Monday, February 25, 2008

Dog Food Recipe

Some people have asked me how I manage to feed my 3 mastiffs. They're all big girls, and they do have big appetites. I avoid commercial dog food like the plague, (for reasons why, read Foods Pets Die For, for example), and have tried numerous food combinations over the years. For a while I preferred feeding raw foods, and I tried the raw chicken diet, and raw meat/veg diet, and those worked when the supply was there. Now I live in a ranching area, so the supply of meat is principally beef, and for large parts of the year we depend on frozen vegetables, so the dog diet has changed to reflect that.

I cook for my dogs now, once a day. I suppose you could do batches ahead and freeze them (I would do that if were going camping). But I like to cook it each day in the morning so that I can use up leftovers and vary things a bit. Dogs actually do have tastes once you change their diet from commercial food. They have palates that can discern good food from bad, and they develop preferences. My dogs don't just vacuum up anything in sight because they are not starving for nutrients all the time like they would on commercial food. They will no longer touch commercial food, in fact. Would you feed your kids nothing but Breakfast Cereal all their lives even though it claims to be nutritious and highly engineered? No? Well why feed your dog something that's so processed and preserved when making their food is easy and rewarding. And it's less expensive too!

Here's the basic recipe:

2 lbs chopped organ meats (I use beef liver, tongue and heart*, which is prepared by my butcher in big flats that are frozen and cut into 1 or 2 lb cubes)
3 eggs (to bind it together and for protein)
3 cups of whole wheat flour
1.5 cups of frozen mixed vegetables
a little salt for flavour
enough milk to make a sticky dough (you could use powdered milk and water too)

Put all the ingredients in a big mixing bowl and stir them until they're well blended.

You can add and change the components of this recipe. You could add cheese, leftover pasta sauce, leftover gravy, cooked or raw vegetables such as broccoli, corn, spinach (cooked sweet potatoes are a favorite), sour cream, etc. You could add a little cornmeal or rolled oats to the flour, or add a little bonemeal. Leftover rice works well too.

Once it's mixed, smear the mixture on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper to a depth of about 1 inch (I reuse the paper for this over and over again) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

Take it out, let it cool, separate it into bite-sized pieces and feed it. I always feed my dogs by hand because big dogs, and some high-waisted dogs have a preponderance to get torsion, which can be deadly, so for my peace of mind I dole out the food by hand. That way everyone gets the same amount whether they eat fast or slow, and it develops a bond with you and your dogs. All of my dogs have excellent table manners, and they don't snap at food or growl when eating and I attribute that to hand-feeding. It doesn't take more than 2 minutes.

Remember, onions and chocolate are poisonous to dogs and cats! Don't add those to any of their foods!

This diet works very well for my dogs. The wholewheat flour seems easier on their intestinal system (judging by the relative lack of flatulence) than other flours. Even too much oatmeal will cause fumes, so I mix the fancy stuff with the whole wheat rather than use all cornmeal or all oatmeal.

I also supplement this diet with plenty of raw beef bones, for calcium and dental care. There is a protein in blood that helps destroy plaque on dogs' teeth -- chewing raw bones is the best way for dogs to keep their teeth and gums healthy. My dogs have no plaque or gum disease, no tooth decay. But remember that if you are feeding small bones, you should supervise their consumption. Preferably feed bones big enough that the dog can't swallow them whole or get them stuck in their jaws. Cooked bones are not recommended since bones harden and dry when cooked, and can splinter into bowel perforating shards.

I don't recommend commercial treat "bones", (i.e. the fake bones make of cornstarch) because those have been known to kill dogs by compacting in the esophagus or stomach and either choking the dog or causing an obstruction. The cornstarch "bone" gets chewed and swallowed in chunks, and sticks together like cement in the dog's gastrointestinal tract.

I also give raw fruits for treats, apple, bananas, sweet potatoe (cut into chips), carrots, are the most popular. If you're a gardener, add a "doggie patch" and grow some veggies for them. Carrots, parsnips and pumpkins and squash are great because they last so long in the fall, you will have a good supply. I find feeding "real food" as opposed to commercial food is less expensive to make and you also save money on vet bills. Plus, this food smells good!
*My cats like this raw meat mixture as is.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Coyote culture

Spring is coming. That may seem self-evident to those of you who live in temperate climates in the northern hemisphere, but out here below the Canadian Arctic, spring never seems inevitable. Winter seems to hang on forever, and there is a fear among us that winter will not revoke its grip and we'll be stuck with winter gliding into fall, and back into ---- winter. So every year we are happy when we see the signs of spring, as if we have a deal with winter, and we can say, "you can't reneg on spring now!" as though anyone could negotiate with the weather. More than any other place I've lived, the people in this place have the most reason to converse about the weather. It really seems temperamental here -- one day plus eight, the next minus 35.

As one old comedian used to say, "everyone's always talking about the weather, but no one's doing anything about it".

Anyway. The signs of spring here are brought by the birds. Winter is the silent season, or should be, if there weren't such plagues as ski-doos whining and droning in the back country. There is very little birdsong, except for crows, ravens, and magpies, who love to chatter and converse. I love these birds, they are beautiful and intelligent, and very hardy to stay around in the deep dark cold. They can all be taught to speak, if they can be domesticated. But the birds that have now arrived are the Hoary Redpolls, little finches that are smaller than sparrows, who love to eat tansy and niger seed, and who are migrating north. They don't come here every year, but this year they are back.

On our walk today I came across a fragment of coyote culture. We have many coyotes here, and I appreciate them for their untiring rodent control. The culture I speak of is the lore that coyotes have passed on from generation to generation. Occasionally we witness it. Today I noticed that they have a method of finding firm snow to walk on. We have snow here that is about a foot deep. Wind and cold temperatures have packed it in places so that it forms a crust that even a 190 lb mastiff can walk on without sinking to the knees. The crusty snow exists right beside the sinking snow, it weaves through it in a thin line. The crust is not discernable from the surface, but the coyotes have found a way to discover it. We found that following their trails put us on top of the snowdrifts, not below it. So much easier to walk on!

Coyotes are much maligned animals. We have never had a problem with them, because there is plenty of game here for them to eat (mostly gophers, moles and mice), plus the odd portion of eggs that I throw out of the coop because they are dirty or cracked. They've never come after the hens, that is the purview of the foxes, and they have left my cats alone too. Maybe that is because the mastiffs randomly patrol the yard when they are not guarding the sofa, but I prefer to think it is because we live and let live here, and we've given them privacy and a food source; this was their home before it was ours.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter's Back

We have a saying here when winter seems on the wane, we say that winter's back is broken. I do not think the spine of winter has withered yet -- it's still strong and is preparing for another blow. It has been overcast all day and the temperatures are up now to minus 5. We have lit the fire in the woodstove and made some coffee and laid out the dog bed in front of the fire where Miranda can warm her bones.

I've finished my work for the day, there is plenty of birch in the house for the stove, we can hear it crackling and sizzling as the fire chews on the bark. The smell of woodsmoke is sometimes so fragrant -- we have saskatoon bushes and willows by the house, some of which have died standing, and occasionally I cut them down with a camping saw and burn them -- they smell like sandalwood and cinnamon. One of the pleasures of life, to hear the fire crackle and to smell the earthy smoke of sleeping summer.

Miranda has the best seat by the fire -- she's the eldest brindle mastiff; Cricket has the sofa; Kylie, our new gorgeous young lady, has the daybed in the library near the fire. I have the captain's chair and woodbox for my desk. Sounds like the Friendly Giant, doesn't it?

I'll turn to knitting soon, here comes my internet companion, Teddy Bearpaw, the singular 23 year old orange tabby, to help post this.

Have a wonderful evening wherever you are, and enjoy your companions' company.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Freeze Thaw

This week has been challenging, though not as challenging as the one before. The water pipes froze twice, on Friday and Saturday. Friday at 5:45 am I was out under the house in -35 temperatures thawing out the water pipe that feeds the house. Saturday I did the same thing, only with the added complication of thawing out the pumphouse feed from the well before I could thaw out the house supply.

When I first moved here, I encountered this problem and didn't know what to do other than call the local well company, who dispatched 3 men in a truck with a steam wand. One held the wand, the other 2 watched. It took them about 45 minutes to thaw out the pipes, and they charged me $300, which was $100 per man per hour. I got savvy to this and now it takes me the same amount of time, though I perform the miracle with a pistol shaped hair dryer set to "high" and if necessary an infrared bulb borrowed from the chickens. So far I've saved myself about $1500. plus tax.

I've noticed that the pipes will freeze when it is calm and below -29, though they can also freeze if only the windchill brings it down to -30, which means the actual temperature might be only minus 20. Snow can blow into the smallest crevice, and the cold makes it extra difficult to deal with weatherproofing, as it snaps plastic like potato chips and renders the stickiest tape useless. I have made attempts to prevent the freezing, however, systems fail, heat tape fails, insulation gets moved by what lives under the house, light bulbs burn out, contingencies happen. So it's best to be prepared to cope.

Living so close to the elements, where your water supply is at the mercy of nature, is a good lesson in perspective. When I lived in the City, I was sheltered from the elements to a large degree. In retrospect, life seemed very artificial there, all too contrived. The country life teaches you humility and perspective, both useful for the independent life. I always imagine how the people who lived here centuries ago coped with only wood, leather and metal, no gas, no pipes, no insulated buildings. That knowledge is lost to the urban dweller.

The horses and llamas are coping well. It is surprising how much heat they generate in the barn -- as long as they are together and out of the wind, they seem quite comfortable. They all have snow on their backs, which means that their coats are well insulated, since their body heat doesn't melt the snow. The hens are comfy in their coop, with their infrared bulb and heater. The mastiffs and cats are all homebound, and loving it.

We all hope the weather warms up soon so we can resume our walks in the pastures and the woods.

I'm re-reading the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. On the needles are a pair of socks and a soft black pullover I am making up as I go along, out of a soft scrumptious alpaca blend.