About a month ago, we decided to try out the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) diet for our pets.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out why the acronym is BARF:

This particular bowl consists of a little chopped beef liver, beef heart, and beef tongue, in addition to a few raw vegetables, and topped off with a chicken foot.

If that’s not enough to make you BARF, don’t worry, Will did plenty of it for you!  All over my new carpet.

You can read some of the reasons we chose this diet in a previous post (here).  Unfortunately, Will and Callie did not handle the transition well at all.  Callie is around 11, and Will is going on 9.   They have eaten the same kibble, and very little of anything else, for their entire lives.  I suspect their guts are no longer equipped to handle such rich, raw food.  As with anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  Now, that’s not to say I couldn’t wean them over on to it.  I tried for about 3 weeks, but it just wasn’t working.  I gave up on Callie, and just let her go back to her auto-feeder.  I did, and do, continue to supplement Will on occasion to see if he can regain some of that natural function.  At this point, he can still only handle meat and bone from “white” meat such as chicken, rabbit, and goat.  He won’t touch organ meats, chicken feet, gizzards, or any other rich foods, and he even limits his red (beef) meats.  Health nut, maybe?  In reality, Will has an amazing memory, I suspect.  The first few raw beef and organ meats I gave him, he promptly vomitted up.  I think he remembers.  So, I re-read the new “natural” food ingredients I bought for him, and actually, it’s quite a good brand–albeit expensive.  Guess you have to pay to get real meat in your dog food.  There are no words I can’t pronounce, no animal by-products, and lots of good things I want for him.  So, I guess natural kibble, supplemented with BARF foods is it for now.  He also gets to clean up cooked left-overs once in a while, which he very much enjoys.  Apparently cooking takes some of the “richness” out of it, and I have since read that older dogs used to kibble do better on cooked food than raw.  I get that, but I refuse to cook just for my dog.  He is a dog after all.  If we happen to have leftovers, though, then I will let him have some.  It works for now.

Athena, our livestock guardian pup, on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother story!

Knowing we were going to get her was one of the main reasons we went the BARF diet direction.  We knew she would be big, and I knew I didn’t want to pay for kibble for her for the next 10 years.  Call me cheap, I don’t care.  So, since she was only 10-weeks old, only recently weaned from mother’s milk, and used to eating “whatever was on sale at Big R”, we figured she was a prime candidate for a BARF diet experiment.  From the day we brought her home, her diet has consisted of twice a day feedings of mostly raw foods I throw together.

The first thing I noticed was how little waste she produces.  I clean my goat pens 1-2 times a week, and there is always surprisingly little dog poop in that mix.  The second thing I observed was that the staph infection she had on her belly when we got her cleared up within a week, with no medications.  The third, but more puzzling thing I noticed was that, despite the amount of healthy food she ate, and the lack of waste she produced, she wasn’t gaining a bit of weight.  She wasn’t the typically rolly-poly pup.  Rather, she was quite thin and bony, and since she was growing a bit, that wasn’t helping any.  I began to suspect a worm problem.  Although it’s common in puppies, from my vet-tech days, I also knew that chemical dewormers were the normal solution.  I didn’t like that idea. 

After a bit of research, I decided to try a regimine of my goat’s herbal dewormer.  It seems the wormwood and black walnut are acceptable for use in dogs in small amounts.  So, I put her on a 3 day de-worming regimine, as prescribed for young goats.  Then, I waited to see what would happen.  For two days, she had massive diarhhea, but this had also happened to my doe, Sara, when she was wormy.  By the third day, the runs cleared up, and the pup was back to normal.

Within a week, I saw a drastic difference in Athena’s appearance.  Her coat just looked better, and she didn’t feel bony.  Around the end of that week, she hit a major growth spurt, but at the same time, she was packing on meat.  She looked, and obviously felt, great!  Although I never saw the first worm, I think it was quite obvious she had a pretty good infestion that were using up all her nutrients needed for growth and development.   

So, the hardest part of using the BARF diet is ensuring the continuous supply of meats.  Thankfully, Craigslist has helped us out a bit there, by providing a free meat goat and a few roosters.  We had a supply of beef soup bones and offal meat in the freezer I didn’t need immediately, so we used that as well.  We also found a good deal on some grass-fed offal from our rancher, and bought it all from him.  Nonetheless, Athena is a big eater, so we go through it fast.  I am always on the look-out for a good deal such as free roosters, goats, or rabbits.   However, I still expect healthy, and like to “detox” them on organic, natural feeds for a few weeks prior to slaughter.  If I wouldn’t eat it due to it’s health, I don’t feed it to the puppy. 

The second hardest part of the diet is the preparation.

Athena has a problem with inhaling her food as though she hasn’t eaten in months.  As a result, I chop her food into bite size pieces for now.  I may mix in large rocks later.  It isn’t as bad as it sounds now that I have my system figured out.  It also helps the food go further.  In the photo above, I thawed a beef tongue, heart, and liver I had purchased from our rancher, chopped it up, and split it all up into individual ziploc bags.  I like to put at least a full days’ (2 feedings) worth of food in each bag.  Because variety is good for nutrition, I also randomly threw in some meaty goat or rabbit bones, some chicken feet and necks, and a few gizzards.  In about 30 minutes, I prepared almost 2-week’s worth of food for her.  All of it went into the freezer except the next day’s bag. 

The third hardest part is remembering to take a bag out of the freezer each night.  I have forgotten a few times, so I fed her kibble when I was rushed and didn’t have time to thaw a bag in the morning.  Even then, though, it was an excuse to top it off with an egg, some raw milk, or some kefir–all of which have tremendous benefits in moderation.  In addition, I will randomly throw in some leftover porridge, vegetables, cooked dinner leftovers, bread, etc.  When we take kitchen scraps and fruits out to the goats, she usually chooses a few pieces for herself.  As if that wasn’t enough, I have also caught her licking at the goat’s kelp, and even eating some of their alfalfa pellets on occasion.  I think she has a very well-balanced diet!

An interesting aspect of BARF is that it has made us very aware of what can be fed as part of the diet.  This has allowed us to cut down on our waste products even more.  Particularly when we are harvesting our own animals, things like hearts, gizzards, livers, eyeballs, tongues, feet, tails, etc. are all perfectly edible items–but they don’t appeal to me in the least.  I tried tongue once, and don’t care to again.  (You can read about it here).  Now, rather than tossing them into the compost, we can use it to help sustain another part of the farm (our working dog). 

I am really hoping this is a diet we can stick with for the long haul.  As long as we can develop a steady supply of meats, I think we’ll be good.  I am very interested to see how this affects her health in the long run.  The way I see it, the closer I can make it to God’s original plan, the better for her it will be!