We have five dogs, four of which are actively engaged in providing protection against predators. Our fifth dog is retired and currently guards the couch, but her years of service to our farm and household has paid for that retirement a hundred times over. Given that these animals are a crucial part of our operation, we need to be as careful with their daily management needs as we are with any other livestock on the farm. But let's face it - several hundreds collective pounds worth of canine will go through its share of the grocery bill in a hurry. Our barn cats are also considered mission-critical staff, because they keep the rodent population down. Having lived through The Year of the Rat when that rodent population was out of control here, I have no illusions what life without our cat staff would look like. Now, seven felines don't go through the groceries as fast as five big canines, but they do their fair share of damage. So, how do we provide top notch nutrition to our farm employees in a cost effective manner? We feed them a raw diet, and we are working on growing as many components as possible of that diet, right here on-farm.
So what's the big deal about raw diets? "That 50lb bag of kibble in the cupboard has served us well, it's cheap to buy, and it's easy to serve." Yes, it is cheap to buy and convenient to use, and those should be your first big red flags that something is amiss. Think about our own foods, and how fresh, raw foods have all their nutrients intact. Yet the more processing you do to foods, the fewer nutrients are preserved. Human nutritionists have railed for years against the dangers present in a highly processed diet - empty calories and hyped up kids with reduced ability to concentrate at school. Or adults that roll out the door each morning with a cup of coffee in their hand which is supposed to last them until they can get to the donut box at work, which in turn is supposed to last them until they go grab lunch at some greasy spoon. Then around 3pm, their energy levels and concentration both sag, and they reach for that soda or energy drink to get them through the rest of the day. And on the way home they have an appointment with their doctor to discuss the ulcers, headaches, high blood pressure, and other health issues that seem to dog their footsteps. This isn't rocket science, Dear Reader. We do this to ourselves with the food choices we make. Sadly, our dogs and cats don't have choices about what they eat. They have to eat whatever we give them. And they suffer similar health issues when their entire diet comes out of a highly processed bag of kibble. Pet obesity, joint deterioration, "hot spots" on the skin, digestive ulcers, hair loss, fleas and even cancer or kidney failure all have at least some basis in the foods they're fed. Switch those less-than-healthy animals over to a more appropriate species diet, and many of those health issues are either minimized or reversed outright. Start animals with a healthy raw diet and keep them there, and those health issues will often never materialize.
"But raw diets are messy, and expensive, and time consuming!" Well, I guess it depends on your perspective. Feeding animals a raw diet is no messier than feeding ourselves a home-made meal. Yes, if this is the first time you've ever cooked or prepped a salad, it's going to be unorganized as you sort out how best to use all the ingredients. But make that same salad or that same casserole 100 times, and you'll figure out how to go faster, with less mess and less waste. The same is true for feeding animals a raw diet. As for expense, it is an illusion that kibble is cheaper than raw food. When you feed an animal the same kibble day after day, which is formulated to be cheap and convenient, that might not cost you much up front. But those costs will start to show up later in the form of increased vet bills and prescription drug costs, or expensive supplementation that should have been in the foods to begin with. That animal's body is literally starving for the correctly nutrients, in the correct form and in the correct ratios, and that kibble generally doesn't have it. So eventually you'll have to pay for health issues that are nothing more than the result of nutritional deficiency. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Feeding raw diets every day may be nickels or dimes more than kibble, but your cost savings will be the lack of vet bills you'll have down the road.
"Ok, so how do I get started feeding a raw diet?" You have a variety of options. One is to check out a variety of the raw-diet websites which go into great detail about how to switch over your cats and/or dogs to this feeding approach. Here are a few of the better websites I've found for that purpose:
Wikipedia's page on Raw FeedingDr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats and Reigning Cats & Dogs: Good Nutrition Healthy Happy Animals . If you have any questions about how to get started, these two books will answer many, if not all of your questions.
Third, Yahoo Groups feature a number of raw diet forums where you can post questions, get answers, and swap information amongst other cat and dog owners. One of the very biggest is RawFeeding, which has 20,000 members. That parent group has been so successful, it has spawned a number of smaller, more focused groups to discuss particular aspects of raw feeding - topics for breeders, vets and researchers, retailers, etc. In addition to the extensive conversations going on at any given time, those groups have a wide variety of files available in the Files section of the Group page, which are all available to members. You'll get more information there than you'd ever get from any of the websites or books listed, but it won't be as well organized and you might have to dig to find some of the answers.
We switched our animals over to a raw diet many years ago, and we've never looked back. Yes it's a bit more work for us in the evenings, but the payoff has been working partners who live to extreme senior citizen status yet enjoy good health for the vast majority of that time. Our retired dog is 15 years old and the only reason she's retired is because she's gone deaf. But she's still as mobile and alert as the others, despite her age. Our cats regularly live to be in the late teens. So there is a payoff to the effort. If nothing else, experiment with a raw diet for awhile and see how it goes. There's no need to dive in and convert 100% of the diet all at once. Alternate nights or provide a half-and-half diet for awhile. Whatever it takes. Your canine and feline friends will thank you.