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Waste not, want not

Making your own dogfood takes only minutes and can help both your animal and your budget.

If times are tight for those of you with animals, or you want to be sure of what they're eating, you could try this simple recipe for dogfood.

Go to the meat counter at the supermarket and ask for offcuts. In a proper butcher's these are the bits that would go in the sausages, but in modern supermarkets they're just thrown away. I get a huge carrier-bag full every week and it contains all sorts of things - the trimmings from steak that weren't perfectly square, the slightly oxidised meat that discoloured overnight, the odd trotter and pig's bladder (admittedly there are downsides to this method...). 

When you get them home, sort through them straight away. Some will be pieces of fat, for which the birds will be grateful in winter, and if you have pork fat you can render your own lard (more on this another time), which is infinitely superior to shop-bought lard. 

There will also be a fair amount of bone. Put this aside for now. Chop the remaining meat into chunks, trimming off as much fat as you can, and bag it up for the freezer. This should kill off anything that might be harmful to your dog, but if you're worried, cook it as per the recipe below. 

Take the bones and put them in a stock pot and cover with water. Add a chopped-up carrots, an onion and any flavoursome vegetable trimmings you might have (celery roots and leaves, bits of turnip etc), and one or two teaspoons of herbs. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer for 3-4 hours. 

Basically, this is stock. When the stock is cool, scrape off any surface fat (again, the birds like this), then filter through a sieve, and then again through cheesecloth to remove any nasty bits, such as sharp shards of bone. If you're making a large quantity, it can be worthwhile putting all the bone and trimmings in a chip basket then putting the basket in the stock pot, as it makes them easier to lift out again. 

Return the stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and add plenty of 'dog' rice, which you can find in the pet section of the supermarket. This is also the time to add the diced meat, if you want to cook it rather than serving it raw. It takes a while to get the hang of quite how much rice to use (it depends on how much water you used in the first place, and also the starchiness of the rice), but frankly your dog won't care if this food is sloppy or more solid.

When it comes back to the boil, add a pack of mixed frozen vegetables, bring back to the boil once again, then turn the heat off and leave it to go cold. If you have any tins of tuna or sardines hanging around, especially in oil, your dog will be grateful if you add it in. Sometimes I also add a cheap tin of dogfood in gravy, or fish oil from the vet's. 

If you got the amounts right, you should have a stiffish mix that you can bag up and freeze. If it's sloppy, freeze it in trays.

To feed your dog, just defrost a few days' worth at a time and keep it in the fridge, warming it up in the microwave before use. The ratio should be about one third meat to two thirds rice and veg. 

This may all seem like a lot of fuss but it isn't really. I usually create the stock on a Monday, after I've been to the supermarket, and it just simmers away to itself while I'm working or watching telly. It also works well done overnight in a slow cooker. Adding the rice and veg takes about 10 minutes and you can then leave it to cool overnight.

Making your own dogfood is useful for several reasons:

1 It's good for the dog. No preservatives, colourings or artificial flavourings of any kind. Eating this has done my dog's skin and coat the world of good and I know exactly what he's getting. If your dog suffers from any kind of skin or bowel complaint, preparing his food from scratch should really help. 

2 It prevents waste. The amount of perfectly good food that Britons chuck away is criminal really - this is good, edible meat, it's just not pretty meat. 

3 It's very cheap. I've reduced the budget for the dog from about £3.40 per week to about 60p. That's about 145 quid a year, which might come in handy with utility bills soaring ever upward. If you have more dogs, you make more savings. 

You can also use this method for your cats, but it's definitely better to keep the meat separate in this instance and add it only at feeding time. Chop it up good and small, and serve a higher ratio of meat - 50 per cent meat, 50 per cent rice and vegetables. You may think that cats are obligate carnivores and so they are, but they eat the stomachs of their prey first, and these are full of grain and other vegetable matter, predigested (effectively, cooked). This is effectively what you're replacing by giving them rice and veg.

 

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