This food is going to the dogs. Literally.
Started in 2014 by Ketchum native John David Davidson, Wood River High School teacher Chris Cey, and dog enthusiast Alec Barfield, Idahound is a company that takes local ingredients to create a “nutritionally-whole,” raw dog food with minimal environmental impacts. They butcher, process, and package everything themselves at their ranch in Carey, Idaho, to make it “as dog intended.”
Currently, Idahound is sold in the Wood River Valley, in Boise and other Idaho locations, and in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon. In addition, an online store has enabled expansion into markets in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. To keep up with demand, Idahound is raising money on a Kickstarter fundraiser to increase the size of their five-acre ranch in Carey.
“Without additions, we’ve maxed out the space in Carey for what we can do in terms of storage, processing and cooler space,” Barfield said. The additions will provide a 25 percent increase in square footage as well as a walk-in freezer. The company is also hoping to increase the workforce up to 10 full-time employees.
It all started with Cey, his love of hunting and his hunting dogs.
A local high school biology teacher and hunter, Cey noticed that his dog, Bert, was having digestive issues and his coat had become course. He began to look at his dog’s diet. He also looked at the natural diet of the wolf and noted a big difference between that and commercial dog foods.
As a biology teacher, Cey knew that dogs had evolved similarly to wolves — to have teeth that tear flesh, a short and simple gastrointestinal tract suited for digestion and absorption of a meat diet and a predilection for meat above almost any other food. He started making Bert a recipe of wild Idaho game including organs, local organic produce and organic powdered eggshell. Bert thrived on the food and Cey noticed changed in his coat and muscle tone. He honed the recipes and soon his friends Barfield and Davidson saw the potential for demand of a raw, local, sustainable dog food.
The main ingredient is protein. That is supplied by local Snake River Plain ranchers who deliver live, grass-fed ewes to the ranch in Carey, where they graze freely before being slaughtered on-site. Butchering also takes place on the ranch in an old horse barn converted into a food processing facility. One-hundred percent of the meat, organs and bones from each animal are used. It is immediately refrigerated and processed the following day; Idahound food goes from being a live animal to a meal in less than 24 hours. To bolster nutrition, organic carrots, squash and apples are added to the formula.
Originally, Cey, Barfield and Davidson were personally slaughtering, butchering, processing, packaging and distributing the raw food. Now, they have two full-time employees, two part-time sales reps in Boise and Park City and a farmer’s market employee in Boise. Barfield is the only one of the original founders that works full-time while Cey continues his teaching job at the high school and Davidson works as City Treasurer in Ketchum. Long-term, Barfield sees Idahound making the Carey hub as successful as it can be before creating more hubs in other states.
Four bark reviews and two paws up
Customers and their owners are howling for the farm-to-bowl food. Margaret Bishop has been feeding her four dogs (and occasionally foster dogs) Idahound since she moved to Ketchum from Virginia three years ago.
“My dogs have done really well on it,” Bishop said. “I also like that it’s local and that Idahound is conscientious about where they source their meat and how the animals are handled and slaughtered.”
Idahound is sold at some local Wood River Valley stores, at the farmer’s market and local pet store Thunderpaws. “I chose Idahound because they were a local company using local animals and organic produce to make a fresh, handcrafted product that you previously couldn’t find anywhere in Idaho,” says Dain Hamilton, owner of Thunderpaws. “It is the highest quality product I can find for my customers.”
There are also fans in the Treasure Valley. “Not only is Idahound arguably the highest quality dog food I sell, it’s a model for how the farm-to-table movement can be translated into everything we do, including our dog’s food,” said Graham Sperry, pet shop lead for Boise Co-op Pet Shop. “Idahound provides a link between the high-quality agriculture of southern Idaho and a customer base who want their dollars to make an impact in our community.”
Growing trend, growing demand
Barfield said the trend to go to natural and raw dog food is one that is growing. “People are switching their dog’s food though it’s a bit of a slow process,” Barfield said. “The natural dog food sector is riding the coat tails of the natural human food seller. More and more people are becoming aware of the connection between food and the environment and the importance of both; there’s a greater acceptance of organic and natural foods.”
Now four years old, the company is in the process of making the changes necessary to keep up with demand for their product, including raising those funds for a 25 increase increase in square footage at their facility in Carey.
But no matter how successful they may become, the company vows to stay true to its core values to make small-batch, sustainable, farm-to-bowl food available for every dog.