When you dig into the history of some high-end performance dog foods on the market, you'll often talk with someone who grew up on a farm and understands animal husbandry, including nutrition. Such was the case when I wanted to learn more about Native performance dog food. It became apparent that Kent Nutrition Group's (KNG) Vice President of Nutrition and Product Development, Bruce Read, was the go-to guy for getting the lowdown on this product and KNG's passion for supplying quality animal nutrition for these special canine athletes.
"I grew up in northwest Iowa on a diversified livestock and grain farm and we always had working dogs around home. We also always had pheasants on our place, so I've hunted birds my entire life," said Read. "And over the years I hunted behind plenty of my friends' dogs." Although Read ended up having border collies when he was younger, it wasn't until he was in his mid 20s that he would get his own hunting dog, a Lab/GSP cross that he bluntly described as "pure bananas but willing to learn."
Read's experience working on the farm with hogs, cattle and sheep, along with his penchant for canines, would influence his decision to take his pursuit of higher education to South Dakota State University (SDSU). It was there that he not only worked at the SDSU research farm, but he also earned an Animal Science degree. In addition to relocating to the country's pheasant capital for his education, Read's first position after college was working in feed sales, which kept him in South Dakota for 14 years.
Eventually he landed a sales position with Kent Nutrition Group and moved back to his home state of Iowa. Shortly after, Read took on the role of Product Manager for swine and beef, which led to a promotion to Vice President of Nutrition and Product Development. One of Read's first tasks in that role was to help develop the company's performance dog nutrition line — Native — in 2007.
DEVELOPING A SYSTEM
Anyone who has checked out Native's lineup of offerings has probably noticed that it's not like the competition. This is not an accident, and as Read explained, is meant to offer consumers something they can't get anywhere else.
"Our Pet Product Manager and I worked together to develop the Native formulas. We both had a keen interest in hunting dogs and we knew we wanted to put together the right formulas to support the energy levels needed during the hunting season, but would transition back after the season with minimal digestive upset.
The first Native formula the team came up with was a 30/20 blend (protein/fat) that would supply high protein and energy, and use a similar ingredient base across formulas so that all dogs could transition between Native Levels 2, 3, and 4 while experiencing less digestive upset.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"When we thought about what ingredients we would use in Native, we considered everything from a digestibility standpoint," Read continued. "While the trend was to put vegetables and fruits into dog foods, our team addressed the reality that dogs are carnivores, and that we wanted to give them the nutrition they need from meat proteins. Based on that idea, we developed true meat-protein-first formulas.
"If you take a look at a lot of the high-end dog food offerings, you'll see the meat protein is advertised as a 'precooked' percentage. However, raw chicken, for example, is roughly 70- to 80-percent moisture, so while it may read as the ingredient that contributes the most weight to the blend, when it's cooked down it might actually fall lower on the ingredient list with the 70-percent loss of its weight. At KNG, we use chicken meal, which is 90-percent dry matter and consistent throughout the cooking process."
The tactic of sharing a formula with pre-cooked sources of protein is on par, advertisement-wise, with filling a dog food with fruits and vegetables. There is no denying that a bird dog will eat a carrot if you toss him one, but the reality is that a canine's nutritional needs are far different from ours, and even though humans love the idea of organic health foods for ourselves, that doesn't mean this is the best strategy for fueling our hunting dogs.
WORTH THE COST?
Without question, the main barrier to going the high-end route is feeding cost. I asked Read about this and how Native addresses that issue with consumers. His response was simply, "First off, you're paying for quality ingredients and they always cost a bit more. What most dog owners don't realize, however, is that those quality ingredients also concentrate energy.
"We don't use corn meal or soybean meal for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is that there are more efficient ways to provide energy (kcals) to your dog. In a more concentrated diet, your dog can be fed less, which may lead to less waste. They'll reap more energy from each feeding due to the dense formulation."
What this means to the sporting dog owner is a bag of Native Level 3, for example, will provide in a single cup what a competitor's formula might require two or three cups to supply. What buyers save on the front end in cost per bag, they lose on the back end by having to feed more — and they still might not be providing the nutrients that their dog needs. And hunting dogs need a lot.
THE NATIVE SYSTEM
Read mentioned that the most common question he gets is usually around how much to feed a specific dog. He uses his three GSPs as examples when he explains it to potential customers by saying, "My three dogs are vastly different in their nutrient needs, although they are all the same breed. Tucker, my eight-year-old male, is a big (70-pound) very active dog and he takes a lot of energy and protein to keep going on a daily basis.
"On a normal day at home, he gets four cups of food, while my two 50-pound females each get two cups. When we're in South Dakota hunting roosters, all three dogs get an increased amount of food. Tucker might get five or six cups, because he is going to burn that off, but one of my females might eat only four cups.
"The multi-level Native product line truly provides a system for feeding that not only addresses the needs of a sporting dog during hunting season but also throughout the year and their entire lifetime."
PASSION FOR QUALITY SHOWS
Native is a great example of the KNG philosophy of taking the time necessary to develop a superior product that the end-user can trust. They research ways to deliver superior nutrition and look for improved methods to support better performance, which is in no small part because of what Bruce Read brings to the table.
However, as he mentioned to me as we wrapped up our conversation, he's not the only Read who is enamored with dogs.
"My wife Pat never paid attention to any of the dogs we had before our GSPs. In fact, she set the ground rules when we got Tucker that he was going to sleep outside and that she was not in charge of cleaning up after him. Fast forward to today, when we have three dogs, all in the house, having never spent a night outdoors. And, guess who manages the clean-up duty? Pat spends as much time with them as I do, and she loves to train them."
Read's passion for sporting dogs was clearly contagious enough that his wife caught it, too. And anyone who spends a little time researching dog-food formulas is likely to see that his passion shines through in Native's products as well.