I know what dogs want…
Dogs want, dogs want, dogs want MEAT.
Anyone who has spent any time with me knows I love to sing. The fact that I sing badly and hardly ever know all the words has never stopped me. I just make up words as I go along, and hope that enthusiasm can replace talent. Many of our dogs have theme songs I made up for them. And more then once on the trail I find the strangest songs stuck in my head; like the second to last run on the recent T200 where I could not get Barry Manilow out of my head. I like my life to have a soundtrack, and when there is not one being provided my imagination just fills in. I have never had a sleep induced hallucination on the trail like so many mushers have. I have auditory hallucinations, like hearing a full marching band playing Sousa (at least I think it was Sousa) as I was running the Yukon River at night on Iditarod. Don’t ask why, my mind just works that way.
But I digress:
Today the song running through my head was my own version of The Waitresses, I Know What Boys Like. I know what dogs like, I know what dogs need, dogs like Meat… and so on. What brought this on you might ask?
Well today’s drop bag chores included making cook pot for the team. So as I danced around the cook pot adding the ingredients I was singing my own version of the Waitresses classic 80’s song. Cook pot is one of the special things we make to bring out on the trail. We make a big thick meaty meal in the dog food cooker of fish, meat, and chicken fat. Then we add bone meal and psyllium for fiber. This is one of the kids favorite meals. We freeze it in sheet pans, to be sliced into small chucks with the ban saw. Then package it to use while racing; much the same way a musher might cook and package their favorite meal to eat on the trail for the comfort of ‘home cooking’. We cut it into small pieces so it will quickly defrost in hot water, making a wonderful nutritious baited water. Hydration for working sled dogs is critical, and having something your dogs will happily drink down is really important*. Our dogs seem to love the cook pot on the trail, although I must say the smell is completely unappealing to me. Dan got the idea one race when the dogs were turning up their noses at our usual trail fare, and he thought, “I wish I could make them a meal just like we do at home” and thus the idea for cook pot trail food was born.
*read more about sled dogs and hydration here.
And my lyrics are true, dogs want meat. Meats are tasty, but they also provide the protein and fat that sled dogs need to accomplish the amazing athletic feats they do.
Much of our meat supply is sent out frozen. Either in snack size chunks that can be fed on the trail, added to meals, or defrosted to make drinks. At Dew Claw we like to snack the kids approximately every 2 hours while we are running, to keep energy, hydration, and moral up. Along with calories and protein, frozen meats have the added benefit of being 50%, or greater, water to maintain hydration (see chart here).
In addition to frozen meat we also send out freeze dried meats in our drop bags. There are some real advantages to freeze dried meats for racing.
First off, they are significantly lighter then frozen meats. All that water in meat adds weight, where freeze dried has no water in it. We can add water at checkpoints or when we are camping and quickly reconstitute it, making a yummy meal for the kids. By adding water when we stop we do not have to carry the extra water weight in the sleds. Secondly it is not temperature sensitive, so should we experience warmer temperatures on the trail our freeze dried meat is never in danger of spoiling. (side note: we use insulation wrap to line the drop bags with frozen meat it them. And races make every effort to ensure that all drop bags stay frozen) Third, it can be reconstituted quickly with warm water, where frozen meats need very hot/boiling water to thaw. Which in turn means we can get a good meal into our kids quicker then we could if we had to wait for water to boil or meat to defrost. And also very important, our dogs love the freeze dried tripe and liver we get from Baileys Farms. (no relation) They make wonderful freeze dried meats for dogs, some of the best quality we have found.
All this is done to assure that while racing our dogs will have the best diet we can provide. Here is some additional information on the dietary needs of racing sled dogs. They consume a tremendous amount of calories daily while distance racing. “To put this differently, a 50 lb. dog will burn 10,000 calories a day for up to two weeks during the Iditarod.” And these calories need to be properly balanced in a ratio best suited to support the dogs performance: in general you are looking at 32 % protein, 15% carbs, and a whopping 53% fat. You might enjoy reading feeding and watering for Iditarod sled dogs to get an overview of how all this works on the trail.
I have many wonderful folks, Team Dew Claw, to thank for making sure the dogs are going to be fed the best diet possible. And for my food, I want to take a minute and thank Kirstie McGuinness for the wonderful care package of nutritious human food that will be sent out in my drop bags.