We are used to seeing suet cakes in the winter advertised to help the birds in cold weather. Cold and wet weather means that non-migrating birds need more calories in their diets. The fat in a suet cake fills that need perfectly well. Although I love to see a red cardinal in the winter, my favorite non-migrating birds are my lovely hens scratching around in the yard.
Even if you give your hens the most beautiful and elaborate shelter, they will choose to get out in all sorts of weather. Chickens are incredibly cold hardy despite their small size and will commonly walk out into the snow to satisfy their curiosity and love of the fresh air. As long as their shelter is available to them as a free choice they will decide when they need to warm up and when they want to play in the yard.
There are lots of cute ideas on the web about how to make Suet Cakes that use bird seed, raisins, nuts and such, but I get really excited about ways to feed my chickens using kitchen scraps. [Yes, I know I need help.] For me, a Suet Cake for my chickens takes it up a notch because I am able to use the extra cooking grease that is so hard to dispose of anyway.
My husband covets bacon grease (I’m not really a fan), but beef and chicken drippings are really just a hazard to dispose of. Anyone teaching a kid to cook has probably had the fun of trying to calmly explain to the child why you told them 30 minutes ago not to pour cooking fat down the drain as you try desperately to heat up the sink and pipes before the fat creates an impenetrable clog.
Making your own Suet Cake is not only a win for your sink, a win for making use of kitchen waste, and a win for your hen’s winter diet: but I also found a grain and seed substitute that makes use of that ‘dust’ that your hens won’t eat in the feeder…quadruple win!
If your hens are like mine, they will gobble up the pellets and refuse to eat all the little crumbs in the tray. If you hang your feeder high enough they won’t be able to scratch it out on the ground, but they will still use their beaks to display their disdain for it. I need to find an easier way to do this, but this time I sifted that out and collected it. I just keep a jar under the sink with this ‘pellet dust’ and I can mix up a ton of suet cakes at once when their are left-over drippings. I’m guessing it is full of minerals the girls should be eating anyway.
Keep adding dust past the ‘brownie mix’ stage and go all the way to ‘wet sand’ stage. Press it down into your container, put the lid on and pop it into your fridge or freezer. It will harden up fairly quickly. Make them into whatever shape you can easily pop out. They don’t make my little round Ziplock containers anymore, but these Glad rectangular ones are also 8oz just like the containers I use for the whole process.
I bought this large suet cake holder that I not only use for winter snacks, but also for holding produce up off the ground to entertain the hens. It’s my favorite way to get rid of a zucchini I forgot about in the fridge. As I have been making these, I try to make them bigger and bigger because it’s a more efficient use of my time and space….and at some point I may buy a flock block if I find I fall behind in having enough snacks.
Here you can see the chickens pulling out cucumbers and then carrying them off to their own corners. They love things like cucumbers and squash! There are lots of great suet cake holders out there, but the one I have here is heavy-duty. If you want one like mine, look for an easy to fill one because the hens act like little toddlers waiting for candy. I’ve had a hen more than once jump up waist high and try to nab a treat. It’s all one compartment so you can pop really big things in. We’ve put about 10 corncobs in there after supper and watched the chickens for an hour. It’s just nicer to have it up off the ground so it doesn’t become an eyesore. They also aren’t eating dirt and other ‘stuff’ accidentally. (I’m sure they eat enough of that on purpose!) Because it swings from a chain all over the place it seems to entertain them more too, and that’s even more fun to watch.
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