With our increasingly natural, self-sufficient/God-dependent lifestyle, I guess it only makes sense that we would begin seeking a more natural lifestyle for our animals as well.  The goats and chickens have been quite an education this summer, as we watched Sara, in particular, heal in so many ways using simple, natural remedies. 

OK, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Since Will was bred by and born at Guide Dogs for the Blind, they chose his original diet of Science Diet dog food.  It only seemed natural all those years ago to keep him on that.  A couple months ago, however, I noticed he had some seemingly benign cysts/growths popping up in different areas of his body.  Granted, he is almost 9 years old, but still, it got me thinking.  So, we switched him to a natural dog kibble I get through my co-op.  Callie, on the other hand, is almost 11.  Over the years, I have experimented with all sorts of foods, but all but one resulted in her vomiting.  So, much to my dismay, she has been on Purina cat chow for most of her life. 

The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder how good these diets really were.  After all, if the USDA and FDA are preaching that grain-fed, CAFO meat is “prime” while natural, grass-fed meats are overpriced jokes, then who’s to say the veterinary industry is much better?  I started researching, just to discover that most kibble foods are over 50% grains and by-products–hardly the ideal diet for carnivores like dogs and cats.  The remaining 50% was often animal by-products (which can include ground feathers and other undigestible items).  In fact, I looked at some very popular dog kibble labels, and saw that true meat was not listed AT ALL in the ingredients!  It was quite shocking.  Then, this livestock guardian dog thing came up, and it made us question if we really wanted to invest over $100 in dog kibble alone every month.  Obviously, the answer would be “NO.”  So I started researching other, more natural, less expensive options.  I discovered the RAW diet and the BARF diet for pets. 

The RAW diet is just that–feeding the animals raw, uncooked meat, organs, and bones, just as they would get in nature.  That’s it.  No supplements, no kibble, no veggies, grains, or rice.  Just carcasses, essentially, sometimes cut up in portions, sometimes not.  The BARF diet, on the other hand, is “Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods,” which includes around 60-80% raw, uncooked meat, organs, and bones, and the remaining % a mix of vegetables, carbohydrates, eggs, dairy, and supplements. 

So, after some research into where I could acquire a steady supply of raw meats, a lot of research on the COUNTLESS ways these diets are done, and some calculations regarding how much money we could save, we have decided to give it a try.  Because of the surplus of meat in our freezers, we decided to start there. 

Then we learned lesson #1…

When an animal has been on commercial kibble for 9-11 years, they (and their digestive systems) are completely clueless about how to handle raw meat!  I had offered Will small amounts of chopped up beef liver on several occasions.  Each time, he threw up.  A LOT.  The only thing worse than raw liver is puked raw liver mixed with who knows what else.  BLEGH!  So, I decided to try a “white” meat–something known to be a little easier on the tummy (less rich).   I chopped up some small chunks of bone-in goat meat.  Knowing it was Will’s dinner time, I offered it to him and put it in his food bowl.  He sniffed it and walked away.  I spent 10 minutes encouraging him before he finally decided to eat it.  I then proceeded to offer some to Callie.  She, too, took one sniff and walked away.  I went and put it in her food bowl downstairs, and she just looked at me like “Where is my food, and why is THAT in my bowl?!” (See photo above).  I finally sprinkled a bit of kibble over the meat, and left her alone.  Callie eventually ate it all. 

It’s been several days now, and so far, neither pet has vomited, so I take that as a good sign.  The new puppy took right too it, but she was used to a diet that consisted of whatever was on sale at Big R.  The plan (for now), based on my research, current meat availability, and our personal situation, is to go half-way, with a BARF diet, supplemented by kibble.  I will feed their normal kibble once a day, and gradually wean them off their evening kibble meal.  That will be replaced, over the course of a couple weeks, with raw meat, bones, and offal from our goat, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and beef.  In addition, we will supplement with some small amounts of table scraps (vegetables, potatoes, rice, etc.), raw fish, eggs, kefir, yogurt, and milk.  The hope at this point is to increase their health, hopefully increase Will’s energy level, give our new pup a great start as a working dog, and cut our feed bill by at least 30-50%. 

I have no idea how this is going to work, but I guess time will tell.  After only a week, I can now give Will small amounts of liver and he doesn’t vomit, and I have noticed he’s had no “scooting” issues since we started this diet (heads-up:  TMI about to follow: Scooting was a common occurence for him in the past, as his anal sacks frequently get somewhat impacted and inflamed.  Apparently a natural diet creates more natural, harder, stools that allow the sacks to express the way they were created to).  The most difficult part so far is remembering to take some frozen meat out of the freezer each night, to thaw in the fridge.  I love the fact that I am finally using cuts of meat that I really had no other use for, which means they won’t be wasted….things like gizzards, kidneys, hearts, tough cuts, bone meats and bones not needed for stocks, etc.  are PERFECT for feeding as part of this diet!

 Assuming that the results are good, then we may consider going full BARF once we get to Red Gate Farm permanently and have a more reliable and continual meat supply.  I will keep you posted as we learn more.