Sunday, January 3, 2016

How to make bird suet cakes --- or --- Baby it's cold outside - but gosh darn it, it's pretty!

Baby, it's cold outside – the kind of cold that makes birds puff up their feathers and look double their size. When I walk to the barn in the morning, the goats' fur is puffed up as well. 

These are pictures of our backyard.  Can you tell it's cold?

I don't feel bad for my goats, because they have a covered place to sleep, with lots of cozy straw, fresh water, and yummy hay and grain to eat, and a discarded christmas tree thrown in every now and then.  

But the wild birds?  I feel sorry for them.  They either hover grumpily in tree branches or jump around frantically, trying to find food.  There is not much for them to eat, although I do leave seed heads on my flowers in the fall so the birds can pick them clean later.

So I decided to make my feathered friends some grub, namely homemade suet cakes.  Except I make these snacks from rendered pig fat, not beef fat, so I guess I should call them lard cakes.  We raise our own pigs and have lots of lard, but if you don't produce your own, just buy it at the grocery store.

Here's a little tutorial so you can make your own.

You need:

* 1 cup rendered fat (either beef or pig fat) - if you need to know how to do this yourself, read my tutorial on how to render fat

* 2 1/3 cup bird seeds (get wild bird food at the store that has sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts etc)

* cake pan 

* aluminum foil

* chicken wire or 3 suet cages


- Heat the rendered fat so it is liquid.

- Add it to the bird seed mix.  Some people add peanut butter, cornmeal and pieces of fruit.

- Stir it together with a spatula and put it in a pie plate lined with aluminum foil.  

I suppose it would be nice to have a square pan so the cakes will be square when you cut them up later instead of round like mine - but do you think the birds care about shapes?  No.  Right.

- Press the mixture into the pan and refrigerate it for a couple of hours, or until it's nice and firm.  Then take it out of the pan and cut it up in chunks, so it fits nicely into the suet cages.  If you have too much, you can freeze them. 

If you don't have suet cages, just fold your own with chicken wire.  I think it's harder for the birds to hang onto chicken wire, but with enough persistence they will manage.  You could also put some string through the cakes with a needle and hang it that way.

I hang my bird cakes from all kinds of places: on a tree trunk (so the poor, hungry squirrels can get to them, ahem), in front of windows, suspended from my Jasmine vine, suspended from my unused clothes drying line...

Unfortunately, I don't have beautiful pictures of birds eating the suet cakes, because I shot these pictures through my (unwashed) windows with merely my i-phone and lots of glare, but you get the idea.

There you have it.

Hopefully, lots of pretty birdies will come and munch on these treats, and you can watch them while you eat your breakfast in front of the warm wood stove.  Suet attracts many insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, but you'll also see other birds like juncos, chickadees, blue jays, and little winter wrens who are craving a high-fat treat.

I will leave you with some more winter pictures from our neighborhood in the beautiful Pacific Northwest wilderness.

Have a wonderful new year, y'all!

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  1. Love this idea. I'm going to do it! I already have a bird feeder but the extra fat is really good.

    Also cold? I can feel/hear the crunch of the snow.

    Love the serpentine snow sculpture!

  2. Hi Corina,
    I have some smoked ham fat from a fatty shank I froze to use for my New Years blackeye pea soup. Is it safe to give the birds smoked fat?

    1. Honestly, I don't know... Birds have such a fast metabolism, things pass through them pretty fast, so I think it's fine. But you should research it more...


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