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Make Your Own: Suet Cakes

April 7th, 2011

I’ve been wanting to make suet cakes for the longest time but I had trouble finding suet for them. Finally I broke down and bought a 5 gallon pail of pastured beef tallow from US Wellness Meats (I know 5 gallon is a lot). We’ll be using some of this in our cooking, and some of it will be added to the homemade pet food. It will also be used to make suet cakes for our little feathered friends. We love providing suet because we get a lot of woodpeckers at our feeder by having it. A lot of other birds love it as well and it provides a good source of fat and energy for them during the cold winter months.

One of the reasons I want to make my own suet is because I try not to support CAFO’s in any way – buying ready made suet cakes supports them. I asked around and none of the local farmers were able to get suet from their cows, so local beef tallow/suet was out. I found a small farm on-line, but they were out and weren’t going to get any in until later this year. Finally I decided to purchase some from US Wellness Meats when they had it on sale. US Wellness now has ground grass fed suet for sale (they were out when I bought my tallow). If you don’t want to go to the trouble of melting suet, you can simply put out the suet as is for the birds, they’ll eat that as well.

Another reason I wanted to buy pastured organic tallow for homemade suet was because birds are very sensitive to chemicals (you know the whole canary in a coal mine thing). If you notice your oven booklet will tell you to remove birds from your home when you use the cleaning cycle. This is because birds are very sensitive to VOC’s – which always makes me wonder why they don’t recommend humans leaving the house? I know that the beef tallow I purchased will not be contaminated with any hormones, antibiotics or chemicals that will hurt my feathered friends and their offspring.

Making suet cakes at home is really simple and surprisingly, even with the cost of pastured suet, cheaper. I spent some time researching recipes on-line and didn’t particularly find any that sounded great, so I made my own.

HOMEMADE SUET CAKES
1 1/2 pound of beef tallow or lard (preferable organic & pastured)
2 cups birdseed mix
2 cups black oil sunflower seeds
2 cups organic whole grain flour
1 cup dried fruit or peanuts (I used dried cherries from my bounty this past summer)

Mix all seed and flour in large mixing bowl while melting tallow or lard in a skillet over low heat. When tallow is melted, mix in with birdseed. If tallow thickens too quickly place entire bowl in a warm oven until melted again. If your house it cold it would be beneficial to warm birdseed mix and bowl in oven before adding melted tallow. Pour into 9 x 13 pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Let cool for a few hours. Cut into 6 squares, which fit perfectly into a regular suet feeder.

I put some of this out on Sunday and the birds are loving it. They’ve been flocking to the feeder. I haven’t figured up the cost to the penny, but this suet cost me about $5 for this batch of 6 cakes and they’re larger than the ones you buy at the store. This would be a great project to do with your kids, especially for a handmade gift (time to start thinking about your handmade holidays).

My next plan for the birds is to try to find a local source for healthier organic bird seed. When the new garden area is finished I’ll have some space to grow some grains and sunflowers just for the birds. Then the birds will be able to glean naturally. I’ll be adding a lot of bird friendly shrubs to my new garden area as well, I’ll be talking about that specifically soon.

Do you consider the birds when you select plants for your garden? Do you put out suet?

41 Comments to “Make Your Own: Suet Cakes”
  1. Jennifer Fisk on April 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I plant Cosmos along one side of my garden. The Hummingbirds like the blossom’s nectar and in the fall, Juncos eat the fallen seeds. I’ve also had Monarch butterflies land on my Cosmos.

    Reply to Jennifer Fisk's comment

  2. kristin @ going country on April 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

    This is funny. My post today is all about rendering tallow.

    Apparently, great minds think alike . . . and think about cow fat.
    kristin @ going country´s last post ..It All Started with Potatoes

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

      I’ve got some pork fat in the freezer than I need to render out someday soon – I’ve been waiting till I can open up the windows. For some reason the smell of cooking meat or animal fat is tough for me to handle. When I’m cooking I through an onion in to mitigate the problem, can’t do that when rendering lard!

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Mrs Johnson on December 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm

        I have the same problem, Susy, so I turned to getting crockpots designated for fat rendering and then run them in the shed (we have electricity out there) which keeps me from having to smell the fat while it’s cooking. You might could also do it in a porch if you have nearby electricity. This is a big help to me when I am in laundry soap making mode ;-)

        to Mrs Johnson's comment

  3. Penny Gibbs on April 7, 2011 at 8:57 am

    We save our eggshells and grind them in an old coffee grinder and mix in. If you haven’t hard boiled them, then a quick boil of the shells will help to kill any bacteria. The birds need calcium especially during these Spring and love-in-the-air months ;) for shell production. I throw the ground shells out with stale bread crumb and seed when I’m out of suet cakes.

    Reply to Penny Gibbs's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm

      Great idea on the eggshells. Most of mine get ground up and put in the garden of fed to our pets. I usually put mine over the oven vent on my stovetop, this dries them out perfectly. I’ll have to mix some up in my next batch of suet – great advice!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Marcia on April 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I remember making bird feeders with my mom when I was a kid. We would spread the mixture into those huge pinecones and hang them on our trees. It was always surprising how fast the birds would pick them clean.

    Reply to Marcia's comment

  5. Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig on April 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I love this! I planted some sunflowers…just before a week of rain! So I’m afraid they may have gotten waterlogged. OR, if they DID sprout…the chickens got them when they snuck in the garden. (Good thing I’m getting them set up with a larger pen…no more free reign in the garden girls…sorry!)

    I love this…can’t wait to make some of our own. I think I”ll set this recipe aside for next year when I’m homeschooling my son..maybe we can incorporate it into math…or science…or home ec!
    Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig´s last post ..Wednesday in the Word

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  6. Daedre Craig on April 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I’m kind of conflicted on whether it is right or wrong to feed wild birds. On one hand, you’re helping the birds out and they are interesting to watch. On the other hand, you’re giving the birds an unnatural supply of food to which they might become dependent upon. If you every stop feeding them (say you can’t afford to buy bird food anymore), they have to quickly adapt and figure out where to find a new food source (which could spell death if this happened in the middle of winter).

    We always had a bird feeder growing up and I loved watching the birds out of my window. However, now I don’t think I’m willing to spend a lot of money on animals that should be able to fend for themselves!
    Daedre Craig´s last post ..My First Quiche

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      I completely understand your sentiments (My dad always jokes about my welfare birds).

      I started feeding the birds a few years about when I read about the loss of native habitat. There are so many people that don’t plant with the birds in mind that the populations would be very low if they needed to depend solely on natural food. Add to that the mowing of the ditches, in which the wildflowers should be blooming and going to seed to provide food. And we can’t forget the spraying of farmers fields with herbicide to reduce weeds – which also reduces seeds and food.

      I also noticed that once I started feeding the birds I have had much fewer pest problems in my gardens. It seems that now that I have a good population of birds because of my feeding they are able to sustain a population that really helps with pests.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. Nancy on April 7, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Must be the “rendering” season…I am doing pork fat for lard as we speak. (I, too, have to have the windows open and luckily it is warm enough, yet still cool enough to use the wood stove).

    We are near a farmer that grows organic sunflower seeds, so we are able to get a good amount from there. Last year I kept the bird feeders full and then had a hawk come in the yard and get one of our baby chicks. I read that the bird feeders (which attract small birds) can attract the hawks (to get the small birds), so we stopped feeding the wild birds. I do miss having so many around and now will try to plant flowers etc for them to eat naturally.

    I will pass the suet recipe along to my mom….she will be thrilled to have it!

    Reply to Nancy's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      Yes, bird feeders can attract the hawks. It’s best if they’re places along the edge of the woods or you have trees and shrubs around for cover for the birds. Since ours is right under 2 huge maples we’ve never had a hawk. Although those maples are coming down, so we need to find a new safe place for our feeder!

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Seren Dippity on April 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

        Hey! Hawks are beautiful birds too! I keep my birdfeeders full and love watching ALL the beautiful visitors. It is sad but occasionally Hawks do feed from my feeders. But it is all a balance of nature. Like Susy said attracting birds helps keep the pests down. With the abundance of Hawks in our forested area the bunny rabbits and squirrels do not eat my garden. There is not enough cover for them to hide from the hawks in my raised beds so they avoid them. Of course, in the forested area of our property, there is plenty of acorns and plants for them. (I make sure to keep a healthy water supply for them)
        I keep my feeders right next to the house at my dining room window. It may not be as safe for the birds, but entertaining me (and my indoor cats) is the price for the meal. Their location (or the cats watching from the window) has not caused the birds to hesitate visiting. Interestingly though, this is the only house I’ve had where squirrels do not raid the bird feeders. (Once again, thanks to the Hawks!)
        I do carefully place the birdhouses and nesting sites in safer places though.
        I fed suet this winter and had to be extremely creative in chaining the suet feeders down and shut. If I just hung them something would drag the whole thing down from the feeder and haul them to the woods and/or devour them overnight. Racoons? Night squirrels?

        to Seren Dippity's comment

  8. Patricia on April 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    We have not gotten into feeding the birds, but we haven’t ruled out the possibility. We have spent the past 5 years growing a very large native-plant bed (mostly native to Ohio, all native to eastern U.S.), with a mix of flowers and grasses that will feed both butterflies and birds. We also do not cut down the withered flower and grass stalks so that the birds can continue to glean and find shelter. Thanks for this post.

    I just want to say that I’ve visited your blog nearly every day since discovering it in late February, and I really appreciate your daily posts, thoughtful comments, and inspiring activities.

    Reply to Patricia's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      Many thanks, it’s so great to hear that you’re planting with the birds in mind. My new garden is being designed with wildlife feeding mind – well at least birds – no groundhogs or deer allowed :)

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. meg on April 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this and sourcing where to get the beef tallow! I’ve been meaning to look up how to do it for ages and hadn’t gotten around to it!
    meg´s last post ..Wowsa! The Girls are Smelly- 55 weeks

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  10. amy manning on April 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Very timely post! I was just considering doing this myself, as I have ended up with some extra lard. Thank you!

    Reply to amy manning's comment

  11. Ashley E. on April 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    This is such a great idea!! I always put suet out for the birds. I have a large number of woodpeckers in my yard and they seem to prefer the suet. I never even thought about making my own and it really never occured to me that there may be harmful chemicals in commercial suet. I will be making some this weekend. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply to Ashley E.'s comment

  12. Heather on April 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I have a question – could the tallow be replaced with peanut butter instead? I am not overly fond of the idea of feeding beef fat to birds – even if its organic and rendered… thickening the peanut butter might be necessary and could be done with flour… thoughts and ideas on this appreciated.

    Reply to Heather's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      Fat is actually very good for birds, it’s a great alternative to the energy they would get from insects and worms. If you’re against it for personal reasons I understand. You could use peanut butter, but I would recommend only using all natural organic peanut butter with no added salt or sugar as most store bought brands have added sugar and preservatives. You would probably have to thicken, but the whole grain flour would probably work, as would oat flour.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. diane on April 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I love feeding birds, although I’m not regular in keeping the feeder full. But I think they know I can be flaky. They don’t seem to mind too much.

    But twice now, I have put suet cakes out for them in a special feeder and my two golden retrievers figured out how to steal the cakes. So I haven’t been putting any more out. Any tips for dog-proofing a feeder would be appreciated :)
    diane´s last post ..wordless wednesday- a day late

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    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm

      I’m guessing hanging it up much higher would keep them out – or perhaps adding hot pepper to your suet cakes. I used to add hot pepper oil to my bird seed to keep the squirrels out. The birds can’t taste it but the squirrels do not like it and I’m guessing your dogs won’t either.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • diane on April 8, 2011 at 10:23 am

        I love the hot pepper idea! Thanks! I have gluttonous squirrels raiding the seed feeder also.

        I’ll try it out :)
        diane´s last post ..wordless wednesday- a day late

        to diane's comment

      • Susy on April 8, 2011 at 10:29 am

        You can simply mix a little olive oil on your bird seed with some cayenne and stir to coat, or you can actually steep cayenne in the oil to make the oil hot, then mix with your bird seed. You can play around with the amount that works best in your feeder & for your squirrels. Mr Chiots and I saw a tiny red ground squirrel try our seed for the first time after the pepper oil application and he ran a few yards away and was rubbing his face on the ground – he never got into the feeder again.

        The big squirrels got smart after a while and would only come to the feeder after a good rain, then they would only eat the seed that was in the tray of the feeder that was rinsed off or the seed on the ground – smart! But at least they no longer emptied the feeder.

        to Susy's comment

  14. Kathi on April 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I plant bee balm just for ruby-throated hummingbirds as it is a magnet for them. I also have a flowering quince that attracts migrating Baltimore Oriels in the spring. Would love to plant some trees for Cedar Waxings which are adorable! I’ll have to research what to plant-guessing some kind of cedars…

    Reply to Kathi's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      Flowering Quince for Orioles – hm – I’ll have to look into that. I had one nesting in one of my hydrangeas the first year but haven’t seen any since.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  15. Seren Dippity on April 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I’ll be planting more sunflowers this year than I thought. I bought a sampler packet of 15 different varieties on the spur of the moment and didn’t realize until the seeds arrived that each it came with 50 – 75 seeds for each variety! I have just started flats of them to be transferred out to the beds. I have not had luck starting sunflowers directly …. I think something steals the seeds or seedlings.

    I am also planting a new flowerbed of RED perennials around my dining room windows to attract hummingbirds and go along with my hanging feeders. So far I have Pineapple Sage, some dianthus, turk’s cap, jacob cline and a red vining plant that I need a trellis for (soon!). I wanted an heirloom climbing red rose that produced rose hips for teas but I think that space may be a bit too shaded for a rose.

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

    • Susy on April 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      Very true, we used to have a pair of owls and we didn’t see a chipmunk until they logged the woods behind our house and the owls moved away. Then we had a chipmunk infestation!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  16. Kaytee on April 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    I’ve been planting for the birds for years, first at my parents’ house and now in my own garden. My love of birds actually led to my pursuing ornithology as a degree and I just love to see all the little guys out there in the garden. As I add to my garden, I will be planting more berry producing bushes and I’m planning to plant some sunflowers this year.

    I’ve never made suet blocks and that’s because I’ve run into the same problem as you; finding suet is tough. I’ll have to look into your source. I only feed the birds during the winter, so I will wait until next winter to try this.
    Kaytee´s last post ..Citrus Curds

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  17. queen of string on April 8, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Since moving to our new home last August, we have been feeding the birds, I know they then become welfare birds, but they’re facing such challenges, we think it’s worth it. Heck, if we can make homes for the mason bees then we can feed a few chikadees! We use a log with holes routed out of it, stuffed with suet mix. Perfect for little beaks. I adore seeing so many species visiting each day. I hope we get the beastie eating benefits others have mentioned. If they could persuade the raccoons to look else where too, then they’d be perfect!!!

    Reply to queen of string's comment

  18. Hailey in MT on April 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Is it possible to use venison tallow? We harvested two whitetails last year and both of them had an impressive amount of fat on them. Me being the person Iam, didn’t have the heart to throw all that effort away. I froze nearly 4 gallons with intentions of using it for soap but maybe you’ve given me another way to use it up?

    Reply to Hailey in MT's comment

    • Susy on April 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

      Sure, it’s probably even healthier for them than beef tallow. The place we get our venison processes mixes it in with the ground venison – makes for some yummy burgers!

      I’m guessing you could use it to make candles too like beef tallow. That’s on my “to-try” list after reading about it a few years ago.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  19. Erin on April 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    So fun! I’d love to do this with the boys for hand-made gift giving for sure! I’ve always wondered about the chemicals in lard and tallow, too, so thanks for the confirmation that there are other options, even it’s experimenting with organic sugar-free PB! I’ll see what I can dig up for sources on my side of the border!

    Beautiful photos!!
    Erin´s last post ..Matthews garden

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  20. Erin on April 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Oh, and I wanted to suggest if one is choosing the dried fruit, do you think it might be healthier for the birds to make sure the fruit, if not dried oursleves, is sugar-free and sulphate-free? Any dried fruit, even organic, that I find usually has sugar addded:)
    Erin´s last post ..Matthews garden

    Reply to Erin's comment

    • Susy on April 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

      Very true, I usually use organic fruit that I’ve dried myself.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  21. [...] so much they were asking me a few weeks ago if we were going to do it again this year. (here’s my recipe for homemade suet cakes) There really is no limit to what you can make at home. Last year I even made some homemade cat [...]

    Reply to Sunday photos: introducing REAL Holidays « Not Dabbling In Normal's comment

  22. deedee on November 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

    im assuming its safe to freeze the leftover cakes for later use? im in a suburban/city-ish area with only a few trees on my property but would still love to do this.
    deedee´s last post ..Quick Crafts

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    • Susy on November 30, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      Yep, they’ll freeze just fine!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  23. Lyn Loheed on January 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I made suet bird cakes this year by rendering my own cow fat after we had 2 beeves slaughtered last summer. Just chop up the suet into small pieces, and put it in the crock pot outside on the back porch (The rendering fat does reek a bit). In a few hours you can begin to ladle off the melted fat into a square cake pan. Once it starts to cool and thicken add the birdseed. If you add the birdseed when the fat is still to liquid, the sunflower seeds will all float and all the other seeds will sink. When these harden, they can be cut into 4 square pieces, and wrapped and frozen until needed.

    Reply to Lyn Loheed's comment

  24. Jeph on February 22, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I’ve been given a large slab of suet/fat more than once when a friend ordered a 1/2 cow. The first time I tried shoving the thing down into a giant soup pot to render it. What a mess and the house STANK!

    I later found a method that works great for me. Chop the slab of suet/fat into chunks that you can stuff into your food processor. Process the stuff until it’s a nasty puree. Dump it all into a slow cooker, put it on a cookie sheet JUST IN CASE it overflows (I haven’t had this happen, but because it expands when heated I do worry about the risk), and run the slow cooker out in the garage or outside the house, depending on the weather.

    Hours later strain out the remaining solids, dump the liquid into a giant mixing bowl, and start dumping things in. I’ve stirred in peanut butter, dried cranberries (had a bag that had expired), bird seeds, millet, etc…. Then I dump about 1 1/2″ into old, clean yogurt/sour cream containers, chinese soup containers, etc. Since these containers all have lids I can stack them and keep them out in the garage all winter where they’re bordering on frozen. Just rubbing warm hands around the bottom of the container is usually enough to pop out the suet blocks.
    Jeph´s last post ..Redbud teaser

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    • Lyn Loheed on February 22, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Why mess up your food processor? It’s easy to just chop the suet into cubes and leave to render. As the fat melts off, I ladle it out of the crock pot and into the cake pan. the gristle bits left over are thrown away. I do TOTALLY agree with cooking it outside!

      Reply to Lyn Loheed's comment

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