Suet is animal fat that has been rendered to form hard cakes, balls, or other shapes. Suet is a great food to offer birds when they need more calories to maintain their body heat and energy levels. While there are many commercial suet blocks, cakes, and plugs available, making your own suet bird food is easy and affordable.
When to Feed Birds With Suet
Birds are in greatest need of the energy and calories provided by suet during the fall and winter when their other natural food sources have dwindled. Making suet laden with seeds and nuts can be a good holiday activity to begin about Halloween. Molded suet cakes will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerators, and they can be a good gift for the bird lovers in your extended family.
Working With Suet
Making homemade suet is just as easy as making hummingbird nectar or creating a custom birdseed mix for your backyard chicken flock. It is also more affordable than purchasing commercial cakes, bells, plugs, or blocks. Making your own suet allows you to customize the ingredients to appeal to the types of birds in your yard or those you specifically wish to attract. A homemade suet mixture is also free from preservatives, dyes, and additives that might be found in purchased suet products. While there is no thoroughly studied evidence showing that these items are harmful to birds, it's always preferable to feed birds natural, organic food sources.
Homemade suet recipes do not need to be complicated to attract a range of hungry birds. Before offering the suet to birds, however, it should be rendered to help it maintain its shape more easily. When you purchase suet in cakes from a bird supply store, this step should already be complete.
Equipment / Tools
- Sharp knife or meat grinder
- Wooden spoon
- Cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer
- Containers for molding suet
- Animal fat
- "Treat" ingredients, such as flour, peanut butter, seeds, and dried fruit (optional)
Prepare the Fat
Chop the fat into small pieces or run it through a meat grinder. If you are getting the fat from a butcher, they may be willing to do this for you. Make sure all traces of meat, bone, or other tissues are removed.
Heat the Fat
Heat the chopped fat on low heat until it is fully liquefied. Do not use higher temperatures to melt the suet more quickly, as this could lead to fires or scorching. Stir the fat constantly to help it melt evenly without burning.
Strain the Suet
Strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer to remove any particles or contaminants. The liquid should be strained several times so it is as pure as possible. It may need to be reheated between each straining to stay fully liquid and strain more easily.
Blend in the Treats (Optional)
Once the suet is rendered, it can be fed to the birds as-is or you can add simple ingredients to make it more appetizing to a wider range of birds.
Popular ingredients to customize a suet recipe include chopped, unsalted nuts, especially peanuts (do not use coated or flavored nuts), dried fruit bits or whole, unsweetened raisins or cranberries, birdseed, kitchen scraps (use only very limited quantities), and insects, such as dried mealworms, flies, or crickets.
Here's an easy recipe for suet:
Blend 1 cup rendered suet and 1 cup chunky peanut butter together until they are smooth and liquid. Add 3 cups ground cornmeal and 1/2 cup white or wheat flour. Mix the ingredients well. This makes the suet more crumbly and easier for birds to eat, as well as less messy in the warmer months.
Mold the Suet
Allow the pure suet or mixture to cool slightly to thicken, then pour it into molds or containers to use. Allow it to cool completely until it forms solid blocks. Refrigerate or freeze suet until it is firm and you are ready to use it. Extra suet may be kept frozen for several months until needed. The cakes can be chopped or cut to be fed to the birds, or you may use containers that are the appropriate size to fit your suet feeders.
There are several ways to acquire different types of animal fat for making your own cakes, and many birders have one method that is easiest or preferred for them. You can try different methods to find the type of fat that is most popular with your backyard birds as well as best for your budget.
- Purchase rendered plain suet cakes or chunks from a wild bird supply store, garden center, or pet store. These cakes can be used as-is or can be melted down to be used in more specialized suet recipes. This will usually be the most expensive option, as these cakes have already been processed and shaped for feeders.
- Purchase suet or beef fat trimmings from a local butcher. This is a less expensive option and depending on your butcher, you may be able to have these scraps for a drastic discount or even for free. Also, consider asking beef farmers or anyone who butchers cattle about fat trimmings they will give away or sell for a small price.
- Save bacon and pork meat drippings to create your own suet. This will be softer than rendered beef fat but is still suitable for the birds as a rare treat. Do not feed birds exclusively bacon drippings, however, since some compounds from that type of fried fat could be detrimental to birds in the long term. Furthermore, excessive salt in these drippings could be harmful, though more study is needed to determine how much salt birds can ingest safely.
- Buy lard at the grocery store. Lard is typically found shelved near the butter or margarine products and can be used the same way as plain suet, though it will be somewhat softer and may melt more easily on hot days.
- Buy vegetable shortening in place of animal fat. This is a preferred choice for many vegan or vegetarian birders who prefer not to use animal products, and it is still suitable for the birds. Vegetable shortening is typically stocked on the shelves with other baking supplies.