While They Sleep

In the early morning hours, while the house is quiet and my four children are still snoring, I get up and pull on thick long underwear. Hearing my feet on the floor, the dogs start making soft whining noises in their crates. They know what’s coming.

The sun is not up yet. Sometimes we can hardly see where we are going. The sky is dusty and the ground is crunchy with frost. The goats are sleeping in the barn, the chickens are still in the coop, and the sparrows are just beginning to chirp. In these moments, I can feel the pulse of the Earth. I can feel how we are all connected.

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The dogs race to the field, then look at me expectantly. They’ve been waiting all night for this. It’s time to play fetch!

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They would chase the ball all day, if I let them. Most mornings I’ll throw for 15 minutes or so, and then we take our walk.

We cross the field to say hello & good morning to the old oak trees. At this time of year, the leaves carpet the ground and make a delightful swooshing sound as we walk through them. I often wonder about these trees. If they could talk, what stories would they tell? What have they been witness to all these years? How has the landscape changed?

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We walk the perimeter of the field closest to the house. The dogs race ahead, then race back to me at full speed. They tumble over each other, wrestle, and come back for pats and belly rubs. When we’ve finished our walk, they’re all panting and thirsty. They have a good, long drink while I take care of the farm chores.

The goats are awake now and have come out of the barn. They’re pacing by the gate, waiting for their breakfast. With this year’s shortage of hay, I was very lucky to find some bales from a nearby woman who had more than her horses needed.

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(See that handsome buck on the left? That’s Boots, our springtime babe, now full grown!)

The chickens have heard the goats’ happy bleats and have come running for their share.  They swarm around me, clucking and hopping, eager for their morning crumble & kitchen scraps.

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When everyone is fed and happy, I gather some eggs and head for the house. By now the sun hangs just above the horizon, and my kids are stirring in the family bed. The dogs and I make our way inside to welcome the children into the day. We snuggle and I listen to the kids tell me about their dreams, with sleepy eyes and creaky voices. They start their day softly, totally oblivious to the life I live while they sleep.

Thoughts on Dog Diet

A little while ago, I posted about replacing commercial dog food with homemade meals for our dogs, and included the recipe that I started out with.  After receiving some great advice from readers and friends, reading up a bit more about canine nutrition, and paying close attention to my dogs, I’ve made a few changes to that first recipe of mine.

To begin with, now I use more sweet potato and less potato, more carrots and less apple, and more raw meats/fish.  I cut out tuna due to concerns about mercury, and have replaced that with salmon, sardines, sole and herring.  I was feeling that fish alone wasn’t enough animal protein, so I checked out the meat aisle in the grocery store (I have never in my life shopped in the meat section of the store! It was a strange experience…).  There is a section of the cooler that is full of deals, 30% off and so forth, so I stocked up on some chicken legs and ham.  Now, in the morning the dogs will get a raw chicken leg with bone or a chunk of raw ham.  In the evening they get their rice mix (with the tweaks I mentioned above), topped with fish, flax oil, and a scoop of cottage cheese.  I still throw a raw egg in there from time to time, as well, and mix in the broken shells for added calcium.

On their new diet, the dogs have shown some awesome changes.  They have more focused energy (as opposed to hyperactive, unfocused wildness), seem better able to follow through on commands, and have brighter eyes.  Their fur is shining and so soft.  Oddler, 11 years old next month, had been suffering from a bad arthritic limp that has now completely disappeared (he had been nearly unable to walk some days, before the diet change). They sleep better and poop less – and, speaking of poop, their stools are smaller than they’ve ever been, not much bigger than our cat’s poop!  This tells me they are absorbing most of the nutrition from their food, instead of taking in lots of fillers that pass right through them and come out as large stools.

So, I think it’s safe to say that the dogs are thriving on their new diet.  They exude health.  It’s easier on our wallets and life is just all-around better for everyone!

It’s a Dog’s Life

Before Jae stopped working his office job, we purchased middle-of-the-line dry food for our dogs.  With two medium-large dogs who really know how to run all day, middle-of-the-line food could become a fairly significant portion of our grocery bill.  When Jae left the office behind and our income became casual, we downgraded to bottom-of-the-line dry food for the dogs.  Yes, the nasty, full of filler, no name kibble. We couldn’t justify spending so much money on dog food.  I justified the crappy food by including a raw egg on top every morning, but every time I glanced at the ingredients list on the bag, I felt a wave of guilt.  Mainly grains, full of fillers, plenty of preservatives, chicken meal by-product (I’m guessing ground feet & beaks? Yuck!), chemicals and unpronounceable additives.  I don’t feed my kids such poor food, or my livestock, or my poultry.  WHY was I feeding garbage to my beloved furry friends?

Soon enough, Molly started showing typical behaviour changes, mainly hyperactivity.  I’ve known for a long time that poor-quality food can negatively affect a dog’s behaviour, but the changes in Molly still caught me by surprise.  She needed to poop more often and had a couple of accidents in the house.  I knew within a week of the diet change that the crap food was just not cutting it.

This morning that first bag of crappy food finally ran out.  I knew it wasn’t in the budget to switch back to the decent food we used to buy, but I was not about to buy more low-grade junk.  So, I looked up the ingredients on the premium food (the kind that sells for $75 per bag – yikes!), read a few dog nutrition websites, and decided I’d make good food for my dogs at home.

After costing it out, homemade dog food works out to less than the cheapo crap food, and about 10000x healthier!

Here’s what I did tonight for my dogs:

1 sweet potato
2 potatoes
2 apples (simply because both dogs LOVE apples and go nuts for them)
2 cups of brown rice cooked in chicken broth
2 Tbsp flax oil
1 can of tuna
Handful of chopped carrots and broccoli

I cooked the sweet potato and the potatoes, stirred in the rice, apples, carrots and broccoli.  There seemed to be enough for at least a few days, so I doled out each dog’s serving, and added the tuna and flax oil on top. (I also poured the water from the tuna can into the bowls.)

The dogs devoured it. I have never seen them so eager to eat their dinner before.

Each morning they will still get their raw egg (with crushed shell), and on Sundays when we have our chicken dinner the dogs get all the scrapings.  I’m also going to experiment a bit with higher ratio of meat to veggies/rice (always raw meat), and try including things like cottage cheese or kefir.

All in all, it took me hardly any time to prepare the dogs’ food tonight, and I won’t have to do it again for at least three days – there is plenty still in the fridge.  The cost can’t be beat, my feelings of guilt were taken care of, and Oddler & Molly loved their first homemade meal.  I think we’re on the right path!