden fame, who is feeding his dogs only fruits, vegetables and eggs all grown on his property.  His dogs are sleek, healthy and vibrant, a sure testament to the fact that dogs do not need meat to thrive.  With so many opinions, it’s easy to get caught up in indecision.

If you think about the history of dogs and the fact that they have been vital companions to people all across the world for most of our known history, it is not unreasonable to conclude that dogs are actually highly adaptable and can do well on most diets that a human can do well on.  It is really only since kibble became the norm that unhealthy dogs have also become the norm.  Ma and Pa on the prairie didn’t have to take their dog to the vet for diabetes treatments, that’s for sure.

Another thing that has struck me is the diet of the livestock guardian dog in its traditional environment, out on pasture with its stock, sometimes unseen by humans for long periods.  How does such a dog survive without auto feeders and regular shipments from Chewy.com?  Our own LGDs supplement their food with hunting, cleaning up the pastures of gophers and mice, so it stands to reason that, given enough space, they could even survive on their own through summer months, hunting and foraging for berries and wild fruits.  I’m not planning to test that out, but it displays another facet of the vast variation between dogs, feeds and regions.

Over the years, I’ve studied various methods and read accounts from old timers and government sources alike.  Most diets contain a fair amount of grains and/or starches, along with meat, vegetables, fruit, milk and eggs – exactly the diet of their human companions.

One article, The Diet of the Dog, at the National Institute for Health from 1941 reaffirms this logic:

This article goes on to state that the ideal ratio of protein to carbohydrates + fat should be between 1:2 and 1:4, which gives us a great starting point to work from.  Another takeaway is the safety of a high inclusion of milk, specifically 3 ounces per 2 pounds of body weight, roughly.  Anecdotally, I’ve heard of a woman who feeds her LGDs only clabbered milk; they hunt for the rest.  The Diet of the Dog also mentions that sour (clabbered) milk is better digested.

One of the diets mentioned in that article is a combination of yellow corn, wheat middlings, peanut meal, bone meal, limestone and sardine oil.  A second diet, one fed by the authors of the article, includes yellow corn, oatmeal, wheat middlings, meat scraps and salt, all cooked, along with a weekly ration of raw horse meat.  This was the diet they used for more than 12 years at the time of the writing, with great success.  None of these are particularly practical for our own situation, but again, it highlights the adaptability of dogs to various foodstuffs.

I’ve joined many Facebook groups about raw feeding and homemade dog food, but nothing really resonated as total common sense to me.

Then, about six years ago, I bought a book called The Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable.  In addition to very inspiring information about raising goats naturally (including allowing them to self medicate with herbs planted in hedgerows, a practice I aim to copy), there was a section about feeding the farm dog.  Somehow I never made it to that chapter until this winter, and boy what a chapter it was!

Juliette de Bairacli Levy was a traveling herbalist and breeder of Afghan hounds.  The wisdom of her books is so common sense, practical and intuitive that it’s hard to imagine how we got so far away from natural raising techniques.  It is from her book that the inspiration for our natural feeding comes.  With a few modifications, it is the method we are trying now.  I hope to keep you updated on our progress, because I think it’s going to be a great way to raise not only our adult dogs, but also our planned litters this spring and in the future.

The Basics

According to her method, adult dogs are given two meals a day, one around noon and one around dinner.  The timing is important, says Levy, with a special note:

“Adult dogs should not be fed before midday because the hours from midnight to midday are strongly eliminative ones.”

Midday meal before mixing.

The early meal consists of rolled grains soaked in milk, water or broth.  My tentative plan is to use barley, a cooling cereal grain, for summer and oats, a warming grain, for winter.  When we have it available, we’ll soak it in fresh goat milk, though eventually we’d like to switch to kefir for probiotics.  Right now we can afford to give the dogs one quart of goat milk per day, which isn’t enough, so we’re using half water and half milk to soak the oats in.

In addition to the cereal grain, vegetables and herbs can be added to this midday meal.  Today’s midday meal was rolled oats in milk with nettles, a bit of turmeric (helps for inflammation, which is a main symptom of the GSD), shredded fresh broccoli and dried summer squash.  The GSD, Winston, didn’t take to it as well as yesterday’s that had no broccoli, but eventually he finished his whole ration as well.  The heeler and two LGDs didn’t hesitate to eat it all.

Midday meal after mixing

We’re in a cold snap so egg production is down, but it is my goal that every dog should get an egg per day, not counting the ones they swipe from outside.  The heeler is almost too good at hunting eggs, so she could probably do without it, but she’s a growing puppy.

Last night we fed meat, the rib section of a lamb we butchered last fall.  This gave the dogs both meat and the bones Levy says are essential for good health.  I noticed most of them were already chewed up today.

Note: Our dogs are not new to raw feeding.  We try to give them meat as much as possible from our own stock and in winter, roadkill deer.  Living on a road has its advantages!  Most of this winter they’ve been eating a whole prey model diet with free choice kibble to fill in the gaps, but this isn’t a feasible long term solution and we’re striving for better balance.

Because Levy suggests only four days of meat a week or less, we are planning to feed meat every other night.  On meat days, the general goal is to feed 3 parts cereal, 2 parts meat and 1 part vegetables.  In addition to this will be oils, herbs and greens, another thing Levy says is essential.

Lots of veggies, hopefully not too much!

Tonight, a meatless night, they are all getting water soaked barley ($4/bag cheaper today at the feed store than oats) with shredded broccoli and carrots, a dollop of bacon grease, a raw egg and a little bit of leftover rice from the kids mixed in.  Another thing Levy says is important is almond powder, saying:

“I now pioneer grated (powdered) almonds for dogs and cats (and children).  This is a most powerful immunizer for all disease, better than vaccination.  Fortifies the immune system.  Learnt from Berber Arabs.  Average amount: a heaped teaspoon most days of the week, sprinkled on food.”

I’m not sure we’re going to be able to afford that much every week, but I’ll try to include it at least a couple of times per week.  I just ground up raw almonds with my mortar and pestle and mixed it into tonight’s meal.

Levy also states that big boned, big stomached farm dogs can often go all meatless, but their slender greyhound type counterparts cannot.  We have none of those around, so while meat will be a priority for us, we want to be able to still feed this model while we build up enough meat supplies.  For periods where there is a shortage, we will follow Levy’s advice for the meatless days and try to increase the protein via milk, cheese, eggs and cereal.  For now, we have plenty of meat in the freezer and it is my goal to ramp up production this year to provide enough for the dogs year round.

As they make sense, I will update on how this method is going.  One thing I feel for sure is that we cannot continue to accept the declining health of our dogs when there is enough evidence to show us they will do just fine on a wide variety of foods, which, as long as they are homemade, are surely to be so much better for the dogs as to compare the feeds, as a friend says, to McDonald’s versus home cooked.

Edit 2019:

This project has been scrapped for now and we are feeding primarily kibble.  I have plans to pursue other options and will post accordingly.  Because the posts of this topic are taking up a lot of room, I am going to copy and paste them all into this massive article and let you scroll through the 30 days in one spot.

Day 2

We’ve begun feeding our dogs an exclusively homemade diet; no kibble. Read the first part here.  I’m going to try to update regularly for the first month or so or as long as there’s anything noteworthy to add.

Yesterday marked the second full day of no kibble.  The LGDs were quite hungry and excited for their morning oat cereal and they ate it down quickly.  The house dogs also ate it quickly.

The evening meal brought some changes.  Being the second night, we weren’t feeding meat so they got another round of cereal.  We had gone to the feed store earlier so this meal was rolled barley instead of our human rolled oats.  The texture is thicker and doesn’t appear to soak up liquids as well.  We also included more vegetables.  It was not well received by anyone, but the LGDs ate it quickly enough.  The house dogs took longer and there was a little bit left over this morning when we woke up.

I hope the barley isn’t the issue, because human rolled cereals are a lot more expensive than feed store grade.  We paid $.26 per pound yesterday (it’s $.09 per pound in bulk, including travel costs) at the feed store.  For human grade organic (the only option I found) at Azure, it is $1.14 per pound.  Oats were $.34 per pound at the feed store and usually cost the same as barley or close to it in bulk; conventional rolled oats at Azure are $.63 per pound.

Day 3

The house dogs definitely do not like the rolled barley. The midday feeding was largely ignored. I tried to snap you a photo of Winston the German Shepherd’s imploring stare when I put his bowl down in front of him, but he sidled up to lean his head into my belly, the serious begging, so I couldn’t get a picture.

The mix this morning was only a pint of milk; increased bottle baby demands and a hellacious cold snap decreasing supply is making a hard time of things. We’re defrosting last year’s frozen milk for tomorrow’s dog food.

I mixed up barley, milk, water, flaxseed oil, nettles, dried yellow summer squash, fresh carrots and an egg for each house dog and topped it with a slice of sourdough. It sat largely untouched for most of the day.

In fact, after we finished our own dinner, there sat the house dog’s bowls. I felt bad for them, so I dished them each up a bowl of our own dinner, white bean and chicken soup. Then a second bowl, along with the sourdough they ignored earlier soaked in the soup broth. They liked that meal, at least.

The evening meal tonight was lamb, judging by the smell.  (Does lamb always stink?  We can’t even cook it, yuck!) Levy says cereals and meat combined are hard to digest, but we didn’t want to waste the house dog’s uneaten breakfast (brunch? lunch?) so we fed them their meat and the cereal leftovers.

Meanwhile, the house dogs were immensely grateful for something other than barley to eat.

I put tomorrow’s barley on to soak, hoping it will soften up more with an overnight soak rather than the 3-4 hours it’s supposed to have.  We’re considering a couple options, such as mixing rolled oats and barley together or switching entirely to oats since they’re more palatable.  The big dogs (LGDs) don’t seem to mind as much, but I don’t want to make two separate meals to account for the picky eaters.  I’m wondering if the house dogs, who both have digestive issues, might not heal enough to be okay with eating barley.  In the meantime, I trust them to know what they should and shouldn’t eat.

Day 4

We soaked barley overnight in a mix of goat milk, water and the juice strained from plain cooked white beans.  First thing this morning, I scooped a scoop into each house dog’s bowl and they both ate it without any trouble.  This cereal had a whole quart of goat milk instead of yesterday’s pint, plus the bean broth.  It also had no vegetables or herbs in it yet, so I’m not sure which factor convinced the house dogs to try it.

I had intended to feed the barley mix only to the big dogs, so there wasn’t enough for the house dogs too.  I added their portion but in oats instead of barley to the barley mix, then a pound of organic peas, raspberry leaves and turmeric.  The smell of this stuff is incredibly appealing to me, but not to anyone else.  I wonder what my body is missing!

When we do our next pallet order of minerals, I want to save up enough to buy a few bags of Thorvin kelp to add to the dog food.  Kelp is something Levy advocates to use every day and it’s what we feed the rest of our animals (New Country Organics minerals contain a large portion of kelp).  I’m also looking forward to being able to harvest enough nettles this year to carry them through year round, but right now we have only a tiny amount left.  Come on, spring!

Mint, the heeler puppy, consistently has trouble holding her bowel movements overnight, even now at 10 months old.  She had a lot of diarrhea and other digestive trouble for the first couple of months we had her, so I think she just doesn’t respond well to the kibble we’re feeding and I suspect the messes overnight are due to inflammation.

For the first two nights after switching to homemade dog food, she had no messes, hooray!  This morning, though, there were two large, softly formed messes with a little bit of undigested grain.  Two out of three nights is still much better than we’ve been experiencing, so we’ll continue to watch and see how she does.

After mixing in the peas and everything else, Winston the German Shepherd ate his readily, but Mint avoided it, instead trying to sneak the little bit of dog food remaining in the bag in the kitchen.  I laughed out loud at the guilty look she gave me when I walked in on her, like she somehow knew she wasn’t supposed to be eating it anymore.  I gave her a kid’s leftover grilled cheese sandwich instead and left the cereal down for her to try out all day.

Dinner for the house dogs was some barley cereal with a little bit of goat milk, followed by leftovers from our leftovers – the white bean/chicken soup again, topped off with an egg each.

The LGDs got just under 5 pounds of barley cereal with dried zucchini, half a hot dog and an egg each.

Soaking the barley overnight for the midday meal seemed to work well, so I’ll continue doing that.  I think we’ll try rolled oats from the feed store next time and see if it soaks better.  It should, but it’s been years since I bought feed grade rolled oats so I can’t remember if the texture is comparable to human grade or not.

Day 5

Courtesy of emojirequest.com

POOOP! I guess when Levy says the hours overnight are “strongly eliminative,” she means that quite literally. Winston, evidently showing us what he thinks of this whole thing, made a point to come upstairs to our bedrooms to poop in the middle of the night. He never goes in the house. And Mint had another mess as well.

I’m not sure if we should adjust the timing of meals, but I suspect that will be the answer. The house dogs are always hungry first thing in the morning, so perhaps we will feed them at our breakfast and dinner times, especially since I’m already soaking the cereal grains overnight and they’d be sufficiently softened by then.

Breakfast today was water soaked barley with a pound of peas and some bacon grease to sweeten the deal. I only had about half a cup of extra milk this morning to pour into it. No herbs today. Winston ate it with no hesitation and Mint eventually finished hers, but she definitely isn’t enthusiastic about it. The LGDs, as usual, had no problem scarfing their portion. They’re either less picky in general or they’re hungrier because they work harder, but they seem to have none of the upturned nose attitude the house dogs do.

Dinner today is a prime chunk of lamb meat. I ended up with three spring lambs last year and pastured them until fall, no grain. The dogs love it, but we hate it. This package happened to be about 2 pounds, so we’ll cut it into chunks and divide it between the 4 dogs.

At least we never have to worry about them not liking the meat; it’s the universally accepted food – no surprise there!

I have a quart of frozen milk thawing to soak the barley in for tomorrow’s breakfast, which I will try to feed right after milking at around 8:30 instead of the noon or so we’ve been feeding so far.

Day 7

I forgot when writing the day 5 update that yesterday was the fast day, so they didn’t eat yesterday. No one seemed to mind much. Sunday is also our sabbath so it was a nice break to not spend time feeding the dogs. It takes a decent amount of time to gather, mix and distribute the ingredients, especially since we’re still figuring out what we’re doing. I’m looking forward to settling into a routine.

Breakfast today is a quart of milk, barley, a pound of peas and a new addition: herbal wormer. We use Land of Havilah Parasite Formula, but I just ordered a bunch of herbs to begin making our own mix. One thing I am appreciating about feeding this method is the ease of adding beneficial herbs and other ingredients. We haven’t otherwise been worming regularly with the herbal wormer, so this is an encouraging step in the right direction.

To incorporate the wormer, I added the total amount by weight for all four dogs into the main mix. I might instead dose it singly in their bowls before serving next time.

The big dogs ate readily, as usual, but I was surprised at the mediocre response from the house dogs, who had also fasted all day the day before.

By dinner, which was mostly water soaked cereal with a little milk, there was still food left in the house dogs’ bowls and they showed little interest in dinner, though they quickly ate up a scoop each of our dinner – chicken noodle soup.

Day 8

Today’s breakfast did not go over well.  I put a little bit of apple cider vinegar in the normal barley cereal and I think that’s what turned the house dogs off of it.  Still no problem with the LGDs (if only my kids were as easy to feed!)

I’ve noticed the house dogs seem a bit depressed.  They’ve never seemed to like the barley, so perhaps I need to switch them over to the rolled oats instead.  I’ll buy a bag on our next trip into town, because the human organic ones are too expensive to feed.

At the grocery store today, I picked up a couple one-pound tubs of cottage cheese on sale for $1.49 each.  I am planning to use them to help add variety on meatless nights.  I think tomorrow night I’ll make some brown rice and put cottage cheese in it, at least for the pickier house dogs.

I also bought several more bags of frozen vegetables at $1 per pound to help give them more variety, like green beans and corn.  I’m really looking forward to being able to grow more for them.

Dinner tonight was a bone-in leg of lamb for each dog, a relief from all the barley I’m sure!

Day 9

As of now, the dogs have been without kibble for eight full days.  I have gone this long before feeding various things, such as raw, our leftovers, etc., so there is nothing terribly out of the ordinary about this length of time.  One thing I notice is that Winston the vaccine injured German Shepherd’s coat is getting noticeably shinier again.  This morning, he began scratching, which is what has stopped us every time we’ve tried before.

Over the last few years, if he gets too much of what I’ve concluded is starch in his diet, he gets greasy, itchy skin.  The itch becomes unbearable and he’ll scratch himself raw.  It may be that we won’t be able to feed him any grains, rice or potatoes until some amount of healing has transpired, but I had hoped barley might be different since we’ve never tried it before.  He had no interest whatsoever for the barley/milk cereal this morning, day nine; neither did Mint, the heeler puppy who has had digestive issues since we got her.   I fed them the last of the chicken noodle soup leftovers and a slice of ham each instead, but left the barley out for the day.

There was still barley by dinner time.  We talked during the day and decided that, for the house dogs at least, we need to go starch free, which means mostly meat, vegetables and dairy.  It’s going to be more expensive but they aren’t doing well on the barley and what’s the point if not to improve their health?  As they show signs of improvement, we’ll experiment with adding back in starches because it’s really challenging to meet the demand without a filler.

Is this coming in or going out?

Dinner for the house dogs, then, was a pound of hamburger, half a pound of cottage cheese, around half a pound of vegetables, two eggs, a bit of flaxseed oil and some milk, a cup or so I’m guessing.  I weighed it out and gave Mint (30 pounds) half a pound and Winston (75 pounds) a pound.  There was enough left to feed the same again tomorrow.  It looked horrible, but I took picture proof that the picky eaters liked it.  All that was left was a couple of thick carrot slices.

For the LGDs, perhaps more healthy because of their vigorous exercise, dinner was brown rice and cottage cheese with a little bit of barley cereal leftover from the house dogs.  I’m sure grateful they’re doing so well on it, because I have a lot of faith in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s work and I am convinced the house dogs aren’t doing well because of their preexisting less than stellar health.

Day 10

Breakfast for the house dogs was the hamburger/veggie/milk/brown rice mixture from the night before.  They ate it without hesitation, hooray!

For the big dogs, more barley cereal with milk and veggies.

When we started this, I had absolute faith in the wisdom of Levy’s writing.  I don’t doubt at all that this worked extremely well for her, but as I watch my house dogs struggling with what I presume is the amount of starches in the barley, I think some dogs already on a Western diet of kibble may not be able to go straight into that sort of diet.  I don’t know why the LGDs are doing so well while the house dogs do so poorly, but I have to admit it leaves me concerned about the high amount of barley for everyone.

I have some herbal cleanse mixtures for various body systems.  I think it might be prudent to begin the house dogs on those and see if that helps their overall health improve.  It’s not that I’d ever look at them and consider them “sick,” but they certainly do have more sensitive digestion and, for Winston the German Shepherd, a tendency toward skin issues.  Herbal cleanses definitely won’t hurt them, in any case.

Dinner for all dogs was home grown bone-in mutton, weighed out on a scale.  Winston also got some leftover meatloaf; he seems to prefer cooked food.

I’m not sure what I’m feeding the house dogs for breakfast tomorrow.  It’s getting tiring trying to come up with meals for the dogs so I hope we get things figured out soon – it’s hard enough coming up with meals for my family!

So far, my observations on this method is that it is much more time intensive than throwing out 25# of kibble in an auto feeder once a week.  I am determined and committed to finding a sustainable way to feed the dogs, but it is a lot of work compared to kibble.  Part of the problem right now is that when we butchered, we planned on throwing out large chunks and letting the dogs eat on them for a couple of days.  Now, we’re trying to thaw and then portion out bone-in meats, so there’s a lot of sawing and cutting and weighing to get everything right.

Rob is off work right now (seasonal) and I’m sure I wouldn’t want to do this otherwise, there’s already enough to do around here, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to figure it out while he’s here to share the workload.  I just hope we have a routine down before he goes back to work.

Day 11

It’s time to re-evaluate how much they’re eating.  We were aiming for about 8# of feed for all of the dogs, which was pretty close.  If you assume a 3% of body weight daily feed goal, it looks like this:

Blaze (Pyrenees, adult): 100 pounds = 3 pounds of feed.
Halo (Maremma, adult): 85 pounds = 2.5 pounds of feed.
Winston (German Shepherd, adult): 75 pounds = 2.25 pounds of feed.
Mint (Australian Cattle Dog, juvenile): 30 pounds = .9 pounds of feed.

The total weight we should be feeding per day then comes to 8.65 pounds.  These are estimated weights for the dogs, but should be pretty close.

We’ve noticed the inside dogs seem to want less than they’re getting and Blaze seems to be hungry, running right up to eat while Halo slowly meanders over.  We’ll need to adjust based on how they’re acting, though it looks like the total we feed will still end up about the same.

The first part of breakfast for the house dogs was mutton again, weighed out in portions, so Mint got 11 ounces bone-in and Winston got 14 ounces with no bone.  Mint ate hers but Winston buried his.  While he was sitting on the couch (haha, I know) before breakfast, his stomach was grumbling in an alarming way so he may be having some upset, although yesterday was a pretty clean day with minimal starches.

The second part of their breakfast had to wait for me to milk.  I soaked a small amount of rolled oats and peas in milk.

Dinner tonight was cereal for the LGDs and hunks of mutton for the house dogs.  Didn’t even see them eat it they were so fast.

Day 12

I’m not so sure Blaze isn’t getting enough to eat.  Between the two LGDs, they’re sharing 3 dry pounds of barley soaked in milk and water with three-quarters of a pound of vegetables in the morning, and at least that much again at night or the equivalent in meat.  They’re only supposed to need about 5.5 pounds.  I’ll keep up this amount for now and watch their condition.

We’ll add more eggs when the eggs start coming on.  My flock of 25 +/- hens is probably not going to be enough for our family, the pigs and the dogs.  And to think, I had 70 hens last spring and sold down to this number!  

Breakfast was the usual for the LGDs today, cereal.  For the house dogs, I’m trying to strike a balance between starches and meat/veggies.  We were feeding Diamond Naturals Beef & Rice before this, and the first ingredients are:

“Beef meal, peas, ground white rice, egg product, dried yeast, rice bran…”

Looking at that list, I think my problem was feeding too high a percentage of grains, since they’re most certainly eating starches, so we’re trying to still include them but find the amount that works without causing skin issues.

I have bulk field peas for the livestock so I’m debating soaking some of those and seeing if the dogs like them.  They’re very, very hard though so they’d require either a long soak or cooking and since peas are high in phytic acid, they really should be cooked.  I might try including a small amount to give them a wider range of nutrients.

For the house dogs today, then, I started with their 1/4 pound of frozen corn and tried to figure out how to make a low grain gruel type mixture that they’d eat.  I added flaxseed oil, dried nettles and raspberry leaf, then remembered the dried zucchini and added that, hoping the 3 dried things would soak up some of the milk to thicken it.

I have an excess of sourdough starter so I added some of that to thicken and add probiotics.  It was still too liquid though, so I added just one cup of instant oats, bringing the total weight to about 2.5 pounds.  That left it still runny but I decided to try it and see – I was surprised at how quickly they gobbled it all up.  Okay, I’m starting to feel a bit better about all of this.  Maybe we can fill in the gaps with non-grain foods.

Dinner for everyone was the rest of a mutton chunk we’ve been working through.

Tomorrow is Sunday, their fast day and our Sabbath so no posts.

Day 13

Today was the day after a fast and I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but when Rob fed the LGDs, a fight started between Mint the house heeler and Blaze the LGD.  We’d already fed the house dogs but in hindsight, I think it wasn’t enough after a fast day.

Breakfast for the house dogs was a pint of milk with a cup of quick oats and about half a pound of vegetables, with 2 eggs whisked in.  Our target daily food weight for the house dogs is 3.15# and this came to about a pound altogether.  Perhaps they need a heavier meal in the morning and a lighter meal at night.

The LGDs got their regular barley cereal and vegetables.  Blaze is coming in heat and we are planning to have a litter from this cycle, so I’ll be increasing her food.  I’m relieved the LGDs seem to be thriving on this method so we can go into pregnancy without the worry I’d have if they were responding like the house dogs to the food.

Eggs are coming on again so they’ll all get an egg a day as long as we have enough.  Given the choice between us or the dogs, I generally feed the dogs eggs first since we have so much more available for us to eat.

For dinner, Rob cut up a whole turkey that had been in the freezer for a couple of years and thawed over the last couple of days in the fridge.  The house dogs got about 2 pounds, 10 ounces in meat.  The outside dogs had a meatless cereal night.

After the house dogs were fed their turkey outside, I heard a cat howling.  I went out to find Mint holding her down; presumably she tried to steal a bite.  I am concerned about developing food aggression issues and worried they’re not getting enough food.  I’ll make sure to feed a larger breakfast tomorrow and see if the behavior continues.  It might be that they aren’t able to do a fast day yet.

Day 14

After yesterday’s strangeness, I increased the morning meal for the house dogs.  They got 3 cups of milk, 2 cups of rolled oats, a half cup of dried zucchini, 2 eggs and some herbs: nettles and spirulina.  They ate it quickly and acted hungry, so I added a scoop each of the LGDs’ barley cereal.  They ate that quickly too, so I gave them each a scoop of our leftover spaghetti.  At that, they seemed satisfied, finally!  That sure seems like a lot, but I feel like at this point we need to be ignoring the numbers completely and just watching the dogs.

The LGDs had their normal barley cereal but with eggs mixed in.  

I laugh at the discussion Rob and I had a couple of months ago, that 8 does were probably enough to see to our milk needs.  That was before we started feeding the dogs, who between them would easily go through half a gallon a day.  I’m milking 4 mature does and 2 first fresheners now, all of whom are still nursing kids, and getting about 3/4 of a gallon.  I’m using it all and not feeding pigs.  Our bottle babies are slowing down now, but all of that milk will be used immediately too.  Sixteen does sounds a lot more reasonable at this point!

Dinner for everyone was more of the thawed turkey, a little more than they needed to make their feed weight today.

Day 15

We’ve come to the conclusion that the current method, heavy on grains, simply isn’t working.

The house dogs seem depressed, although they’ve definitely perked up over the past few days of eating more meat.

Breakfast was cereal for the LGDs and turkey for the house dogs.

Dinner was the last of the turkey for the house dogs and more cereal–a meatless night–for the LGDs.  They were most definitely reserved about eating more cereals, adding to my increasing reservations about the high amount of grains in this diet. Previously, the LGDs have been eager at every meal, so this change is a concern.

We had a long day out of town, picking up this:

I’ll continue this tomorrow with our plans for moving forward.

Day 16

I’ve been increasingly unsettled about the results of this method, which is heavy on grain.

It’s also been a very time-intensive process. We have to remember to get the grain soaking the night before and also in the morning for evening feeding on the meatless days. We’re finding that the cereal is not being well received by anyone anymore. I think we might have been overfeeding the LGDs, but the house dogs have hated the cereal from early on so it’s been a lot of struggling to find something they’ll take to.

After the LGDs didn’t want the cereal last night, we decided it was time to make changes. I’m spending a lot of time worrying and I want something I can feel a little better about. The amount of grain in this method is simply too much for my comfort zone.

When working out feeding for our other animals, we try to get closer to what they would eat in nature, but dogs, just like goats, wouldn’t naturally eat pounds of concentrates every day.

So we are going away from the method Juliette de Bairacli Levy recommends, though we will keep some elements of it.

While I was researching this morning I came across a common sense approach I want to try. For the average dog owner who can’t grow meat and vegetables, it may be a little more costly than mid-grade kibble, but I think it will reap rewards in better health. So, onto the next trial!

The Whole Dog Journal has an article on dog feeding that, if you scroll past most of the discussion, states this:

“Yarnall suggests formulating a diet that is comprised of about 40 percent meat, and 30 percent vegetables, and 30 percent grains. She uses about 60 percent muscle meat and about 40 percent of organ meat (kidneys, liver, or heart). The vegetables vary, and are prepared, raw, in a food processor. Yarnall uses only slow cooked oatmeal (the 30-minute type) or barley flakes. She adds enough purified water to make the mixture the consistency of a thick chili. Yarnall supplements this food with an essential fatty acid supplement and a small amount of bone meal.”

There’s more to it and I suggest you read the article, but this is a common sense approach that reduces the grain, includes all the food at once (Levy in one part says dogs have a hard time digesting cereals and meat at the same time, but then recommends adding oats and wheat bran to the evening meat meal) and saves a lot of time in preparation and feeding.

The article also says most people feed 2-3%, which is lower than we were aiming for and thus easier to attain.  We decided to go for 2% of body weight for feeding the meat/grain/vegetables mixture, and then add 1% of body weight in fluid milk.  This is a balance I feel good about to start with, but we’ll see how it plays out over the next couple of weeks.

We don’t plan on following this method strictly, either. Dogs, like their humans, are adaptable to many food types. We will use real bones instead of bone meal and only feed organ meats when they’re readily available, such as at butcher time. We will use oats though and soak it all in milk instead of water, adding herbs and oils.

Every day, then, we’ll feed the following amounts to all the dogs:

  • 2.32# meat
  • 1.74# vegetables
  • 1.74# grains
  • 2.9# milk

Costs are:

  • Meat ($2/#): $4.64
  • Vegetables ($1/# frozen bags): $1.74
  • Grains (rolled oats @Azure $.63/#): $1.10
  • Milk (home raised cost me $3.82/gal): $1.38

Total cost per day for all dogs is $8.86. We will continue the fast day, seeing the sense–and well documented health benefits–of fasting. That puts our weekly cost at $53, but I feel like there’s a lot of wiggle room in this method and costs can be cut pretty easily.

For example, the milk doesn’t need to be included at all and meat can be grown for less than store bought. We’re going to go with human grain rolled oats because feed grade is whole rolled oats, a fact I’d forgotten about since we don’t feed the livestock rolled anything.

Here’s today’s, and I have to say it felt a lot better mixing up a whole batch that can easily be portioned out. We’re frankly a lot more likely to keep up a method like this that doesn’t require quite so much effort to maintain.

We mixed by weight the amounts above, running frozen mixed vegetables and a couple of carrots through the food processor. There is no water, just milk, and I added 4 eggs. I missed yesterday’s Wormer Wednesday so I added their Land of Havilah parasite formula today. A little bit of flaxseed oil and they’re good to go.

I am very relieved at the idea of doing this much simpler method, but I am still drawing on Levy’s wisdom to use herbs and a fast day.

Oh my gosh, you guys!  I’m not one to gush, but I’m so excited about this after portioning it out.  So much easier.  Mint gets 1/2 cup by volume (we weighed them all to figure this out), Winston gets 1 1/3 cups and the LGDs between them get a quart mason jar full.  It was SO easy.

I’m eager to see how they do on this over the next couple of weeks.

Days 17 and 18

Day 17

We made a big enough batch yesterday of the oats/chicken/mixed veggies to feed everyone for morning.

Winston was a bit reluctant, but sometimes he’s just weird.  After a few seconds of staring at it, he started in and ate it all.  Mint ate all but one bite of hers.  As Rob and I were talking, we remembered they’ve found a deer carcass and have been bringing back parts, so they probably aren’t overly hungry right now.

Halo the Maremma was not overly eager to eat his, either.  That’s not a good start to this method.

We forgot to pull out meat for dinner and there was enough leftover from the previous batch to feed the house dogs, so I added in leftovers, some bread slices and an egg for everyone.  It came out to enough for all four and they ate it eagerly.  Maybe this will be easier!

Day 18

I made up a new batch for breakfast this morning.  I have to say this method just feels so much better, like it’s the right way to do things.  Mixing it all together makes so much more sense to me and seems to be more palatable to the dogs.  It also takes a lot less time since we can make a batch for the whole day in about the same time as mixing up the regular morning cereal.

For this meal, I mixed 2.3 pounds of fresh turkey, 30 ounces of old fashioned rolled oats, 4 cups of milk, 1 can of canned pumpkin, 3/4# frozen mixed vegetables, 4 eggs, a couple glugs of flaxseed oil and a tablespoon or so each of dried nettles and red raspberry leaf.  Everyone dove in and gobbled it up.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them thoroughly enjoying their meals.

Winston’s red skin is greatly diminished.  It’s still too pink, but definitely getting better.  From here on out, if he seems to have trouble, I don’t feel like it’s going to be a big difficulty to simply adjust the amount of grains down a bit and increase the vegetables and meat.  It’s what we were trying to do before, but with a formula to follow that makes it so much easier.

Free Turkey!

Two days ago someone tagged me in a post on Facebook for a free turkey who was aggressive to other birds.  He dressed out at about 15 pounds, what a blessing!  I’m saving the feathers for arrow fletching, they’re beautiful.

Day 19

Yesterday was a great shopping day!  We happened to go in on a 20% off natural foods day, which included the bulk bins.  I was able to negotiate a 20% discount on a 50-pound bag of rolled oats (it wasn’t in the sale section) for the dogs, so I only paid $30, which is $.60 per pound and less than we would have paid at Azure if Azure had bothered to have it in stock, which they didn’t…again.

Since we were in the bulk section, I stumbled upon massive cans of pumpkin, over 6 pounds for around $6.50, so we bought two of those.  Frozen veggies were on sale for $1 per pound and we got 12 of those.  Even with all the dog food, we only came out over budget for groceries $22.  Our current budget is $100 a week, so we did pretty good I think.

This morning when we mixed up the meal, I weighed and portioned the veggies and pumpkin for the next week so all we have to do is dump it into the mixture every morning.  This will save a lot of time.  We’ll start doing it for the meat too.  The oats are easy, just 3 tumblers full into the bucket.

There’s no hesitation with eating this way.  Every dog loves it now and gobbles it up.  I think the pumpkin helped a lot, but in general, this method just seems to work.  Like I said yesterday, it just feels right.  The dogs agree.

Today is Sunday and in the future we plan to continue fasting on this day, but I want to be sure they’re getting enough and that we have this routine down before I do a fast, so they’ll get their normal amount today.

Days 20-23

This is going so well I don’t really know what to write.  We’re mixing the same mix of 30% oats, 30% veggies and 40% meat, along with milk, eggs and herbs.  They might end up too fat at this rate but they sure love it.  I think when you find the right method, you just know it, and this is totally the way we should be feeding our dogs.

I was reflecting on how God is providing every little thing right now.  Work is slow and we’re on a pretty limited budget.  Thankfully we have a good pantry, but every bit counts.  After getting that free turkey, which lasted until yesterday, we came home last night and found a recently dead deer on the side of the road.  She was in pretty good shape so we are feeding her out to the dogs.  That means no grains or veggies today except what they got from her stomach, but lots of extras in fur and organs, which are both health giving to dogs.

Living on a road has its benefits and we’ve been able to feed a couple other deer to the dogs over the past year.

The house dogs will go back to eating their regular food tomorrow but the big dogs will have deer for a few days. Hooray!

Day 40-something

This should be the final post on this; I wanted to share my final thoughts.  The dogs have been eating no kibble for a month and a half now.  We’ve been adjusting upward from our last estimate of 5.8# per day.  I don’t know exactly how much we’re feeding now, but we’re ignoring the numbers and feeding them by their response.  If I were to guess, it’d probably be closer to 7# total now.

Winston, my German Shepherd, has lost some weight, but he’s been a lot more active the past couple of weeks with the improving weather.  We’re adding more food for him.  Mint the heeler, on the other hand, seems to be foraging for quite a bit of her food and is not really interested in what we feed her.  Winston is glad to clean up what she leaves so we’ll stay where we’re at for her.

Blaze and Halo are needing more food now as well with the increased activity of spring.  They spent a lot of time the past week running off four juvenile bald eagles who were hanging around.  Blaze may be pregnant–I think so–so we’re giving her extra goat milk and a bigger ration, which she’s eager to have every feeding.

I’m really glad we decided to finally take the plunge.  It has begun to cost more in theory than we were paying for kibble, but since all of our meat so far has been free we’re still saving.  I’d count it worth the cost with no hesitation even if we had to pay for all of our meat.

I planted two beds of greens, spinach and Swiss chard today.  At about 2# of vegetables per day, anything we can grow will be a big help.  I also got a great deal on canned cream corn and picked up four cases at $.33 per can.  With the high salt content, I’m not feeding it every day but figure it’s a great low cost addition a couple times per week.  Our “normal” price has been about $1/#.

I’ll post periodically about our progress, but will no longer try to make regular updates.  This is definitely the right method for us and I look forward to it evolving as we learn more and are able to grow more of our own food for them.

11 thoughts on “Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food

  1. Tokies says:

    this is very good info. We want to keep a large herd. an extremely large herd of sheep because we can use them in warmer months on fire protect jobs. lol so working sheep and working dogs. Funny thing is the sheep are important so we always had some type of small amounts of feed choice offered to the guarding dogs. The dog seems to never overeat the feed choice. That’s what stops us from walking away. that clabbered milk tho.

    Why aren’t you feeding blood cake?

    you could do 2 days meat 1-day blood cake or drop a meatless day add a blood cake day.

  2. Tokies says:

    Sorry, I’m reading through I’m at about day 9ish. I’m wondering why you don’t feed more green tripe. If you have pastured raised and finished. We have a small local group and they still throw out or just dump the green tripe near us. It’s not worth hauling out. It’s good to feed and fills. I wouldn’t say for the house dogs but for the working dogs for sure. If you have a ranch and put a tractor on your dogs. They actually do a lot of work. We have been trying to keep track of daily miles using an auto-fill script for the dog pack. Not all the dogs make rounds. They have two zones it’s a breed that calls and stays with the sheep/ducks/chicks/whatever. then we have another breed that makes the rounds. pushings all the coyotes out. That one does a SERIOUS amount of work. it’s just a lot of cals. Plus if you get a good pack, that pack can train new puppies. another rev source if you get together with other people in your area to set up a breeding program. back to the point though. I saw in other articles of yours (I’m sorry I’m reading out of order) more fats and whatnot. Have you thought about adding more fats for the working dogs as those scraps are usually free (except for freezer camp cost)? It’s kinda crazy how much butcher, meat processing throw out or compost. I’ve been wanting to buy a walk-in and just set up solar (live in Cali it’s really hot here) then shift to that and call it a day. call it the working dog’s payday freezer. God knows I’ve run across so many freebie “broken” freezers that just needed a 10 dollar part for the fixing. they weren’t walking though lol. maybe I could build my own walk-in. sorry, I’m thinking while writing which is a bad idea. thank you for what you wrote it’s giving me ideas. I didn’t realize how inside the box I was about feeding these LGD. I was so worried about too much grains.

  3. Tokies says:

    I’m on day 11 or so I notice you said you had a lot of trouble with feeding. Have you tried to feed bricks? We freeze the water or broth together with whatever the meal is supposed to be. Meaning we make everything once or twice per every other month. Into bricks. Then put all those bricks into the freezer than pull out a feed brick to thaw. We have a cold storage room we use to thaw. Just an underground room dugout. took about 100 to make it. not good for a super earthquake 10.0 or anything but great for storage. We always cover our food so figure if the big one hits we can just dig out the food if it comes to that lol. I think you are great for making all this super cool custom small meals but it would be faster to make 4 different meals once per month and pop them into bricks. if you wanted something special you can do a special meal. An example is we have seeded our pasture with food. WE pull food dog for the dogs or check the hedges for the food that the deer didn’t get to when we move into a pasture. Then set it on top of the feed hutch. To feed it out or cut it up for them as special stuff. But their main food is either the kibble or the feed bricks.

  4. Tokies says:

    on days we know we are moving our herds we feed ghee to the working dogs. (a fat cooking oil) It’s a great thing to do for milk gluts. straight ghee keeps in hot weather. milk solids can be eaten by you or feed back to the dogs. you may want to think about that as well. It worth not selling off that second cow just to do ghee. That cooking oil is so dead useful.

    I’ve kept frozen ghee in the freezer for about a year human consumption. I’ve kept it long for the dogs before.

  5. Tokies says:

    depending on how much land you have. You may want to plant some pumpkins into your compost pile or near it. we pop some pumpkin starts into aging compost that sits for a year. get about a lot of lazy pumpkins that way. plant them in the whole area and the run off area. pop those starts in and forget it. it might help you work around that whole pumpkin that made the food system seem to work so well. You might not always get cheapo pumpkins at the market. also, have you thought about sweet potatoes? great work and I enjoyed reading your ideas. thank you

  6. Megan says:

    We rarely have extra meat to butcher for ourselves, and when we do we feed the offal at once for lack of storage space. Our butcher sounded like they charge for everything, and having to buy it would be as costly as just feeding kibble, so we only feed out what we can acquire or raise for less money than dog food. It’s always a juggling act between ambition to pursue a better option and drowning in the existing taskload, so I go through phases where I work at this and then back off again. I really think looking in the direction of yal and other traditional LGD diets is the way to go, but we’re not there now.

  7. Megan says:

    That’s a good idea. I think what I’d do now, since my next plan is yal, is cook a super large pot of barley/drippings/whatever once a week and feed it out. Our goals always focus around what we can do that would work well off grid, so if I can avoid the freezer, I do. (We currently have a chest freezer of dog food though, lol.)

  8. Megan says:

    Yes, pumpkin is so easy to grow! That’s definitely what we’ll do from here on out. We got about 1k# of winter squash last fall and may be on track for that from just volunteers this year.

    I’ve heard sweet potatoes are hard to grow, especially this far north. They’re great for dog food though.

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