Feeding Dogs for Free

Feeding dogs for free is a possibility if you have a steady source of fish, as the author explains.

| January/February 1981

I don't think a homestead is really complete without a few animals roaming the place, but—as you probably know—the cost of maintaining pets or working critters can be prohibitive ... especially for folks who live in rural areas where obtaining store-bought supplies requires expensive travel.

However, you can feed a canine crew economically and nutritiously just as my sister Julie and I do, here on our isolated spread in the bush country of central Alaska. We were inspired to make our own dog food by the sheer expense of buying premixed dry feed for our sled team of eight animals. Including freight charges, a 50-pound bag of commercial dog food costs us a whopping $22, so we decided that we'd have to find some less expensive way of feeding dogs.

The basic ingredient of the low-cost dog dinners is fish. We catch plenty in the lake near our cabin, and you can feed your kennel of hounds from a similar source (or even, perhaps, buy large quantities of inexpensive "trash" fish from local commercial fisherfolk ).

During the summer, we use gill nets (such seines are illegal in many areas, so be sure to check local game laws before netting fish) to bring up an abundant harvest of whitefish, pike, burbot, and suckers each day. When winter arrives, of course, we first have to chop holes in the three-foot layer of ice that covers the lake—a tedious, tiring job—but the nets can then be left in the water for up to a week without any spoilage of the catch. If our haul is larger than the dogs' daily ration, we dry and store the extras for use during the spring and fall (when erratic ice movement makes netting unsafe).

A Fine Kettle of Fish

We usually cook the swimmers whole—heads, guts, scales, and all—to provide our dogs with hearty, wholesome meals. (We've noticed that the beasts do sometimes choke while eating, but never because they have bones caught in their throats. It's simply a result of their gulping the food too fast. If fish is cooked long enough, the skeletons become soft and easy to chew, posing little danger to canine gullets.)

A cereal supplement of rice or oatmeal can be used to fill out a skimpy netful ... and will also add extra nutrients on those days when the animals have to work long hours and haul particularly heavy loads, or when the temperature is extremely cold. (Under such conditions, the huskies may need extra calories just to maintain their body weights. Sometimes it's necessary to mix a half-cup of lard, per animal, into the meal.)

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