Yes, the title of this post probably has you calling, “BS!” if you’re a kibble feeder and have shopped for meat for your human family recently. However, it’s true: If you’re feeding a premium kibble, a whole prey model raw diet might be less expensive, not to mention better for your pet! When I fed kibble, I gave my dog Innova Evo Red Meat Small Bites, at a cost of nearly $2.50 per pound. With raw, I average $2.00 or less per pound and feed a diet that’s mostly red meat and game meat. Here’s how I do it:
Co-Ops and Group Buys
Just like most things, meat’s cheaper in bulk. If you have five or six dogs and a few chest freezers, you’re in luck: Just buy beef by the side, sheep whole, and chickens by the case! If, like most raw feeders, you’ve got one or two dogs and limited freezer space, you should join a co-op. Most states have a co-op for raw feeders, or at the very least a Yahoo! Group where pawrents who feed raw chat and occasionally share group buys. Through my local Yahoo! Group I’ve found grass fed, hormone/antibiotic free mutton for $2/pound, free goat meat, $1.29/pound ground game meat, and more.
Start by googling your state or the nearest major metro area and “raw feeding co-op.” If that doesn’t turn anything up, search Yahoo! Groups and try posting on dog forums seeking a raw feeders’ group in your state. Raw feeding is becoming very popular. If there’s not a co-op or other group near you, consider starting one. The savings and community-building are well worth the occasional drama that comes with such a group.
The very idea of buying meat on Craigslist sends some people into a dither, but I’ve had only good experiences. I always have an ad posted with a list of things I do and don’t need, as well as the prices I’ll pay. I do not leave a phone number, but do leave an email address with which others can contact me. I’ve been offered everything from geese to pork and beef at bargain-basement prices.
Whether or not to buy meat using an impersonal tool like Craigslist is a tough decision for some, but, really, how much less anonymous is a grocery store? Using Craigslist I’ve often bought meat from people who raised and butchered the animals themselves, so I know exactly where the meat comes from and how the animal was treated. In the end, it comes down to good food safety practices (a must no matter where you buy your meat) and the level of risk that’s acceptable to you. I don’t feel I’m taking any more of a risk buying meat from individuals than from a store, but you may feel differently.
Remember, always meet in a public place when transacting business with someone you located using the internet. If they refuse to take this simple precaution, pass on the deal. Same goes for any situation your intuition tells you to avoid. Listen to your gut.
Work the Sales
Major grocery chains draw business by putting a few items on sale each week at such low prices that they actually represent a loss to the store. These are called “loss leaders,” and usually appear on the front page of weekly sale advertisements. When people come in to buy the loss leaders and leave with several other items as well, the store makes a profit. However, there’s nothing wrong with working the system by purchasing only loss leaders.
There are usually a few steeply discounted meat items in major chains’ weekly sales. Sometimes these still are poor buys for a raw-fed pet. For example, steaks are rarely sold cheaply enough to be worth the money, when your dog or cat would be just as happy with London Broil, which is on sale for $2/pound fairly regularly. If you’re vigilant, you should identify a great buy on an item that fits into your pet’s raw diet at least once a month. When you do, stock up!
In addition, meat is placed on clearance a couple of days before its sell-by date. If you make a habit of visiting your nearest grocery store on different days of the week and at different times, you’ll eventually learn when that store tends to put clearance tags on meat. Swoop in at the right moment, and you’ll get a great deal on meat that, if frozen promptly, is perfectly fresh. I just bought turkey thighs for under $1/pound, at a 50% discount, with three days to go before the sell-by date.
These are my top money-saving tips. If you’re a fellow raw feeder, you’ve probably got a few hot tips of your own. How about sharing them in a comment?
Please note that if you’ve never explored the possibility of feeding raw before, you should start by doing some research and getting in touch with other raw feeders who are willing to act as a resource for you. This post isn’t a complete introduction to feeding raw.