"PREPARE TO BE OWNED"

Thursday, 15 March 2018

DIY Raw Food

Having moved to exclusively raw feeding my girls, I had found my food bills increasing dramatically.

With breeding queens, it has to be accepted that food need (and therefore cost) will fluctuate; A pregnant cat will be hungried and need more calories to nourish her body and the growing kittens inside. Having birthed her litter she will then require more calories in order to nourish herself and to produce milk to meet the demands of her litter of kittens who will grow rapidly demanding more and more. When they wean at around 5-6 weeks of age, they will need growing quantities of raw food themselves until they go to their new homes which should never be before 12 weeks of age. The queen freed of feeding duties at full weaning (around 8 weeks) will still need extra food to regain condition she has lost.

During all of these times the queen should be allowed to eat as much as she requires/requests.

And so too must a kitten. Feeding 6+ times a day to gain nutrition so support growth and development. Then, by the time it grows into sub adulthood (5/6 months) and on into full adulthood (at around a year)  its tummy will be able to accomodate larger sized meals, and demand will drop to 3 - 4 meals, then to 2 - 3 meals per day.

General guidance is that an adult cat recieve 2-3% of their body weight in food per day.
This would be adjusted according to lifestage & need. In a pregnant or lactating queen this percentage rises to 4 - 8% and once the demand of pregancy and kitten rearing is done, she should be fed 3.5% to help her regain her condition and back to her normal, prepregnancy weight.

Weaning kittens at 4 - 8 weeks of age should have approx 4.5 - 8% of their body weight in food and it is important that each kitten in the litter is aweighed regularly - daily or every other day to ensure that they are gaining weigh normally. From 8 weeks to adulthood (at 1 year) the food need per day would be 4%.

In the case of an overweight cat, unlikely but not impossible in the Sphynx breed, less should be offered so that they can lose some of that unhealthy excess weight. A daily allowance of 1.5 - 2% per would allow a slow, meaused loss of weight returning to 2-3% once normal weight was achieved.

Prune is at 5 months and is feeding as much food as she wants which she asks for three or more times a day. Noodle has now regained her pre-pregnancy condition and weight and will ask to eat just twice per day, though I do offer more when I feed Prune. Basically it is there for the asking!

You must bear in mind that the Sphynx cat has higher metabolic rate and are a more active feline breed than most others and so correspondingly, their calorific/food needs will be greater too.  An adult female will be around 3 - 4kg and a male between 4 - 5kg. If your Sphynx cat is overwieght examine carefully the foods that are being offered. Look to reduce the amount of food starting with cutting out treats and any titbits. 

I personally do not weigh out the food as I dish it out but know roughly what quantity will be eaten and so provide Noodle & Prune according to their appetites. I have also noted that when they have a food they like a lot they ask for it more often and when it is one they dont like, even though they might tell me "I'm hungry" they would rather go hungry than to eat it.

So, my food bill for food from Natural Instinct when compared to what I was spending when Noodle was on Kibble are notably higher. I dont mind in as much as I do feel that despite the difficulties and changes we've had to overcome and accept in getting to where we are on the BARF diet, and I feel happy that  it is the most natural and so the most appropraite way to feed but I do live on a low income and so must address this in the best way I can.

This has come in the form of research on whether I can make the food myself and more and more I felt that making my own gave me control over what they ate and so by consequence I could ensure that their diet was the best it can possibly be. Of course the frozen NI food is balanced and contains the nutrients they need, but I needed to find out -

  1. can I do it myself?
  2. can I do it better? 
  3. can I do it cheaper?

Oh, the wonders of the internet! Luckily there are people who do raw feed recipes they have made themselves and, not only that but had taken the time and trouble to look into what nutrients those ingredients provided. At my fingertips I found support, knowledge and even step by step guides about how to prepare DIY raw food.

Home preparing BARF is not for the feint of heart. Handling the raw meat, bone and organ is most assuredly not for everyone. The reward of making the food are that it will cost less than prepared food and that you know EXACTLY what is in it. And you have the comfort or having done the best for your cat that you can do to provide it a diet as much like the one it was evolved to eat as it is possible to do. You will have earned those purrs!

TOOLS

If you dont have the tools already in your kitchen you need you will need to acquire them. You will need:

  • a heavy meat cleaver
  • a knife sharpener
  • a strong, washable/scrubable board that is up to the job on which you will chop the meat.
  • poultry Shears may also be useful
  • a grinder/mincer capable of handling bone
  • a very very large bowl for mixing the entire batch
  • a large jug
  • a whizzer is useful
  • containers for freezing into

The most expensive outlay by far (if you choose to get one) is a meat grinder. This is not an essential item if you are going to be able to feed chunks and whole bone. You may need to start with fine chopping and work up to chunks if your cat is used to mince or canned meat.

Scroll down to see : More about my decision to buy a Grinder/Mincer

You need to know so much, like which bone of which animal can be fed safely, how best to prepare a specific cut of meat, what proportions of meat, bone and organ are required for the best balance in the complete diet.

Luckily all these things are discussed in forums and groups and it is very easy to ask anything that you feel unsure of to be pointed in the right direction. There are people who are passionate about BARF food and who will go out of their way to help you out.

I found a lot of different information about which makes of grinder are considered most suitable and which are not. Luckily for me, though some are machines are not readily available in the UK,  you can get someting suitable without having to fork out for an industrial machine! Mine came courtesy of a well known online store and a prime membership deal via a friend who has Prime!

One of the best resources by far in my learning, and in aquiring the support I needed to gain confidence to do this has been through membership to a Facebook group: CRAP (Completely Raw & Proud). This group has provided members with a fabulous resource section with files that include information about raw feeding and other choices, links to online suppliers, a basic 1kg batch reciple and photo tutorials on making a batch.  There are two fabulous spreadsheets, one of which will allow you to enter each of your ingredients and their weight and then will calculate for you where your your batch might be falling short  (e.g not enough bone, meat or organ content so you'll know exactly where an adjustment is required) . It will even tell you based on data you add about each of your cats weight how long your batch of food will last. The other is a tool for calculating your costs per batch/portion which is helpful for comparisons and planning economically. There are YouTube tutorals showing you how to use the spreadsheet program, how to use a meat cleaver to prepare a whole oven ready chichen without losing a finger in the process!

Tooled up, I set about ordering my ingredients from my usual grocery store so that everything could be delivered with my usual shopping - YES, all  the ingredients I needed in my chosen recipe are readily available from the supermarket (not necessarily things I would choose to eat myself). Regarding sourcing your own ingredients:  a friendly local butcher would be able to offer a much wider variety of ingredients, particularly in terms of organs. Additionally the bigger the freezer space you have available to you then the better the deals you might get for bulk buying.

My ingredients were all delivered to me refridgerated fresh but there are certain things that are easier to prepare if they are partially frozen - such as liver just as one example. When partally frozen the meat is more solid and so easier to cut,  there is less blood too and so less slippery and messy. Plus an additional bonus is that it keeps the smell down.

I cut up beef heart first easily making it into large chunks which I popped into the feed shoot of my grinder which I had set up with the largest mince disk in place for a coarse grind product. It tore through the meat quickly and in no time at all I had a bowl full of minced up heart. I did find that some sinew jamed things up necessitating some dismantling mid way. Next time I will make sure not to put those parts in. I live and learn!

Next I moved on to the prep and grind of my 3 oven ready chickens. Cleaver and grinder combined having learned what I needed to know from a YouTube tutorial allowed me to use every part except for the main thigh/leg bone which I removed. An experienced cat, can be given these to chew and they would strip all of the meat off of it. Mine were very eager as the smell in the kitchen by now was driving them nuts but they didn't seem to know what to do with this morsel. I left them down for the rest of the time I was creating and then removed and threw them away. If you are a cook you could always stock pot these bones!

I then had 3 bowls of chicken mince and my bowl of beef heart. Unfortunately the chicken liver I had ordered was not in stock and so my batch was not going to end up quite in balance. A tad annoying, however, I can correct this later - so no real panic.

Now I opened 3 tins of pilchards in tomato sauce and into this I cracked  4 raw organic eggs (no antibiotics used in laying hens) and this I whizzed into a slurry into which I added water. Using my cleaned out/thoroughly washed washing up bowl (the largest bowl I have) I stirred my entire mix up together, then, portioned it out into the awaiting clip lock boxes. I weighed each box as I went and each has  near as damn-it 400g of my home made food in it. At the end I had 13 x 400(ish) g and a 14th box with a little that was  left over. These were put into the freezer where they will remain for 2 weeks before being used.

Clean up of all tools and bowls as well as the area I was working in was pretty labour intensive and I will take care to work out a way to minimize cleanup operation in furure but as this was my first effort I feel very proud and good about it.

Dealing with a missing ingredient on batch day

Now I needed to deal with the fact that my planned for liver was missing. Liver cannot be overlooked as an inredient in the batch so I turned to the CRAP group to ask for advice. The best solution offered is the one I am going to do.  I will buy some liver and prepare it by chopping, then freeze it in to "bought for the purpose", lidded ice cube trays. All I will need to do is  pop out one  liver cube at a time to add to my batched/portioned thawed home prepared raw food.

Safe High Quality Food & Safe Handling

Making your own food gives you the reassurance that you know exactly what your cats are eating. And that it is fresh and of high quality. In this case, all ingredients were bought  from the supermarket and each ingredient used was intended for human consumption.

We know there are strict guides in place for ensuring human grade food is safely sourced and prepared for the supermarket. However we also know then that the ingredients were also destined to have been cooked where the heat would kill anything (naturally or otherwise ) in or on the meat that might have been there at butchering, preparation and packaging to be on the supermartket shelf.

Since we are not cooking any part od this meat we need to ensure that it is safe enough for your cats too. This is where the importance of the freezing comes into its own (other solutions are also worth consideration but are not discussed or used here)

FREEZE

Rapidly freezing the portioned batch to -18 degrees celcius ensures that microbes, bacteria, yeasts and moulds all of which are naturaly present in food are inactivated and, the 14 day minumum that the food is at this sub zero temperature ensures that any parasites are totally destroyed.

Portioning & Containers

Portioning sizes for freezing down depends on how many cats you have and also on how large a freezer space you have available. 

I used Clip Lock boxes  that I had bought specifically for the job. Into each I put put 400g - 403g in each. I may have managed to pack in a little more that this but I wanted to get an idea for whether appetite was increaded or decreased with the homemade compared to the NI. I wanted to leave expansion space, plus I didnt want to have too much thawed out at any one time. I very much like the fact that they are dishwasher proof and reusable many many times over, are neatly stackable, easy and clean to portion into. Just a wipe with a cloth on the edge got rid of any spillage and the lid locked on.

Empty takeaway food cartons are ideal too and I have some saved up. Also some empty NI containers. Some containers also are dishwashable, but some are not (NI are not). Takeaway or other containuers that have previously container other foods are  great 'free' source of portion sized containers. Plus it is great to avoid waste.

Freezer bags are very space saving. Those hat can be zip-locked closed can have the portions within them carefully pushed flat before freezing then stacked on on top of the other so that more can fit into a smaller space.  Bag filling is/can be messy and since it is not so nice to wash and resuse them and indeed some may not be possible to reuse they may be the most space saving they are the solution that creates most waste.

If you dont have zip loc bags, another solution would be a heat sealer device, or even a sous vie device. The heat sealers will close the bag completely for freezing, the sous vie device will not only heat seal the bag but can also vaccuum out air from it before doing so. The down size is once again the plastic that is being discarded each time.

Other ideas are to freeze into moulds. You can use ones just like the silicon icecube trays  I mentioned above  that I have ordered to use for my liver. portions. If using moulds you can pop your frozen nuggets out and store them all together.... Defrosing in nuggest sized portions means that you need only need to thaw what is needed precisely for the next meal  - however to freeze a large batch of food in this way you would need a lot of moulds and the space to freeze them all rapidly.

Bear in mind that meat contains a lot of fats and anything you use to store/freeze into may become discoloured. These items are recommended to be use solely for the purpose of storing your home made cat food and nothing else.

THAW

Thaw your frozen food overnight placed on the bottom shelf odf the fridge. Place on a plate to catch and water that has formed while in the freezer.

Once thawed the food must be handled as fresh meat and be used within 3 days -  if you have your portion sizes right this will not be a problem!

SERVING (& STEALTHILY INCREASING WATER INTAKE)

Feeding home prepared raw food can be a good way of getting your cat to take on more water without them noticing. This helps to safeguard their kidneys and urinery tract from damaging stones and infections and while we all already have water bowls, fountains and even the occasional running tap, the house cat is notorious for being a finicky drinker.

We already added water into the slurry part fo the mix but adding more now at serving time has three purposes.


  1.  It sneaks more water into your cat(s) increaasing their daily intake without them even realising!
  2. It makes a delicions gravy. Since I'm in the kitchen I heat water for making myself a cuppa and so l add some of this just boiled water mixing it into the chilled food in the dish making them a yummy gravy sauce. While making them a bonus gravy it also....
  3. warms the food to "mouse" temperature making it even more species appropriate!

With regard to uneaten food... if you offer a meal that is uneaten or unfinished you can avoid waste by picking it up within 20 minutes of putting it down, cover it up and place it back in the fridge. This can be offered again at the next meal. Once it has been offered and left down twice it must be discarded and disposed of. Keep an eye on your portion size and if regularly being left, adjust them so that you are only offering what your cat needs and wants.

Cats fed with a a BARF diet need less mass of food.  The portion size you once gave as a canned commercial food may be too large.

Other Waste

Additional to the cat eating less in volume on a BARF diet, it is important to note that it is digested in a different way using different enzmes and at a different rate.

This smaller volume coupled with the different enzymes and digestion rate means that there is less waste matter output and that which there is is much less smelly.

More about my decision to buy a Grinder/Mincer

My cats are not used to eating chunks - though I will move them toward it since eating chunks and bones that are whole are much better for keeping teeth and jaws in good health. So mincing at least to begin with seems the best way to get them to change at a pace that works for them and for me.

I also want to add be able to add into their diets more in the way of speciest appropriate food since in the wild a cat would not be bringing down a cow to eat its heart, liver, meat. Nor in fact a sheep or even a deer... they might occasionnally get some as carrion but not often. A cat would however be able to catch a small rabbit, or small birds like the wood pidgeon and quail, or chicks and ducklings. And of course rodents. Those kinds of meat wont be available at the grocery store but there are online suppliers due to growing demand for species appropriate foods and who already suply zoos and so on, that can supply us domestically with these foods.

And finally, since I will have future litters of kittens in time - though nature would see it that the kitten would learn from mum and therefore begin naturally with what she would be easting (chunks) I will want to create for them a weaning mix - but this will be in the fullness of time.

For now I will enjoy my accomplishment of having made my first batch...


13 & a little bit x 400g-ish liverless batch
home made cat food for my princesses

Freezer Ready Clip Lock Boxes