Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Feeding raw on a budget.

Today I unloaded just over 2,800 pounds of dog food off the back of a commercial truck. All frozen, all in 30-40 pound boxes. After I unloaded the entire thing and sorted everyone's order into piles (thus moving most of those 2,800 pounds twice), I unboxed and stocked our freezer, then lugged 70 pounds of duck and chicken necks into the house to thaw in the bathtub so that I can break the cases down into smaller (more manageable) packages for feeding... Oh and while I spent these two hours outside it was about 30 degrees and raining - which STILL beats minus 5 and windy, so I won't complain too much!
Good thing the goldens didn't see this!
I had too much stock  to fit in a summer/fall
freezer defrost. High on the priority list for spring
chores! Ahhhhhh, SPRING!!!! 

All told about 375 pounds of this order was mine. That's enough to feed my three for about 12-15 weeks - perhaps a bit more, perhaps less. I usually have a few folks who call for semi-emergency rations and most of the time I have enough to help out. I keep very close tabs on my inventory knowing that my window for wholesale orders is every three weeks.

Tip: Use a magnetic whiteboard on the outside of your freezer to keep track of your inventory - you'll know at a glance what you have inside.

My freezer holds about 450lbs of raw food (I learned that one the hard way) and in a pinch my kitchen freezer can hold another 50lbs - but I do try not to order too much more than what I'll need until the next order - first so I can rotate stock, but also because it just doesn't make sense to carry much more stock than I need. My last order (6 weeks ago) was in the beginning of December and now in mid-January as Old Mother Hubbard would say - our pantry was bare!

So what does this have to do with feeding raw food on a budget? A lot actually. I hear a lot of people say "I wish I could feed my dogs raw, but it's too expensive!" When I ask them what they're feeding for kibble and how much they're paying for that kibble more often than not they could feed raw for about the same price.  Here are my eight tips for feeding a high-quality raw diet without breaking the bank:

1) Buy in bulk.
Wholesale orders are a lot of work to put together, but the cost savings over MSRP is huge - on almost every product. Find out who delivers raw to your local pet supply store, go directly to the source. Almost all manufacturers have a price-point at which they will sell wholesale. Factor in shipping costs to your door (Oma's gives me the option of having food delivered here at my home or pickup at a pre-arranged drop-point for a bit less). Remember that even when buying in bulk, buying in more bulk means more savings. Most places have a tiered wholesale pricesheet - the more you buy the more you save. For me, this means getting some friends to order with me as a co-op - for you it might mean placing one large order rather than a couple smaller orders (order every 12 weeks instead of every 6 weeks).

2) Feed a variety of pieces and parts.
The most expensive items are the mixes - whole meats, bone, organs and blanched veggies all ground up into a ready-to-use product. On the other end of the spectrum leftovers from the restaurant supply business can be pretty inexpensive - chicken necks can run around $.70/pound, chicken backs (with a lot of meat on them) at about $.50/pound. If you feed half of your dog's rations in necks, backs and frames (aka meaty bones) you lose nothing on nutrition and save a lot in price.

3) Grind your own
I understand some people aren't thrilled about handing their dog a whole chicken frame or chicken back. I totally understand. Some dogs don't chew their food well and sometimes those larger pieces do become portable (thus outdoor foods). Some manufacturers will sell ground frames or ground necks (for prices that are pretty close to the whole pricing and much less than the pre-made mixes). Or, you can always grind your own - commercial grinders (used) can be reasonably priced if you find the right situation - under $500 if you're very lucky and they (truly) last forever.

4) Shop the Specials
Oma's Pride offers specials every round of orders - some are ok deals, some are teaser pricing for new items and some are smokin' deals with the catch that pricing is only good for full case lots. When Oma's offers a special on mackerel (for instance) the pricing is usually around half of the initial wholesale price. I don't order mackerel every order, but I will order a case when they're on special. A case of mackerel will last me several months - usually until the next special on mackerel!

5) Hit the grocery store clearance rack.
Want to add veggies to your dog's chicken necks? Shop the produce clearance rack at the grocery store, blanch the veggies and add them to the bowl. I have a friend who spends one Saturday a month doing just that and freezing a month's worth of semi-cooked veggies. A local grocery store has a February meat sale - they buy in bulk to fill special orders (pre-order) and pass the savings onto the customers. Last year I was able to buy 40 pounds of chicken wings for $22 - lots of meat, nice amount of bone and a great size for a couple (then) of golden retrievers.
Our freezer stocked up for another 12 weeks.

6) Augment raw rations with one of the dehydrated 'raw' foods.
Sojo's, Addiction, The Honest Kitchen - all make really good products. Some are designed to be fed as complete diets, others like the Sojo's mixes and The Honest Kitchen's Preference are designed to be a meal base that you can add your own protein (raw or cooked). This gives you a lot of the ingredient control of raw with the flexibility of a kibble.

7) Feed a larger variety.
You might find that turkey is really expensive, but tripe is cheaper - tripe is a great protein (usually considered a complete food). Figure out the balance point and don't dismiss any one item type or protein altogether. I ordered tripe, turkey mix, chicken mix, chicken frames, chicken necks, chicken backs, duck necks, ground duck, sardines, tripe and tripe mixed with ground trachea.

8) Choose your brands carefully
If feeding a commercially prepared diet note that prices vary pretty significantly - especially on the raw mixes. Some brands of mixes come only in patty form - buying raw in patty form is always going to be more expensive than buying tubes or bricks, but even among the patties there's a huge variation in pricing without (in most cases) a huge difference in ingredients. You could go broke feeding a small dog on some of the more expensive patty options!

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