So, in the first post of this raw feeding series, I talked about the basic principles of raw feeding and the way I started out as a raw feeder. In today’s post, I’m going to talk specifics about the BARF method.
Before I start; just a reminder to everyone that I am the lone Australian here at Team Unruly. So if there’s any lingo that sounds unfamiliar, let me know and I will translate!
So, what is BARF?
BARF = Biologically Appropriate Raw Food
The BARF acronym for this particular method of raw feeding is trademarked by Doctor Ian Bilinghurst (an Australian veterinarian), but the principles of BARF can be used by just about anybody. However, Dr Bilinghurst is somewhat of a figurehead for the BARF school of thinking and much of his thinking is extremely educational.
Dr Bilinghurst’s observation, gained through experience in his work and at home with his own pets, was that “commercial pet foods, not only did not promote good health, they produced positively bad health.” The BARF ideology follows on from what I explained about raw feeding in my last post, but of course, Dr Bilinghurst explains it all much more eloquently than I ever could:
If you want to feed your dog BARF, it means not feeding your dog cooked and or processed food. That is, not feeding your dog a diet based on cooked grains, no matter how persuasive the advertising. Artificial grain based dog foods cause innumerable health problems. They are not what your dog was programmed to eat during its long process of evolution.
A biologically appropriate diet for a dog is one that consists of raw whole foods similar to those eaten by the dogs’ wild ancestors. The food fed must contain the same balance and type of ingredients as consumed by those wild ancestors. This food will include such things as muscle meat, bone, fat, organ meat and vegetable materials and any other “foods” that will mimic what those wild ancestors ate.
Please note that modern dogs of any breed are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health. This is because their basic physiology has changed very little with domestication despite obvious and dramatic changes in their current physical appearance and mindset.
The BARF diet, being an attempt to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs, must, from a practical point of view, use food that is available from the local supermarket or whatever local or distant source is economically viable. BARF feeders do not have to go hunting or send their dogs out to hunt. That is why I said BARF must mimic, not duplicate the evolutionary diet of dogs. This is an important distinction.
But what IS BARF? What kind of food do you feed? And how much of it?
The basic BARF diet breakdown is:
- 60-80% raw meaty bones (aka RMB, which is also known as a feeding method all of its own that I’ll talk about in a future post); and
- 20-40% fruit and vegetables, offal, meat, eggs, or dairy foods.
Raw Meaty Bones (for BARF purposes), are bones with about 50% meat, e.g. chicken and turkey necks, backs and wings. Here’s Danielle’s Molly, enjoying a nice raw meaty bone in the form of a deer scapula:
The amount of BARF you feed is dependent on the size, weight, age and physical condition of your dog. The guidelines Dr Bilinghurst sets are as follows (just be aware that they are specific to the BARF products he markets):
Healthy Dogs – Not Exercising
Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals
Working, Racing, Active Dogs
Feed 3% – 6% of bodyweight per day when actually working or active. At this time feed food with a higher fat content to increase the energy supply. Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day when not active or working
Puppies – Small to Medium Breeds
Feed 3% – 5% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 small meals
Puppies – Large and Giant Breeds
Feed 2% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 meals. It is important to ensure that these puppies grow slowly. To ensure that this happens, it can be useful to add extra vegetable pulp to the patties (from a juicer). Feed soft raw bones daily. Note: – feed BARF and soft raw bones from young animals as the only source of calcium; it is not necessary and may be harmful to use calcium supplements.
Pregnant (‘in whelp’) Female Dogs
For the first two thirds of pregnancy, feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals. For the last third of pregnancy increase this to 3% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals.
Lactating Female Dogs
Depending on Litter size and the age of the puppies, feed from between 3% and 6% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals – up to free choice with large litters.
Dogs with Health Issues – for example, Kidney, Liver or Pancreatic Disease
These dogs usually require extra vegetable material, sometimes with less fat; in the latter case, combine Dr. B’s Kangaroo flavour with raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material. For simple obesity, reduce the amount of BARF and Raw Meaty Bones and replace with as much raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material as the dog will eat.
What does that actually mean?????
I hate maths too. Don’t worry. So, my 20 kilo, reasonably active little Staffordshire Bull Terrier gets 500 grams of food per day. That’s just about 3% of her body weight, and it seems to be the right amount to keep her happy and healthy. If I notice her getting a little rotund, I up her exercise and slightly reduce her portions.
If we follow BARF rules, 60-80% of those 500 grams (I go with 80% and say 400 grams of each meal) needs to be raw meaty bones. The remaining 20% (200 grams) is everything else: meat, dairy, fruit, veg, eggs and offal. That all sounds terribly exact, right?
This is where I tell you to relax and follow your instincts a little bit. As long as you’re feeding the right approximate amounts of fresh, good quality foods and you’re being careful with foods like liver, pork and heart (which I will talk about more later on), it won’t matter a great deal if your ratios are a bit off. This is especially applicable, if you a DIY BARF feeder!
Do-It-Yourself BARF can be a little labour-intensive and time consuming, but in my opinion, totally worth it. For one thing, you will save a truck-load of money if you shop smart (it will cost you significantly less than commercial food). For another, you will know exactly what your dog is eating, with no preservatives, additives or fillers.
Here’s a picture of a BARF mix I made on the fly one evening: fish (tuna and sardines), egg (including the shell), grated carrot and apple, a bit of bran and some yoghurt.
And here’s the bulk recipe I started BARF with! It makes approximately 42 serves for a medium, Staffordshire Bull Terrier sized dog (20 kilos). All up, including shopping, it will take you about 3 hours. It was originally given to me in a similar form by a SBT breeder friend, and I made changes to it over time. Feel free to make changes of your own too!
- 5 kilos kangaroo mince (or whichever minced meat you prefer, or a combination of red OR white meats. Note: kangaroo is very easy and cheap to source here in Australia, that’s why I use it. Go with whichever local meat fits your budget!)
- 6 small tins of oily fish (I usually use sardines and mackerel)
- 1 large cauliflower (or 2 medium ones)
- 2-3 large heads of broccoli
- 1 medium to large butternut squash
- 1 kilo of Granny Smith apples (de-cored)
- 1 litre of natural yoghurt
- 6 eggs (once you’ve cracked them, crush the shells and mix them in too!)
- A few generous handfuls of flax seeds (you can use the meal if you prefer, just be aware your mix will be a lot drier)
- 1/4-1/2 cup of kelp powder (you can find this in most health food stores. Go easy with it to start with, a little goes a long way!)
Here’s the kind of fish I generally use (tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines), unless fresh fish is on special!
A side note: I never put anything into my mix that I knew was toxic to dogs, because if I was unsure, I double-checked online first. However, conventional wisdom suggests caution when feeding broccoli and cauliflower, as it may cause gas and depress thyroid function if fed regularly and in large amounts. So, proceed as your own research dictates. Here’s a handy list of BARF friend fruit and veg to start you off.
Also, you’ll notice I didn’t include offal in this recipe. That’s because I prefer to feed it whole, that way I can control the portion sizes. I feed heart (ox, lamb and chicken), liver (lamb and chicken), kidney (lamb and pork), brain (lamb), tongue (lamb and ox), giblets (chicken) and very occasionally, lung (lamb). I would usually just bag them up individually, freeze (then thaw later) and then add them on top of the day’s BARF mixture. Easy peasy!
Bagged up raw meaty bones and offal for the fortnight:
Right, back to the recipe! You will need:
- a decent sized food processor
- sharp knives
- a veggie peeler
- some food prep gloves (optional, but they keep you from getting smelly gunk and raw meat under your fingernails)
- freezer bags
- a kitchen scale (particularly if you like to get your portion sizes exact)
- a nice big, clean bowl or tub to mix it up in.
- Finely process the cauliflower, broccoli, cored apples and pumpkin (peel off and discard the hard skin first). You can use the stalks, leaves and pumpkin seeds too if you like. I have seen a few articles floating around the interwebs that suggests pumpkin seeds can be very beneficial for your dog!
- Empty the processed fruit and veg, then the mince, into the tub/bowl.
- Add all of the tins of fish. If you like, you can stick your hands in now and mix together.
- Crack the eggs on top. Crush the eggshells until they’re nice and fine, add them in too.
- Empty the entire tub of yoghurt in.
- Throw the flax seeds in.
- Add the kelp powder.
- Stick your hands in and mix everything together until it’s all well-incorporated. This can take a while and a bit of effort. It’s worth it I promise.
- Scoop mixture into the freezer bags, weigh and tie off until it’s all bagged up.
- Put bags straight into the freezer.
- Put tub on floor and let helpful dogs carry on with preliminary clean up.
You’ll end up with a soft, relatively wet mixture. And yeah. IT STINKS. I think that’s probably why it was always such a hit with the dogs, smelly interesting food!
Some proponents of BARF strongly advocate the regular inclusion of bone meal in your dog’s food for added calcium. In my humble opinion, finely crushed eggshell works just as well, and you won’t have to worry about the possibility of a bowel blockage later on. You can also balance your dog’s meals to include a raw meaty bone a few times a week and they’ll get their calcium from there too.
What does a week of BARF look like?
Since I get asked about it a fair bit, here is a rough weekly breakdown of what my dog was getting on the BARF diet. Bear in mind that you do need to adjust the BARF mix portion sizes to accommodate any extras you’re feeding if your dog is not super fit and athletic.
- Monday: BARF mix + red bones (usually a neck bone, soup bone or rib bone)
- Tuesday: BARF mix + heart (either 1 lamb’s heart or 4-5 chicken hearts)
- Wednesday: BARF mix + turkey neck (and 1-2 chicken wings if the neck is small)
- Thursday: BARF mix + kidney (1 lamb kidney or pork kidney)
- Friday: BARF mix + chicken carcass
- Saturday: BARF mix + small piece of liver (2-3 chicken livers, or approximately 100 grams of lamb’s fry)
- Sunday: Fast Day
Lindsey’s Tiki thinks chicken wings are pretty awesome:
And yes, I am a fasting advocate, I usually fast Tayla once a week. It helps me manage my dog’s weight and gives her digestive system a break along with a raft of other reasons you can read about. There are passionate arguments for and against fasting; I do it because it seems to benefit my dog.
In addition to this, her treats are usually bully sticks (pizzles), beef/kangaroo tendons, antlers or something that will safely encourage her to chew and clean her teeth.
Antlers are Tayla’s favourite thing.
Where do I even get all that stuff? Wouldn’t commercial pet food be cheaper?
Not if you get organised and shop smart. I get my dog’s food from a variety of sources and I do it at the same time as my own shopping (thus not incurring any additional costs for petrol). Pet meat suppliers are usually a good place to get cheap meat. Some butchers are good for getting cheap raw meaty bones, some will even give them to you for free! I also have found that specialist meat shops (e.g. places specialising in poultry, game or fish), particularly the ones located in markets, have really low prices for meat, bones and offal.
Cheap, cheap, cheap!
Some supermarkets/grocery stores, depending on the area, have excellent deals on common offal like kidney, heart and liver – it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open! Yoghurt and sardines are also bought from the supermarket/grocery store, and I always keep an eye on what’s marked down to get the best deal.
I get my kelp (and the flax seeds, depending on price) from health food stores, but they are also very cheap to buy online.
As far as fruits and vegetables go, I never pay supermarket prices. Always get your produce cheap from a farmer’s market, or go to a greengrocer/fruit and vegetable shop if you’re in a pinch. Familiarise yourself with the reasonable prices for what you want (and more importantly, buy what’s in season) and you will usually save a bundle!
Let’s talk figures.
I’ll use premium food for this example, since it’s what I was feeding my dog before I switched over. A pet supplies store in my suburb sells Hill Science Diet Adult Healthy Mobility dry food in 13.6 kilo bags for $125.99. Each bag contains 45 (just over 6 week’s worth) three cup/300 gram serves for my 20 kilo dog.
That works out to $2.79 a serve. (Obviously, the cost would be greater per serve for a larger dog, and smaller per serve for a smaller dog.)
Here’s the price list for my BARF mix:
- Kangaroo mince: $29 (I buy my meat from a pet food supplier)
- Yoghurt: $5 (supermarket)
- Eggs: $2.50 (farmer’s market)
- Sardines: $9 (supermarket)
- Apples: $1.60 (farmer’s market)
- Cauliflower: $3 (farmer’s market)
- Pumpkin $3 (farmer’s market)
- Broccoli $3 (farmer’s market)
- Kelp powder: $7 (for a 200 gram box, I usually use 1/4 of a box for each batch, which works out to $1.75 per batch) (health food store)
- Flax seeds $10 (for 500 grams, I usually use a cup per batch, which is 180 grams. So I get 3 batches out of each bag, which works out to $3.33 per batch) (supermarket or health food store)
- Total: $61.18
Divide that by 42 and it works out to $1.45 per serve. $1.34 per serve LESS than commercial dog food.
Even if you added in the additional cost of raw meaty bones and offal, you would still come out on top. For example, I can get 3 large chicken carcasses for $1.50 at my local market, that’s 50 cents per serve. Add 50 cents to the days of the week I feed a raw meaty bone with my BARF mix and that’s $1.95 per serve total. I can get a packet of 7 lamb livers for $2.95 at my local supermarket, that’s 42 cents per kidney (and I would feed one per serve). I can get a packet of 3 lamb hearts for the same price, that’s 98 cents per heart.
Give it a go! It is strangely satisfying (once you get used to handling raw meat, bones and organs) to see just how much money you can save whilst still feeding your dog nutritious, balanced and biologically appropriate meals.
There’s also the Christmas-coming-early reaction from your dog to consider, as Kelsey’s Nellie demonstrates.
I… don’t think I really want to make BARF myself.
Should you decide that you would like to skip the ick factor of handling raw meat and various smelly substances (completely understandable!), or you prefer the peace of mind and absence of stress that comes with purchasing a ready-made BARF product, there are companies who can help!
Lindsay did an excellent review of Honest Kitchen in the US, and in Australia Dr Bilinghurt’s BARF products are an excellent place to start. These are just two examples and there are many, many others. Google is your friend!
BARF safety! A few important tips and a recap of the safety pointers from my previous post:
- Do not, under any circumstances, feed cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter or shatter and become lodged in your dog’s throat (causing a choking hazard) or perforate their intestines. If you feed cooked meat, remove the bones!
- Be very, VERY careful about what kind of bones you are feeding. Large, weight-bearing bones such as femurs, vertebrae and knuckles can cause fractures and broken teeth. Avoid them if you can, or feed for short periods under close supervision.
- Do not feed rotten or ‘off’ meat. Dogs get food poisoning, gastroenteritis and stomach upsets the same as humans do. Experienced raw feeders know when meat is good to feed and when it is borderline, but if you are new to raw feeding, err on the side of caution!
- If you are going to be making your own BARF mix, be sure to avoid foods that are toxic for dogs, such as garlic (only in large amounts; there is evidence to suggest it is quite beneficial in small amounts), onion, leek, chives, raisins, sultanas and dried grapes, avocado and macadamia. A good rule of thumb is to research every ingredient before you add it to make sure it is safe for dogs.
- Do not freeze, thaw and then refreeze your raw food. You wouldn’t do it for your own food would you? Treat your dog’s food the same way you would treat your own.
- Don’t mix white and red meat in the same freezer bag.
- You CAN mix red meats together (e.g. beef, lamb, kangaroo, buffalo, venison) or white meats together (chicken, turkey, pork). Fish is fine added to either.
- If you are going to feed raw pork mince in your BARF, make sure the mixture is frozen for at least 2 weeks before you feed it, and make sure you defrost it in the fridge, NOT at room temperature.
- Red meat offal is a lot richer than white meat offal. If you’re introducing your dog to offal, chicken hearts, livers and giblets are usually quite successful and are less likely to cause an upset tummy.
- Heart is best fed in small amounts, particularly when it is new to your dog’s diet. Ox heart in particular is extremely rich and can cause digestive distress.
- When feeding fish, be choosy. Avoid salmon if you live in the US or Canada. Ocean fish are generally safe, but research what types of local fish are safe for canine consumption.
- Freeze raw pork for a minimum of two weeks before feeding, or cook it (and de-bone it!) first. This will kill any harmful t spiralis trichonosis larvae that may be present in the meat. Raw pork is best left for when you’re a little more experienced and confident.
- Be cautious when feeding liver. A major function of the liver is to detoxify the body. The raw feeding rule of thumb is that liver should make up no more then 5% of your dog’s diet.
- Be sure to supplement your dog’s diet with regular raw meaty bones, and bully sticks/tendons to help with dental hygiene.
Danielle’s Ein loves his raw meaty bones!
Did BARF work for me?
The difference I noticed when I moved from commercial dry food to BARF (my first step in my raw-feeding journey) was swift and amazing. All of a sudden, my dog’s coat went from dull and bristly to soft and shiny. Her “doggy” skin odour disappeared and I barely needed to bath her anymore. And even when I did, a quick spray with the hose or a run in the surf and a towelling was all she needed. Her breath stopped smelling bad. Her energy levels went through the roof. She stopped passing wind as frequently. Her poops became smaller, firmer and less frequent, and the frequent loose stools I would find before the switch seemed to stop altogether.
She’s simultaneously the laziest and most athletic dog I know.
All in all, I would say BARF was a massively successful diet for my dog. Even though I have since moved on to Prey Model Raw Feeding, I still highly recommend BARF to new raw feeders, as it is an excellent place to start.
Good luck! The next post in this series will talk about Raw Meaty Bones (in the literal sense and as a feeding model) in greater detail.