Sunday, December 21, 2008

Daily Grind

Yesterday I made about 160# of dog food.

As you may or may not know, we feed our dogs a raw homemade diet. It's really not too much trouble normally - once you learn the basic rules and also learn what works for your particular pets it's fairly easy.

A lot of people who feed raw diets don't grind anything. After all, dogs and cats come well equipped with excellent meat and bone grinders as standard equipment.

In my case, I've got several reasons for grinding meat and bones for the dogs. One is, we've got a little Shih-Tzu cross dog we inherited who is about 14 years old and missing some teeth. While he LOVES to eat meaty bones and I occasionally give him small ones, I am worried about him breaking/losing what teeth he's got left. And before you ask, yes he has had a dental and dental X-rays etc. The teeth he has are fairly sound but I tend to err on the side of caution.

Another reason - probably the main reason - is that Teddy and Topper are hopeless pansies when it comes to eating raw food. It is totally my fault: I'm their breeder, I raised them, I weaned them to raw food. That's pretty much all they've eaten their entire lives... and in the 10 years I've been feeding raw food to dogs, they are by far the PICKIEST eaters I've ever had. Teddy will eat turkey necks, and pork neck bones. Period. Topper will eat ONLY pork neck bones. Neither one of them will touch a whole piece of chicken (say a leg quarter) but they like chicken if it's ground up. They'll also eat hamburger but won't touch raw liver unless it's ground up and mixed with something they like. *Sigh*

I have nearly the opposite problem with their mother Kinsey - she's a classic gulper. She'll eat anything I give her, but I have to be careful that the pieces are big enough that she can't just swallow them down and choke.

So although they all do get whole meaty bones on a regular basis - which I believe is important to them for the psychological satisfaction and the physical exercise, not to mention the teeth cleaning - because there are so many limitations on what my crew will eat and on what I can safely give them that I grind food so I can get a bigger variety of things into them.

I used to have a little electric meat grinder from Northern Tool that is popular with people who grind food for their pets.

It worked great for a couple of years, but then finally died. I have no complaints - it's a light duty grinder made for grinding meat only (there is a sticker on it that says you're supposed to remove not only the bones before grinding, but even the skin!) and I routinely ran 40 to 50 lbs. of various chicken parts through it at a time. It was hard on the grinder, but hard on me too - there was a lot of preparation because I had to cut or chop the chicken into smallish bits so they would A) fit through the hopper, and B) not bog the machine down too much. It usually took longer to do that, than it did to grind everything up.

So when it finally perished I decided I didn't want to go through all that again. I wanted a grinder that was bigger, stronger, and - most importantly - with a strong enough motor and a large enough hopper that I didn't have to cut a chicken leg quarter into 4 or 5 pieces to get it to go through.

After some searching, we settled on the 3/4 horsepower grinder from Cabela's:

So yesterday I decided to christen the thing and went to the grocery wholesalers and got a 40# case of chicken leg quarters, and a 40# case of chicken backs. Then I went to Fiesta for a bunch of beef heart and chicken liver - and since they were having a great sale I picked up 20 more lbs. of chicken leg quarters.

Now, chicken leg quarters have a nearly perfect ratio of meat to bone naturally. Chicken backs, on the other hand, are mostly bone and some fat with the skin. But I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of Nilgai meat in the freezer courtesy of some very generous friends who are hunters.

This is a Nilgai - they have become popular as game animals in Texas

Nilgai, like most game meats, is very lean. So the fatty, bony chicken backs are a perfect addition to it as a calcium source and a fat source.

Normally, I am not this ambitious when I'm grinding food for the dogs. I think the most I've done at one time in the past was about 50 lbs. And that took about 3 hours, using my little meat grinder from Northern Tool.

So I was really, really hoping that my new grinder would do the trick. Nothing like jumping in with both feet. I unpacked it, washed the parts that come into contact with the meat, put it together and turned it on.

First surprise - it's a lot quieter than my old grinder! It's still not exactly what I'd call a stealth machine, but when I turned it off my ears weren't ringing.

So far, so good.

Let's see what it does with a chicken leg quarter.

I picked up a small one, and fed it into the hopper drumstick first.

The grinder sucked the whole thing down, and the motor didn't even change pitch.

This calls for a Tim Allen "more power" grunt: HOH, hoh, HOH, HOH, HOH!

It was so awesome! It took everything without any effort at all - there were a few giant chicken leg quarters that wouldn't quite fit, but all I had to do was cut through the thigh so they'd straighten out a bit. It took me about the same amount of time to go through that 160+ lbs. as it used to take me to go through 40 lbs. - and my hands weren't hurting at the end from using the poultry shears.

100 lbs of raw meaty bones = $ 40
40 lbs Nilgai = free
16 lbs liver and heart = $ 20
Most excellent new grinder = $275*
Having a couple of month's
worth of food for 4 Danes
in the freezer = PRICELESS

*A lot of money, yes - but this sucker will pay for itself pretty quickly!
Not to mention keeping ME happy...


Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

I've never heard of a Nilgai before :-).

That is interesting about the grinder. Mine are good at eating the RMBs, but I'd rather grind for traveling and also for adding supplements. My vet wanted me to give one of my greyhounds 2 tablespoons of herbs each day.... hmmm how do you suppose I mix that with a chicken back. A grinder would give me something to mix with. Thanks for the info.



Barb said...

Hi Jen,
Thanks for reading my blog!

Being able to easily mix in supplements or medications is definitely a benefit to grinding. You can always use regular ground meat for that - and I have - but it's usually a lot cheaper to buy whole cuts and grind them yourself.

Barb said...

Also, for anyone thinking about getting a grinder - if you aren't going to be grinding a whole lot, or if you'll mostly be grinding smaller things like chicken backs or wings, the smaller grinder from Northern Tool would probably work GREAT for many years. The regular price for it is about $100, but it's often on sale for $89 or so. And the body on it isn't much bigger than a large toaster, so it's pretty easy to store.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Thanks for the tip! I would not be grinding that much since my greys are all good eaters. But I'd love to be able to grind some chicken backs for supplements or for a sick dog that isn't eating as well.


Fred said...

Hey, I thought I'd check out your blog since you were on mine and then even better, I find out it's about Danes and rescue Danes at that. Wonderful!

I feed my dogs ground up meat/bones as well. I used to feed unground but everytime they gagged a little or took a big gulp, my heart would skip a beat so I decided to use ground instead. They get lots of big beef bones to chew on for dessert, though.

I get the butcher to grind everything up for me right now but have been thinking about getting a grinder myself so thanks for all the info. Just one question: How long does the clean up take?

Barb said...

Hi Fred! Thanks for reading! I love your blog - although I just realized that I hadn't included it on my blogroll yet. That has been remedied.

The clean up is actually pretty darn easy. There are only about 5 parts that actually come into contact with the meat and must be taken apart and washed. That only takes 10 minutes or so.

What can take longer is splatter cleanup - this happens if you force biggish pieces down the throat of the hopper. It doesn't seem to harm the grinder - you're just compressing the soft tissue. But it will make a mess sometimes. Teeny-tiny little flecks of meat or juice all over the counters, the cabinets, the floor, me...

Which is really why the bigger grinder is such a time saver. There is very little prep. With the smaller grinder it took me about as long to cut leg quarters down into small pieces that would fit easily into the hopper, as it took to grind and package everything. But I only used poultry shears and a knife to cut up the quarters - I've got some friends who take the leg quarters outside or into the garage and chop them up with a SHARP hatchet. They say it only takes 5 minutes or so to reduce 10 lbs. into little pieces. I'm chicken (ooh sorry about the pun) to try that myself - I'm enough of a klutz I'd whack off a body part or two.

Fred said...

I'd have to agree with you about the hatchet. Cleaning up blood and bone splatter in the garage can't be fun - not to mention what the neighbours might think if they walked by at the wrong time. I'll go for the bigger grinder instead and see how that works out.

Barb said...

I often think that if CSI ever has cause to test our house we'll be put away for serial murder for sure. Not just the kitchen - all those years of thawing meat and bones in the bathtub! :-)

I'll bet you'll like the bigger grinder. There are several makes that raw feeders use - American Eagle is one. Cabela's is a newer make but I heard good things about their grinders and I sure like mine!

Linwood said...

Liked the second machine. The whole stainless steel one. Love this type of structure. Easy to handle and maintain. :)