He’s not up on the latest breaking information and social trends, he doesn’t read the newspaper, he doesn’t go on the Internet, and he doesn’t know the latest scientific or medical studies trending on social media. He lives in the Blue Ridge mountains and he lives off the land but Mountain Man Eustace Conway from the hit History Channel show Mountain Men knows instinctively what is best for his dogs. He’s learned what he’s learned from personal observation and paying attention… the old fashioned way. All of his life he’s fed his dogs a natural prey diet from animals he or his dogs hunt themselves. Eustace and his dogs all eat the same food. His dogs may get the parts of the animal he least wants to eat, but his dogs eat better than the vast majority of dogs in the United States who are fed a processed cereal based kibble diet.
I had a chance to speak to Eustace on the telephone and absorb some of his wisdom and I wanted to relay our conversation to you.
Eustace explained, “We have an off base diet for our dogs and it correlates with the human beings who also are off base when it comes to health and nutrition. We feed our dogs food that is bad for them and we are feeding ourselves foods that are bad for us too. Most people don’t even know they are doing it. People are used to seeing fat dogs and people, but the truth is that we are just as uneducated about our own diet as we are about our dogs’ diets. Most people don’t know what people need to eat to be healthy and we don’t know what our dogs should eat.”
It’s true. If you asked most people what it would take to feed themselves or their dogs a healthy diet, not many could come up with a proper eating plan. How much protein, fat, minerals and nutrients do our bodies need to operate at optimum health? How about our dogs? The average person has no idea. We eat processed foods and we feed our dogs processed foods and we don’t give it much thought. We don’t consider how so many of our vegetables are covered in pesticides that don’t rinse off under the tap. We don’t consider that cows are meant to eat grass but when they spend a lifetime eating corn and other “feed”, their meat doesn’t have the same minerals and nutrients as a cow who grazes in a field all day. Our bodies are starving for minerals and nutrients and when we feel a grumble in our stomachs we stuff it full of processed junk food that never truly satisfies what our body is craving because it’s lacking in almost all essential nutrients… so when we are done eating we still feel hungry and we eat more as do our dogs.
“Most people see a fat dog and think it’s fine. They just aren’t use to seeing what a healthy dog looks like. We think fat is healthy.” Eustace’s words are so true. Most people think that if they can see the ribs of a dog it’s too skinny, but that is not true. Thinner dogs and people live longer, healthier, disease and pain-free lives. Our bodies weren’t meant to decline the way they do now. Our joints and bones were meant to work, without pain, into old age and until we die. The same goes for our dogs. Dogs aren’t meant to get cancer, arthritis and diabetes at the rates we are seeing in the modern world. Dogs aren’t meant to have sore hips at 9 years old and they aren’t meant to die at 12 years old. Dogs can live 20 or 30 healthy, pain free years if they get the right kind of exercise and eat the right high quality foods.
Eustace has a huge heart and really cares about his animals and all animals. He hopes the messages gets out and that people really hear it.
“We are at a point where we have the highest attainment of information and procedure – we have all this information at our fingertips and yet we still feed our dogs crap because we don’t know what our dogs need. We love our dogs so much, we love them with food and treats and instead of making them healthy we are making them fat because we love them so much. Dogs need less food, higher quality food, and a lot more exercise. Not just a two minute walk but our dogs need to run for miles. Hopefully people wont just be interested in changing their dogs’ diet and exercise but hopefully people will actually make changes to their dogs’ lifestyle that will make a lasting impact.”
A lot of dogs go for walks on the same boring paths day after day for their entire lives. The same street signs, the same trees, the same smells and sounds. Dogs aren’t meant to just walk. Dogs are meant to run, play, hunt, jump, climb, and swim. Dogs are designed to gnaw, pull and tear at meat that is on bones. If you watch a dog or puppy eating a big, juicy, meaty bone, you can see every muscle in their body hard at work to hold that bone down and tear away that delicious meat. Then that dog will eat the bone too. It’s a total body and core workout. Raw meaty bones are what your dog’s body was designed to eat. (Remember: Cooked bones are bad for dogs and should be avoided.)
“Dogs will eat just about anything but each dog has his or her own personality and preferences. One of my dogs doesn’t like lungs and the others will eat the lung. Dogs have personalities and food preferences just like people. I often feed my dogs the head of the deer. It’s pretty gruesome but I will put the head on a chopping block and cut it up into chunks and toss it to the dogs. There are eyeballs flying, brains, ears… my life and my reality is off the chart from someone raised in a big city.”
Some might think that a life of chopping up bloody chunks of meat is pretty gruesome, but Eustace knows the realities of life better than anybody.
“It’s not really gruesome, it’s just reality. When a piece of meat comes to you at the grocery store or the restaurant there’s a gut pile somewhere. Most people have never taken the guts out of an animal and would freak out if they had to, but that’s just reality. I encourage people to get in touch with where their food comes from. Touch the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, cut them up into meal size pieces for your dog. Get in touch with your food and your dog’s food.”
It’s not just for convenience that many of us shop at grocery stores and don’t hunt our own animals for food. For someone like me who lives in Los Angeles and has four rescue dogs, my animal hunting options are pretty limited and so are my skills. So someone like me needs that middle man. But not all meat is the same, not all animals get to wander and roam free or feel the sunlight on their bodies soaking up that all-important vitamin D. Many animals used for meat are not fed their natural diets but instead get “feed”, made of things they don’t normally eat like dried corn and, sadly, not all animals are slaughtered humanely. Hunting a wild animal who has eaten a natural diet, had plenty of fresh air and exercise its entire life, and was humanely slaughtered is going to give you a far superior quality of meat, minerals and protein.
“Most people who order a cheeseburger would rather pay a hitman to do the dirty work and kill their animals for them. Where I come from, we do it ourselves. Cut out the middleman and get in touch with where the food you eat comes from. You may not be able to live my reality, but if everyone could just understand that behind every piece of meat we eat is a gut pile. And with that comes respect and honoring the animal you have killed for your meal or for your dog’s meal. Making use of every part of the animal to honor the life they have given to nourish you and your dogs.”
Next time you’re feeding yourself or your dog, just close your eyes for a brief moment and think about those animals who gave their lives for your meal. Think about the people who raised those animals and worked hard to slaughter and process those animals for you and your pets. You might be looking at a steak, hamburger or fried chicken but that steak came with a heart, lungs, kidneys, a head, hooves and a tail. Thank that animal for giving you and your dog life. That’s just one way you can get more in touch with your own food and the world around you.
Eustace isn’t just a dog person. He has all kinds of critters at the Turtle Island Preserve in North Carolina. You should see it! And you can. They have summer camps for children and weekend events for adults too. Eustace is a man with a mission that he cares passionately about. He and his crew can teach you and your family all kinds of amazing things that so many of us humans and even our pets have forgotten how to do.
“I had to teach my cats to hunt mice. I would take a mouse and tie it to a springy sapling like a willow so the cat could learn to hunt mice. The cat would catch the mouse and it would spring out of their hands and they would have to learn to catch their own prey. It’s just in line with nature and makes me feel good that they are getting high quality food. I’ve been hungry enough where I’ve had to eat mice, rats and even skunks. You do that when you are surviving. I want to survive so I eat what’s available and so do my cats.”
Nowadays you can buy frozen mice for your cats online, but ideally your cat could go out and hunt his or her own prey. There is no shortage of mice, even in big cities, sometimes even more so!
Eustace advises, “Take a problem and make a solution out of it. You have too many mice or rats in your neighborhood, take that problem and make it a solution. There is a never ending supply of fresh food available for your cat.”
And your dog I might add. Rats and mice are a great food source for dogs as well.
“If you really love your dog, you take a little extra time and you learn to do it and then in a year or so this will be your new normal. Make feeding good natural foods to your dogs your new normal. Learn about organ meats and how to handle them. Get in touch with your food.”
A lot of people are joining the real food for dogs movement. Like me they get their dog’s meats at the super market or butcher. I chop them up and make meals for my dogs so I know how slimy the liver is and how it smells. The kidneys are firm and dense and look like a cluster of balls. The heart is also denser but has a different feel and appearance, it’s fibrous.
(Here’s what my dog food looks like when I make it at home. Meat, bone, organs and some veggies that have been processed to replicate the stomach contents of an animal they might catch and eat in the wild.)
Try making some food for your dog out of natural ingredients you get at the grocery store. Touch that meat, cut it up, cut through bones and see how it feels in your hands. Humans and dogs are meant to eat organ meats, a meat that is sadly lacking in so many American households. Those organs are full of minerals and nutrients that aren’t in the muscle flesh of the animal. Eyes and brains are full of amazing nutrients for both your dogs and you as well!
“Get the proper tools too. Get yourself a big meat cleaver. You can’t chop up an animal with those tiny knives you get from China. Having the right equipment makes all the difference when you’re getting in touch with your food. A good cleaver goes right through bones in one second. The right tools make all the difference.”
I couldn’t agree more. When I started chopping up chicken wings and feet for my dogs, I had to get some good hefty cleavers and a big wood cutting board. If you’re going to chop meat and bone, the right tools make the job much easier and a lot more fun. If you have a small dog, you may need to chop and mash up some of those delicious bones so your dog can digest them but it’s worth it when you see their health, teeth, coat and general well-being improve.
Economically, people think that switching to a raw or real food diet is going to cost more than kibble or processed dog foods, but it’s actually the opposite. If you’re lucky enough to live in the country you can hook up with a farmer and get cheaper meats. If you live in a city, you probably need to get your meats at the grocery store but it shouldn’t keep you from feeding your dogs the healthy, nutrient rich, natural foods they are designed to eat. I live in Los Angeles and I am able to find meats and organs on sale and feed my dogs for less than it cost to buy those expensive bags of kibble.
It was truly amazing to get an opportunity to talk to Eustace Conway and soak up his experienced wisdom.
We all could benefit from getting more in touch with our dogs’ food and our own.
Now hop over to Facebook and like and follow Eustace and the Turtle Island Preserve. Visit the Turtle Island Preserve website and check out upcoming weekends and events. Show your support in any way you can. They have some cute T-shirts and great DVDs! I just learned to sharpen my meat cutting knives by watching one of the DVDs I got off the Turtle Island website.
If you’re looking to get your dog into a more natural diet, a few great starter books are Give Your Dog A Bone & Raw And Thriving and there are lots of people online who are happy to help you become better pet parents!