Today’s post is a guest post from Jackie of Auburn Meadow Farms.
“We are a very small farm in western Pennsylvania. We raise American Milking Devon cattle for dairy and beef. Our aim is to reintroduce an extraordinary eating experience while providing a simple, joyful life for our animals.”
If you’re here, reading Sustainable Eats, chances are you’re taking steps towards weaning yourself from highly processed industrial food.
Can I be bold and just a little bit greedy and ask you to consider one more thing? I really need to sit up and beg you to stop feeding your dog mass produced commercial dog food. I know, I know…. but truly. There are seriously hardcore reasons why this is a project you should consider.
Not to worry, I’m not about to whip you with all the horrors of commercial pet food – I’d much rather talk about positive actions we can actually do something about today. If you want to stick your wet finger in a light socket learn more about the pet food industry, check out Pet Food Politics by Marion Nestle or Foods Pets Die For by Ann N. Martin.
If you are a dog or cat owner, you really need to own this book: Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. While full of interesting information about our modern systems of food and agriculture and their dangers to our pets, Dr. Pitcairn’s book is positive and proactive. Still, this kind of paragraph from the chapter What’s Really in Pet Food does tend to stick with you:
“As you see, by itself the chemical analysis on the label does not mean a whole lot. To underscore this point, one veterinarian concocted a product containing the same composition of the basic proteins, fats, and carbohydrates as a common brand of dog food by using old leather shoes, crankcase oil, and wood shavings. My point is that labels don’t always tell us enough. Be especially wary of pet food that lists its ingredients in generic categorical terms like these:
• Meal and bone meal
• Meat by-products
• Dried animal digest
• Poultry by-product meal
• Poultry by-products
• Digest of poultry by-products
• Liver glandular meal
• Chicken by-products
• Dried liver digest
• Fish meal
• Fish by-products.”
I expect that when I’m buying commercial pet food, I’m supporting the worst of the worst. The worst animal welfare, the image twisting marketing I resent the most, the worst environmental practices and the worst nutrition for my dog. And, I resent it enough to do something about it.
But I also struggle being just one human with a busy family to feed and a time consuming career. As much as I wanted to cook for my beloved Charley, I knew I would fail if sustaining the dog’s diet was too nasty, extreme or troublesome. I needed to come up with a system to fit my dog’s new diet into my life as painlessly as possible.
Five things my dog food system had to be:
1. Healthy – I needed a noticeable improvement for the effort to feel worthwhile.
2. Tolerable – too disgusting, sloppy or hateful and I knew I’d quit.
3. Manageable – the system had to fit into my own food preparations. Too many extra errands or difficult to find ingredients and I’d fail.
4. Appreciated – if the dog wasn’t excited about it, I wouldn’t be rewarded by seeing him gobble it up with enthusiasm.
5. Affordable – this one goes without explanation. I wasn’t buying my dog filet every twice a day no matter how much I loved him.
I researched and tweaked, then tweaked some more, adapting versions of meals I found online and in books. Finally I was satisfied with a recipe that we came to call Pupcakes; a portable, easily portioned meatloaf cupcake. It was appealing, affordable, perfectly sized, mobile, cleaner & easier to use than a can of dog food.
Click here for the Printable Pupcakes Recipe
One of the things I like most about this recipe is that it is forgiving. The meat, grains and vegetables can be easily interchanged based on what’s available – in fact, more variety is better. Ground beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, venison & other game is all good. If you prefer other types of meals, Dr. Pitcairn’s book offers a variety of loaf, stew and omelet recipes for your lucky pup. But pupcakes were the workhorse of my dog’s pantry.
I located a nearby supplier of bulk organic grain for my dry ingredients and frozen vegetables and bought in large bags. I searched around and found a butcher shop in my area raising their own cows. All my human-grade ingredients were reasonably priced, humanely raised, readily available and not too far out of my way. The few trickier ingredients, I was able to find at my local food co-op or to order online from Frontier Co-op.
My feeling is always that if you use the freshest ingredients grown in the healthiest soil in their least processed form, you don’t need much in the way of additional supplementation. But, my food was lacking the calcium my dog would be getting from the raw bones that would be part of his diet if he were foraging for himself, so I used Dr. Pitcairn’s recipes to compensate.
Now, I am not a nutritionist or a scientist, so my approach to adding supplements may not be as scientific as you would like. I was thoroughly satisfied with my results, but you may want to adjust your supplements according to your own research. Here is another area where you will find Dr. Pitcairn’s book to be extremely useful.
Each week, dog food preparation was just part of my regular family food routine. The grains I was using in the pupcakes that week, I prepared in large batches and we also ate in soups, fried “rice” or risotto. We would usually eat the same meat and the same veggies too.
The night before pupcake day, I would cook the grains, cook and puree the vegetables and the beans. I’d refrigerate it all and the next morning, I’d assemble the recipe, bake and freeze the pupcakes.
That way, it really wasn’t a big deal. And, the grain is improved from the overnight refrigeration. The only part I actually tired of with the pupcakes was the muffin tins, but I appreciated the portability and simplicity of feeding portions so much that it was totally worth the additional effort.
Charley weighed about 55 pounds, and two pupcakes twice a day was the perfect amount for him. Each pupcake should weigh about 4 ounces and have between 200 – 220 calories. It took a very little bit of finessing and trial and error to arrive at the perfect quantity per day, but was no harder than calculating portion control for yourself or your kids.
One last note: home made pet food does not include additives like stool stiffeners so your pet may have unusual and/or messy poop while he adjusts. The worst thing you can do is to immediately think something is wrong and go back to the commercial food. What is wrong is that the commercial food includes stuff like stool stiffeners in the first place which is more for your delicate sensibilities than for your pet’s health. Make the switch gradually and stay the course, and the problem should correct itself. Or, as in Charley’s case, I just had to lay off the ground poultry and all was fine. You may find a particular type of meat, beans, vegetable mix or grain doesn’t suit your pet as well as others; pay attention as you get used to this system. Honestly, it’s not hard and the results are so, so worth it.
Healthy, happy dog and no more support for the industrial pet food system. Charley and I both slept well; he with a full belly and healthy skin and me with a clear conscience…
If you prefer, you can make pupcakes in a loaf pan and serve in slices. Though the muffins take a little more work, it’s well worth it in ease of serving, storage and portability.
Pupcakes are a complete, balanced meal with meat, eggs, grains, beans, vegetables, and minerals. Clean, simple, portable and definitely yummy.
Our fearless farm poodle Charley. Charley (and we) suffered miserably from his skin disorders and allergies. His home made pupcake diet helped support his weakened immune system and helps reduce the systemic overload for any pup with autoimmune disorders like allergies, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and skin disorders.