TripleAMeatI have written before about how I make my dogs’ food from scratch, using whole foods and raw meat. For many years, I’ve been getting the majority of my meat from a small IGA grocery store nearby. Curiously, the meat manager there was known for being willing to order meat in large volumes and offer it at a good price. I’d heard that small restaurants took advantage of this, as well as many homemade pet food feeders, and even someone with an exotic, “big” cat (I think a tiger, but I can’t remember).

The freezer in the store was small. I was always amazed how Jack, the meat manager, was willing to deal with all these odd requests and stacks of boxes of meat sitting on carts, in the way, in this tiny locker space. I would order 100 pounds at a time, quarterly. I’m not sure if it was just exemplary customer service, or whether it was good for the store, moving high volumes of meat quickly with a small markup. Whatever the reason, I was always grateful for his willingness to fill this niche and tried to pick up my order promptly.

But, sadly, this little store closed  few months ago, in anticipation of a Walmart coming to town; they knew they would not be able to compete. At the same time, Jack retired. So, that was the end of my convenient and reasonably-priced main meat source.

I tried to find another local grocery store who could do the same thing. But the places I called either didn’t think they could handle the request at all; or quoted me a price double what Jack was giving me. I could tell none of them were real thrilled about doing it. What to do, what to do…. Though I am starting to feed my dogs more cull sheep, I still don’t produce enough of those to sustain them year-round. And, honestly, the price I get for cull sheep is way higher than what I’m used to paying for dog food meat. I could certainly buy cull livestock from area farmers advertising on craigslist, but there is the time overhead of dealing with the custom butcher and having to constantly look for new sources. I am busy, so I appreciate having a steady, consistent and reliable source that doesn’t take any of my time to manage. 

Tucked away in the back of my mind was a mention from a friend once, that she knew several people who had been buying meat from a guy called Doug the Meat Man. I found him, and picked up my first load of meat this weekend. You can read about his product, distribution method and prices on his website, so I won’t repeat those here. The meat looks good: I got some chubs of ground organ meat, and also blocks of frozen ground beef. The beef is loosely bagged in three-sided bags, so already has some frost on it; but I don’t think the dogs care if there is a bit of freezer burn taste.

DogBurgerDoug buys beef in large quantities from a Colorado company, so is able to get a good price. And, he has leveraged the buying power of people all along the I-5 corridor in both Washington and Oregon; so it’s almost a cooperative, of sorts. Apparently he took over this business from someone who retired, and it had originally had served the dog racetrack industry. That industry is now dwindling, but it sounds like this pet food market is filling the niche and keeping Doug busy. This is not USDA-inspected meat, so has the obligatory labeling “not for human consumption” and “for animal food only.” This is part of how he can get it at a lower price, I’m sure, as there is high overhead in USDA processing facilities. I asked if the source was cull dairy cows, but Doug said no, these are beef cows.

The price is very affordable, and is actually slightly better than what Jack was charging me most recently for ground turkey. In poking around on the site of the producer, Triple A Brand Meat Company, it looks like they market to zoos and other similar industries. I have to imagine these cows come from feedlots. And that there might be a reason why at least some of them are not in the human food supply chain. (And, in fact, the website does imply they make use of downers and dead animals, since they specify that with those, they exclude the spinal tissue, to minimize concerns of mad cow disease.)

Though I would love to ensure my dogs only eat fresh, local, naturally raised, grass-fed beef; I also can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars a month to feed them! So this is a good compromise, and I still feel strongly it is much better than processed food in the form of kibble. And, it probably makes good use of reasonably good meat which cannot go into the human food supply for one reason or another, but is still good nutrition for animals. (And surely, the kibble industry is buying similarly-sourced meat, too, for what little meat makes it into the product).

On another note, my chicken supply situation has changed as well. For years, I’ve been able to consistently buy drumsticks for about a dollar a pound at my local grocery store. It would normally be priced at $1.29/lb; but would regularly go on sale for $.99, and I would stock up each time. This chicken was always from Draper Valley, the local large-scale chicken producer in Mt. Vernon.

Over the last year, I saw this scenario evaporate. It took me a while to realize it was a trend, but I started to see very little Draper Valley chicken was on the shelves at all. And when it was, the price was very high, and very volatile. Where we used to regularly buy whole chickens to roast for ourselves, and could pick them up for three or five dollars; all of a sudden, they were more like ten or fifteen dollars. More like the price for organic and/or free-range chicken. For that price, we might as well have lobster. Winking smile 
I also noticed the store had started carrying other,  unfamiliar brands of chicken, also inconsistently branded, stocked and priced. Some days they had these packages of huge drumsticks that looked like they came from grossly overgrown, ten+ pound fryers!

I finally asked one of the butchers at the store, what is going on with chicken? He explained that Draper Valley was doing poorly and was bought out by an East-coast business. Now they are shipping most of their output out of state. Apparently it’s hard for our grocery store- a small local chain- to even get chicken from them anymore. So, they are struggling to source it from other places, and thus the supply and price are wildly inconsistent. Some days, they hardly have any chicken in the coolers at all! For now, I’ve found that Fred Meyer still has their Kroger-branded chicken for a decent price; so I’ll just have to make a habit of swinging by there every few weeks. I think we have been eating less chicken than normal ourselves, because if you don’t see it on the shelves, it doesn’t occur to you to cook it! Weird to think that such a ubiquitous product would suddenly be in short supply.