Guest Blog: Dr Conor Brady - "Pre-Made Versus DIY Raw… | Raw Dog Food

Guest Blog: Dr Conor Brady - "Pre-Made Versus DIY Raw Dog Food"

22nd April 2021 10 mins read

In Dr Conor Brady's column for Paleo Ridge - Conor gives us his thoughts on the latest developments in raw, this time comparing DIY to Complete raw dog food.

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Pre-Made Versus DIY Raw Dog Food

Having good premade raw around is both a blessing and a curse. Pro's include – it's so easy. Doing it all yourself comes with problems. First, I'm particular about the meat I buy. It usually involves me traveling a bit to get the stuff I want from the people I want to support (outdoor reared essential, organic ideally). If I buy my meat in a supermarket it comes in a heap of plastic packaging, which makes me sad just looking at it. Secondly, finding bits of kidney, heart and spleen on the main street isn't easy. Also, the storing and feeding of meat on the bone can be a bit of hassle. Premade raw dog food (from suppliers I trust) sorts all that out for me. Vary up the flavours, stick a few bits on top here and there so I can pretend I'm adding my own je ne sais quoi, throw him regular meaty bones for tail-wagging, teeth cleaning hassle factor and they'll be among the best fed dogs in the country.

I see only two con's of relying on pre-mades. The first is the increased financial cost of my laziness. However, as an ex-manufacturer, I just want to say this - they deserve every penny. We have a very slanted view of what really good food should cost. I'm struck by a little factoid I heard recently – 40 years ago we spent 40% of our income on food. By 10 years ago, it was only 10%. No idea how accurate that it is but the sentiment is surely spot on. We are used to cheap food today, most of it crap. Few of us want the meat we consume to be ill treated but few of are prepared to truly pay for the alternative. As square footage increases per animal, so does cost. You want them fed and treated organically, and local, obviously, all that adds cost. You want suppliers to provide clean meat, low on pathogenic bacteria, but you don't want chemicals and you want your raw dog food manufacturer constantly surveilling the entire process, ensuring all is as it should be.

In this way, ingredient costs can easily triple, destroying margins, but it doesn't end there. Manufacturing costs rise as you struggle daily to meet the highest standards. Awards do not come cheap to a company, so when they sport a few, pay attention. It doesn't end there. You want compostable packaging? Impeccable service? Innovation? Lastly, you need the company and the folk running it to be suitably rewarded. They must thrive if the company is to last. They deserve to be well paid for their hard work. The alternative is a company that struggles for funds and inevitably looks to cut costs. The first to the butchers block is ingredients.

The other downside of pre-mades is the fact they spoil you. When Brexit took my Paleo Plus away there was an initial, embarrassing moment of panic where you think “oh God, I'm going to have to do this myself!”. For a man in my position, I have to admit the feeling nearly short circuited me. Then you look at your very, very small dog, pull up your big boy pants and get to work.

DIY raw dog food is so easy. At least it can be. I love making it myself though granted, I don't have three Great Danes looking for 5kg of meat and bone per day. I like knowing what's going in to him. It keeps the quality up and the cost down and for me in Ireland it has the added benefit of reducing air miles.

When first getting into DIY you must take a moment and think about what you're doing. Don't just barrel in, buying a heap of ingredients to bloodify your kitchen with and then, after all your hard work, spend the next three weeks worrying if you did it right. You need to plan.

First up, the magic ratio most raw dog food manufacturers loosely adhere to is 8:1:1, that is 8 parts fresh meat muscle, 1 part bone, 1 part organ meat (liver, kidney, spleen mix, for example) as that's what a rat or rabbit looks like, should you suck all the water out of them. That's called the Prey Model. Lots of folk feed just that (at least a variety of mixes based on that ratio). Others, and I'm among them, believe a little ground plant matter (10% say?) is a very likely inclusion of dogs out and about and brings with it a variety of benefits for the animal which we return to in another article.

[For recipes, I would take a peek at Paleo Plus. That's well-made raw dog food. Look at the ingredients of each product. There's your recipes. All for free!]

Now you need to choose your DIY method. You have two roads to go down – you are either going to make something like pre-made raw dog food which requires you buying in pre-ground meat with 10% bone in it from raw dog food suppliers or you are going to feed a mix of meats you source yourself from local supermarkets and butchers. They're your options. The first is easier but can be more expensive if your raw supplier doesn't do big 5kg bags for just this purpose (like I used to do!). It certainly deals with the bone issue that arises with the second method.

It has to be said at this point, I'm not one for exact percentages. They're about as relevant to dogs as they are to you and the kids and recently we're learning that these once rigid figures need to move a bit. Take, for example, the bone content of your DIY mixes – people worry are they getting enough / too much?! Let me tell you, Tyler and I spent more time than was healthy on this very question when putting together Paleo Plus. We were the first to start shouting about the whole issue with the “10% bone” figure! First of all, all bones are different, some are denser, some have more water, some animals are killed dreadfully young, some used their legs for a bit. On and on. It all ads up to the fact that 10% beef bone from a 4 year old cow is nothing like the bone of an 11wk old intensively reared chicken that can't walk. Bigger animals need more (and denser) bones to hold them up (check out the varying bone contents of Paleo Plus to get an idea of our findings). So if you're worrying about calcium and proportions and ratios, let me tell you, people don't really know. Not until we told them. Someone estimated that the average bone content of a prey animal for the dog was 10% (it's probably not, dogs prey on small animals whose carcass weighs less) and off we went. We've all being it a little wrong, and sort of right at the same time. In short, 10% is absolutely fine as an average, but so is 15% and 7%, probably, we don't really know. What we do know is, with minerals occurring naturally in food, the body will store in times of need and in periods of abundance expel the excess. It has to be this way as nutrients never present uniformly in nature (the same cannot be said for a dog being fed calcium supplements or ultra-processed food based on same. When you start dealing in calcium carbonate and phosphates, yes you need to be careful as the body does not treat these the same way).

Now, back to the plan. You need to make a list of what you need and how much. Let's say you're going for a pork and poultry mix this time. I tell people, when doing DIY based on whole meats, to include 2 parts lean, boneless meat with one part boney bits. E.g. If using chicken as your meat with bone, the average bone content of poultry pieces is say 30%, so this methods would give you 10% bone over all. Or you could just buy the whole bird and feed it to him over time.

Excellent meats additions like green tripe you will likely only find from suppliers like Paleo Ridge. In fact, they also supply great meaty bones like Organic Chicken Carcasses and Duck Necks should you struggle to find suitable meaty bones locally.

TIP 1: Ask in your local supermarket when's the best time to find half priced meat in the reduced aisle. Best before not bad after for your pet (and every bit of meat you stop going in the bin is a win for the planet).

TIP 2: Worried about the bone in your dog? Smash them with a big mallet. Presto, crushed bone!

Gathering the meat and bone etc is easy enough but you will inevitably come to the following issue – organ meats. They're a bit of a pain and, in my opinion, pretty gross. The smell and feel of liver. I'm not a fan. And, while liver and often kidney is easy enough to source, heart, spleen etc can be a bit more elusive. Try your local butcher for sure. I go straight to the butcher for it. I ring in advance to ask if has what I need. It always goes like this “why didn't you get me a spleen, Frank? I rang you yesterday....I said a spleen or a testicle...no, I'm not weird...”. Every month, same conversation. If you're struggling to source a steady supply, consider a pre-ground organ mix from Paleo.

TIP 3: Don't let the butcher present you with a big mixed bag. This can be high in fat, have too much liver, whatever. They don't understand the process and welcome too readily the chance to get rid of stuff they couldn't sell that week.

I buy around a kilo of each organ and get to work on my “power paste”. Here's how I make it. I take out the organ meats, look at the liver, barf in my mouth, chop it all up in small pieces, mix it and barf a little again. Let's say you have 2kg of organ mix at the end of it (or simply 4 defrosted organ mixes from Paleo Ridge). To this I add all my window dressing ingredients. I like a bit of veg, whatever you like (copy Paleo Ridge's Berry Good mix). I lightly steam dark greens, some broccoli and some carrots in a little water. I chop them up fine and add them with the green steam water (that's all your vitamin B complex, don't waste it!) to the organ mix. To this I add in all the power additions – a few eggs, a big tin of pacific salmon, a few dollops of probiotic yoghurt, a glug of good fish oil (I like refined fish oil, less filler), some crushed pumpkin seeds (vitamin E and zinc but also cucurbitacin to kill any worms), a crushed clove of garlic, maybe grate in an apple and always a few tablespoons of dried seaweed powder for that vitamin, mineral and antioxidant kick. Whatever.

I spread this now purple-y mess into big trays and freeze. Generally I try to use take away food containers that hold 4-5 days worth of “power mix”. E.g., I know Duds eats around 400g of raw per day. If I want him getting 40g of organ and 40g of plant matter each day, my chunks should be around 80-100g. So, each of my takeaway containers has around 450g of power mix in it. I keep one on the go in the fridge and know I need to go through it in 5 days or so.

Alternatively, get fancy and go for power cubes! Pick up some large silicone ice cube tray things. You need an ice cube tray to suit your dog. I have trays here that make cubes of just shy of 100g and I have to make them for 3 other family members which annoys me greatly. Duds loves his cube. Out into the garden, rolling around in the muck, picking up his soil probiotics.

I love my cubes. No more worries if he got this or that and I only have to puke like a child 9 times a year. It makes DIY easy, takes all the stress out of it as you just have run around finding meat now and again, which is obviously easy. Now you're feeding the highest quality meat from down the road and you're food bill is 50% what it was.

Winner, winner, DIY dinner.

Further Reading

25th October 2021

We are very protective over the young ones, aren't we? So cute, so fragile. We want them to have the best start in life. We want to protect them from all harm, be it physical in terms of a some trauma or mental in terms of a fright. The reason being the repercussions of such happenings - an injured leg, the accidental ingestion of some poison, a dog left constantly frightened by large dogs - can be long lasting and often life debilitating.

Read more