Friday, 16 May 2014

Dog food

Feeding a pack of livestock guardian dogs can be expensive.
However there are a number of ways to help reduce the overall feeding costs.
This is how we “do it.”
How we "do it" does not mean to say how you should do it.
Each one to their own choices and decisions.

Feeding dogs is always regarded as a “hot topic” among dog breeders and dog owners. 
Some swear by certain brands, others by raw feeding, yet others by “traditional” foods that dogs would eat in their land of origin.

I have the simple belief to feed what we have,
what is available,
 as best as we economically can,
and as naturally possible.

I am not influenced by fads, great marketing, or clever packaging of big brand names of dog food.
In fact, I am actually fairly adverse to these gimmicks in the dog food industry.
I like to keep it simple and affordable.

So, this is what we do most of the time with our adult dogs.
We are feeding 8 Sarplaninac dogs,that is over 800 lbs. of dog,
 every day.
(Add some more, for all the border collies, too...)

For the most part, their diet consists of raw feeding.
By raw feeding, I mean we feed whole carcasses cut up for our dogs.
We have a livestock ranch, and where you have livestock, you also have dead stock.
As we check all our animals twice daily, if we have a dead sheep or cow,
we usually find it in a “fairly fresh” state.
Dogs have evolved and have adapted to many types of diets, their stomach acid is very powerful, and they are able to digest very stinky, rotten meat without too many ill side effects.
We do not however, feed very stinky rotten meat,
 the dogs will sometimes bury it, or hide it and then dig up later to chew on again.

Lucy with her beef

We will take the dead animal (whose body has been protected by the dogs until we arrive) and freeze it.
We have a freezer dedicated to dog food.
The sheep are frozen for at least 2 weeks.
If we have lambs/chickens/calves who die, they too end up in the freezer.
In the winter it is very convenient, with temperatures below minus 20, we can easily freeze the carcasses outside and do not need the freezer (advantages to living in Canada!).

After a violent bull fight we were left with 3 dead, they became the winter food for the dogs. 

After being frozen for a few weeks (we do this to kill the tapeworm that causes C-Ovis in sheep),
Eric will take his chainsaw and just cut the sheep up into thick slices.

Eric cutting up a bull for the dogs.

 The whole carcass gets used--guts, stomach, bones, and all.
Usually these pieces are pretty chunky so the dogs may only get fed once every two days.

Putting it into an economic perspective:
An 18 kg bag of kibble costs about $40 per bag and our dogs eat a bag every 2 days.
A dead ewe has $0 value, as she is dead.
When utilized for the dogs, as food, she has a value.
Our dogs eat 3-4 days from her.
The dead sheep is now saving us $60-$80 in feed costs.
So, instead of having a loss from the dead animal we actually "profit" from her death.

Many people warn us that once the dogs have “tasted lamb” or "tasted blood" they will not be reliable as LGDs anymore.
This is not true; the dogs can clearly distinguish between a live animal and a dead animal.
They will protect a carcass, and then when cut up and offered as a meal a few weeks later, will willingly eat it then.

Lucy  protecting a dead sheep carcass from ravens and other predators.

 We do not leave whole carcasses out for the dogs to eat from.
We like to know “what” the animal died from, so do not want the dogs to scavenge on carcasses.

By removing and feeding the dead stock we remove any attractants for predators.
If there are no carcasses to dig up or scavenge on, most predators will move on.
In studies it has been found that feeding off dead animal piles encourages predators to hang around,
who will then more likely start predating on livestock.
Removing carcasses or dead piles,
can decrease predation by 55 times!
If we do have a dead animal that we will not feed,
we compost that carcass to dispose of it.

If we have no dead stock available, we may choose to butcher some cull animals for the dogs.
This could be an old ewe, or one with a bad udder or one who is too thin, in fact, anyone who is on the cull list. We will slaughter the cull and proceed with freezing and later cutting.

Fena enjoying some elk ribs.

 The value of a cull animal is higher as dog food than it is to sell her.
Transport costs, auction costs, and commission costs are simply too high for the amount you will make from selling her.
Feeding her to the dogs is economically a better choice.
Dog kibble is expensive, feeding fresh mutton is cheap and is a high value food.

Shadow with a day or two's worth of meat.
 Not only that, I would also argue that it is better for the welfare of that cull animal,
who does not have to undergo the stress of a 7 hour transport,
going through an auction barn,
 being shipped to a slaughter plant possibly on the other side of Canada.
She simply and humanely gets killed right here at the ranch where she was born and has spent her life.

Another added value is that you are feeding your dogs a high quality (local) diet,
better than kibble made in some far away country, with unknown ingredients, risk of recalls, and poor processing.
At certain times of the year, one can often collect hunting scraps and get butchering remains.
We have laying hens so a few eggs can also be added to their diet as needed.

Hunting scraps

There are times when we do feed kibble, our dogs are flexible, and they eat what they are offered.
Sometimes, when travelling it is convenient to feed kibble rather than taking some sheep chunks along with us.

When we do feed kibble, we feed a mid range kibble,
we do not fuss about corn gluten or animal by products.
We feed a standard maintenance kibble.
However, feeding kibble in among hundreds of sheep is quite a chore,
 as the sheep really like and want to eat the kibble!

Our dogs are healthy, fit, and energetic, have no allergies, have great coats and strong clean teeth, and are never ill.
Is their diet balanced?
Well, I like to believe so, based on their health and their appearance.
I feed to need.
More work, very cold, then the dogs get more.

When feeding pups, I will raise them on a raw diet and also feed them kibble so that they can transition well into a home that may not be feeding a raw diet.
The pups get a standard (Purina) puppy food, that is easily obtainable all over. 

I believe the benefits of feeding old and dead stock are high.
The only disadvantage may be that the cutting up part is a little gory.

Going from carcass to dog food.

 Seeing the dogs enjoying a healthy meal of mutton or beef, knowing we have recycled, made the best economic decision (rather than dumping the dead, we create a value for that dead animal), made a humane choice for the cull animal, and removed attractants for wildlife
makes this way of feeding a good choice.
As the old saying goes, “Waste not, want not.”

Vuk, sheer bliss.


  1. Thank you very much, for long I wanted to know how LGD are fed. I feel better now for having to resort to kibbles once in a while and I certainly agree to feed cull animals. And thank you for the gory chain saw tip.

  2. Great plan to feed dead or cull animals to all those dogs. I was wondering how I could more cheaply feed my LGDs when we get them. And on a healthy raw meat diet. My question is since you do not have a gun, how do you kill your culls meant for dog feed?


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