March 2013: I have fallen behind by two batches of homemade pet food. Life, you know? I’ll add those recipes as soon as I find my notes. In the meantime, there have been several changes. First, we have a new family member, a puppy, my first ever. Lark is the same breed as Joey, a miniature longhaired dachshund. Her adult weight will likely be between 7 and 9 pounds. Currently, at 3 1/2 months, she weighs in at just under 4 pounds. About two weeks after she joined us, she had a seizure and then 10 days later had three more, one a day. Now she has been seizure-free for 7 days. One test suggests she may have a congenital liver malformation.

Joey and Lark hit it off immediately. She became so attached to him so quickly that I was tempted to name her Velcro.

There is much to learn and likely much to do–more tests, decisions about the best way to proceed–but for now I have taken the advice of a homeopathic vet, Stephanie Chalmers DVM, with whom I consulted. She fully approves of my homemade dog food–it is nearly identical to what she recommends to her clients. She also emphasizes the importance of selecting grass-fed meats, not corn or grain fed, which is one of the reasons she is not a fan of commercial raw pet food–we can’t know the source. Several things converged right about the time I got Lark that prevented me from making our next batch of food immediately and so I relied on commercial raw food for 4 weeks. Lark’s three-day run of seizures came when I started a brand that had just 5 percent vegetables and 95 percent meat and bones. Liver malfunction can interfere with the body’s ability to digest protein and ammonia, the body’s way of excreting excess protein, can build up. If I understood correctly, this could be what caused her seizures. I quickly returned to a commercial diet with 22 percent vegetables and she hasn’t had a seizure since. I was finally able to find the ingredients I wanted for a batch of homemade food and she’s been fine so far, fingers crossed.

Dr. Chalmers recommends a blend of 75 percent meaty bones, muscle meat and organ meat and 25 percent vegetables. This is close to what I was doing but not identical and so I’ve adjusted my formula. She emphasizes the importance of organ meats but cautions that liver should make up no more than 5 percent of the overall amount.

There’s good news coming for anyone in Sonoma County who wants to make their own pet food. Owen Family Farm is investing in a bone grinder and will soon have ground chicken and rabbit bones available. There will also soon be whole grass-fed chickens–retired layers–available for a reasonable price, maybe around $8 for a whole bird. I’m also searching for a source of ground duck necks. When these products become available, I’ll post the information here. For my newest batch of food, see Recipe #14 below.

July 2012 Update: I’ve finally gotten the hang of it and this batch of food, made on July 22, went quickly. I prepared the vegetables on Thursday, when I had a lot of leftovers from a photo shoot. They kept well. I couldn’t get the chicken necks I prefer–directly from a local ranch–so I stopped at Pacific Market in Sebastopol, where they were $1.79 a pound. The butcher told me they were all Rosie and Rocky necks. The nearly 4 1/2 pounds I purchased yielded just 2 pounds 7 ounces of necks after I took off the skin, which I froze to use some other time. Duck necks are sold without the skin. I felt the fat balance was already good, which is why I did not include the chicken skin and its fat. For the complete recipe, see #11 below.

Joey continues to do really well. He’s happy, healthy, gregarious, full of energy and has had no digestive upsets in more than a year. He has his own facebook page now, too. You’ll find him at Joey Mortadella.

May 2012 Update: The most recent batch of food I made for Joey (see March 2012 Update) lasted until May 19, instead of May 17 as I estimated when I made it. It’s not that I miscalculated. It’s simply that he had a few alternate meals. The raw program I’ve referred to suggests making one day a week a meaty bone day, which means the pup has a meaty bone and nothing else. I don’t do it weekly and instead have a meaty-bone-only day every three or four weeks. I also give him a scrambled hen or duck egg with yogurt alongside once a month or so. By Sunday,it was time to make a new batch of food and, lucky for me, Victorian Farmstead had plenty of fresh (not frozen) chicken necks. Because I had not coordinated my schedule with that of my friend who makes sausages, I was on my own when it came to grinding the necks. I began by hacking the necks into fairly small pieces with a large cleaver and then, after struggling to get about a pound through the grinder attachment, I gave my food processor a try. Bingo! It took a fraction of the time and there was no struggle. From now on, I’ll use both a Kitchen Aid Mixer with a grinder attachment and my food processor. For this batch’s details, scroll down to Recipe 10.

One of Joey's favorite things is running through grass.

Joey remains in excellent health. He’s happy, active and always hungry, like every dachshund on the planet.

March 2012 Update: It’s taken me a while to get this posted but I braved new territory with the latest batch of food for my miniature longhaired dachshund Joey.

Although Joey’s diet of raw locally raised organic meats has been a huge success by any measure, there’s one part of the process that has been a struggle and that’s the grinding of the meaty bones. These bones–primarily raw chicken and duck necks and wings–are essential to a successful raw diet and Joey’s vet was very pleased that I’ve been including them. The ratio should be two parts meaty bones to one part meat. But they are a pain to grind with my Kitchen Aid attachment and are nearly impossible to pass through an old-fashioned hand-cranked meat grinder. Not only is it necessary to use a heavy cleaver to hack the bones into small pieces; it is also necessary to dissemble the grinding mechanism numerous times to grind just a few pounds. I considered purchasing pre-ground bones from Feed This, a local producer of raw pet food based in Forestville, but I didn’t want to give up the control I have by purchasing all the ingredients myself. I like knowing the source of everything my sweet little pup eats.

So I approached a friend and colleague who has a commercial grinder. He said he’d do it and a couple of days before Mardi Gras I delivered nearly 10 pounds of duck wings, chicken feet, duck necks, chicken necks and one whole rabbit to him. On Mardi Gras, I picked things up  and added what he’d ground to what I’d prepared the night before. It took about 10 minutes to mix everything together and another 15 or so to label and package what I’d made. Now my freezer is filled with enough wholesome food to last until May 17. I made 20 pounds instead of the usual 10 and it took a fraction of the time.

Let me restate the benefits (mentioned further down in this post): Joey’s coat is sleek and shiny. He has had no digestive upsets since we started on this diet, except for the time he got into the compost and the time he ate a lot of pizza crusts after a Halloween party of 16 10-year-olds. Oops. My bad. Within the first four months of the diet, he lost over 4 pounds, going from 16 to about 11 1/2 pounds, his ideal weight. His poop does not attract flies and has little if any odor. And he is as happy a dog as I’ve ever seen.

For the details about this batch, scroll down to Recipe 9. I’ve also included Recipe 8, the smallest batch I’ve made.

December 2011 Update: I just made a new batch of food for Joey, who will be traveling with me by plane to New Orleans in a couple of days. He’ll ride in the cabin with me and I’ve packaged his homemade food in little bags, one per day, that I’ll put in the freezer once we get to our destination. If you have a cat or dog that has health problems such as allergies, dry or itchy skin or digestive upsets, you might consider switching to a raw diet. It is easiest, of course, if you have a small pet. I can make ten pounds of food in about an hour to an hour and a half and that lasts Joey 40 days. You can easily feed a larger pet in the same way but it is, obviously, more work the larger the animal is.

About a year and a half ago, I adopted a 9-year-old miniature longhaired dachshund named Joey whose human had died suddenly of a heart attack. The woman’s daughter drove from her home in Berkeley to Springfield, Missouri, to pick up the pup and posted his photo on a rescue site the same morning I happened to visit it. I’ve always had cats but I had a short-haired doxie when I was a little girl and have always had a fondness for the breed.

When Joey came for a visit–a play date, I was told–we sat across from each other like two shy teenagers on a blind date. When he jumped up on the couch–no easy feat for a miniature dachshund–and took a little treat from me, the first he’d taken from a stranger, we fell in love. He came to live with me a week later.

Joey, just before his 10th birthday on 10/10/10

The cats weren’t thrilled but Joey’s not aggressive so it’s a pretty harmonious household: We almost always all sleep in the same bed. Finding the right diet for Joey has been key to this harmony. For more than a year, he suffered from frequent digestive upsets that required several trips outside in the middle of the night, one expensive hospitalization and a lot of accidents. Through all this, I read as much as I could about diets for dogs, talked with colleagues and investigated commercial raw food options, including a local company, Feed This, Inc.

I finally decided to try making Joey’s meals myself. If I can cook for humans, why can’t I cook for a canine?

Turns out I can. We’re now on a sixth batch of homemade food and Joey couldn’t be healthier. His coat is shiny and night-time trips outside have stopped. His vet, who sees a lot of West County dachshunds, gave a thumbs up to my approach. At 11 years, Joey is beautiful, full of energy and in perfect health. He’s lost 3 1/2 pounds, a significant amount for a creature whose ideal weight is about 12 pounds. He’d gained weight on commercial food.

I’ve kept notes on everything I’d done so far. I’ve gotten more efficient at it, too. The batch I made a couple of nights ago took about an hour from start to finish and now the freezer is filled with ten 1-pound containers, each of which lasts 4 days. Joey gets 2 ounces in the morning and 2 ounces in the evening, with a half ounce of Bellwether sheep milk yogurt alongside. Now and then, he’ll have scrambled eggs and yogurt for breakfast (about once a month) and when I have more ahi than I can eat, he’ll have raw fish and yogurt for a meal or two.

I source all meat and poultry locally, primarily from Owen Family Farm, Pepper Road Poultry, Victorian Farmstead, Williams Ranches, John Ford Meats and Salmon Creek Ranch. Meats are grass-fed, all vegetables are from the farmers market and I gathered the seaweed myself. Unless otherwise indicated, ingredients are raw. I grind them with a Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. I chop all the meat before putting it through the grinder and when it comes to necks and backs, I hack them into as small pieces as possible, using a large, heavy cleaver. Including raw bones in your dog’s diet is essential.

Now that I’ve mastered this, my next project will be my cats’ diet. It’s a harder sell, as anyone with cats understands.

Here’s what I’ve prepared, starting with the most recent.

Recipe 14: 5 pounds 3 ounces Williams Ranch lamb trim; 1 pound 7 1/4 ounces Salmon Creek Ranch goat heart; 3 pounds 2 1/2 ounces Owen Family Farm goat kidney; 1 pound 12 7/8 ounces Owen Family Farm goat tongue; 5 pounds Pepper Road Farms skinned chicken necks, 2 pounds organic sweet potatoes (raw); 3 pounds mixed local organic vegetables (all raw), thusly: 1 small Romanesco broccoli, 1 small cauliflower; spinach; Lacinato kale; celery leaves; carrots and 2 bunches Italian parsley; 1 1/8 ounces dried wakame, refresh in a little hot water. Everything except the chicken necks went through my Kitchen Aid sausage grinder. I used a large Chinese cleaver to hack the chicken necks into small pieces and then processed them in small batches in my food processor. I mixed everything together until relatively uniform and then packed 1 1/2 pounds into freezer bags. I increased the size of the packages because I am now feeding two dogs, not just one. I expect a package to last about 3 days or a tad longer. Currrently, Lark is eating about 3 1/4 ounces a day. I also give both dogs a spoonful of whole milk yogurt and, often, homemade bone broth, which they love.

Recipe 13: Coming soonish.

Recipe 12: Coming soonish.

Recipe 11: 7 pounds 7 ounces meaty bones (5 pounds duck necks from Salmon Creek Ranch; 2 pounds 7 ounces chicken necks from Pacific Market in Sebastopol); 1 pound lamb trim (Williams Ranches); 2 pounds duck gizzards, 1 pound duck liver (Salmon Creek Ranch); 1 pound 4 ounces lamb hearts and 1 pound 2 ounces lamb liver (Owen Family Farm); 2+ pounds zucchini, Romanesco broccoli, carrots and Italian parsley; 1 ounce seaweed, refreshed in a bit of water. I put the vegetables through my Kitchen Aid processor, using the grating blade. Meats went through the Kitchen Aid grinder. I hacked the duck and chicken necks with a big cleaver and then ground them–in batches of about 1 1/4 pounds–in the Kitchen Aid processor fitted with the metal blade. Yield: 15 pounds, 7 ounces. Should last 60 days, which puts the next batch on the calendar for around September 22.

Recipe 10:  6 pounds meaty bones (5 pounds chicken necks from Victorian Farmstead; 1 pound duck necks from Salmon Creek Ranch); 2 1/2 pounds duck gizzards (Salmon Creek Ranch); 2 1/2 pounds lamb trim (Williams Ranches); 1 pound duck liver (Salmon Creek Ranch); 6 ounces duck meat (Salmon Creek Ranch); 1 chicken liver, 1 chicken heart, 1 chicken gizzard (Felton Acres); 1 pound mixed vegetables (broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, all steamed); 1 pound zucchini; 8 ounces carrots; 6 ounces kale from my garden; 1/2 bunch Italian parsley; 1/2 ounce seaweed from Donna Bishop, refreshed in water for a few seconds. Everything except the meaty bones went through the grinder; the bones were hacked into small bits and then processed in a Kitchen Aid food processor fitted with the metal blade. Yield: 14 pounds, 2 3/4 ounces.

Recipe 9: 9 pounds meaty bones (Salmon creek duck wings and duck necks; Pepper Rd. Poultry chicken feet; Victorian Farmstead and Pepper Rd. Poultry chicken necks; 1 whole rabbit from Owen Family Farm); 7 1/2 pounds meat, including 1 pound 14 1/4 ounce Williams Ranches lamb trimmings; 1 pound 1 1/2 ounces Salmon Creek duck gizzards; 15 ounces chicken hearts and 17 ounces chicken liver, both from Victorian Farmstead; 15 ounces pork heart, 9 ounces lamb tongue, 7 1/4 lamb heart and 5 3/4 ounces lamb kidney, all from Owen Family Farm; 3 1/2 pounds vegetables, including 3 ounces nettles (which I blanched for 15 seconds) from Oak Hill Farm; 1 pound Romanesco broccoli from French Garden Farm; 2 pounds sweet potatoes from Schletewitz Farm; 1 1/8 ounces (dry weight) Wakame seaweed from Donna Bishop, refreshed in warm water for 10 seconds; 1 large bunch Italian parsley from Triple T Farm.

Recipe 8: I had to make this batch shortly after returning from our trip to New Orleans and I totally spaced out writing it down so I don’t have quantities. I made a smaller batch than usual, 6 to 7 pounds instead of the usual 10. Production went quickly. I used beef liver, chicken necks, duck necks, lambs tongue, a single duck breast, carrots, parsley, nettles and seaweed.

Recipe 7: 2.14 pounds chicken necks; 1.12 pounds duck necks; 3 pound duck gizzards; 12.5 ounces lamb hearts; 6.12 ounces lamb kidney; 1 pound 4.5 ounces beef heart; 12.25 ounces raw sweet potato; 8.5 ounces raw carrots; 8 ounces raw broccoli; about 1/2 ounce seaweed (refreshed in water). Sources: Salmon Creek Ranch; Victorian Farmstead; John Ford Meats; Santa Rosa farmers market.

Recipe 6: 1 & 1/2 pounds duck necks; 1 & 1/3 pounds chicken necks; 12 ounces chicken backs; 1 & 1/4 pound beef heart; 1 pound duck liver; 1 pound duck hearts; 1 pound duck gizzards; 1 pound cooked Blue Lake green beans; 9 ounces raw sweet potato; 14 ounces steamed broccoli & cauliflower; about 1/4 ounce seaweed (refreshed in water).

Recipe 5: 3 pounds duck necks; 1 & 1/2 pounds lamb liver; 1 pound duck gizzards; 2 1/2 pounds lamb trimmings; 1 1/2 pound lamb kidney; 10 ounces raw carrots; 12 ounces boiled broccoli; 8 ounces boiled green beans; about 1/4 ounces seaweed (refreshed in water)

Recipe 4: 2 & 1/4 duck necks; 1 & 1/2 pounds lamb liver; 8 ounces duck breast; 2 pounds duck gizzards; about 1 pound boiled broccoli and green beans; 1 pound raw carrots; about 1/4 ounce seaweed.

Recipe 3: (Did not record quantities) Chicken necks; backs; wings and breast bone; chicken breast; lamb trimmings; broccoli stems, seaweed.

Recipe 2: (Did not record quantities) chicken necks and backs; goat meat; goat kidney; lamb; zucchini; green beans; seaweed.

Recipe 1: (Did not record quantities) Chicken necks; backs and breast; duck breast; beef stew meat; zucchini; green beans; seaweed.

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