Pet food’s been a hot topic as of late. There’ve been product recalls, contaminated wheat gluten, salmonella-laced pet treats, and lots of recipes for “homemade” pet food.

When we heard the news on our ranch, we didn’t have to rush out and check the label on our dog food. I guess you could say our two ranch mutts have been on a bit of a homemade diet their whole life.

I wouldn’t say their diet is free of contaminants, but it’s never killed them.

I don’t know that I could recommend the ranch dog diet to anyone who’s concerned about the safety of off-the-shelf dog food. But I’ll share with readers the ingredients that keep our dogs well fed and happy.

Carnivore canines

Our dogs have a varied, seasonal diet. In spring, they roam the calving pasture in search of the expelled placenta of parturition. I know it’s pretty gross, but I’m sure I’m not the only rancher with dogs who prefer afterbirth to dry dog food.

In summer, they travel the calf branding circuit to gorge themselves on what we daintily refer to as Rocky Mountain Oysters. They’ll eat all day long on the byproduct that results when bulls are turned into steers. They’ll have a bit of a hangover the next day, but they’re always recovered by the next branding.

Throughout the year, they trot up and down the byways in search of fresh roadkill. Sometimes they settle for less-than-fresh roadkill, or carrion as they call it. Rabbits, deer, raccoons – I know what they’re grazing on because they usually drag a drumstick or two back to the yard.

Ranch dogs don’t mind eating wild turkey once in a while. I’ve never seen this myself, of course, but I’ve heard of ranches where a turkey will mysteriously die on occasion when there’re a hundred of them lined up on the feed bunks every morning.

Like all good ranchers with impeccable management, I, of course, never lose a cow or a calf to sickness, weather or chance. But I’ve heard of guys who lose calves and have a ranch dog or two helping with the carcass disposal.

Their dogs will disappear behind the hill for a couple hours every day, drag back a leg bone or two, and they see a noticeable decline in the draw down on the 50-pound sack of co-op elevator dog food they keep in the shop.

Not for all

Nobody needs to write and tell me how dangerous the ranch dog diet is for a loving pet and companion. I’m certain that these free-roaming eating activities are completely out of balance with the required nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

But I’m not about to chain them up. Part of the joy of country living is letting your dogs be dogs and enjoy some freedom. Of course, running free does have them eating like a coyote most days.

I think the diet does toughen them up a bit. They fend off salmonella, scoff at bacteria, and might even survive a dose of melamine in a contaminated batch of wheat gluten.

And, in light of everything that’s been in the news, I’ll let them take their chances out on our meaty domestic range before I head to town to buy any imported Chinese wheat gluten.