Need some ideas for what to feed your backyard chickens over the winter? As the weather gets colder, the treats I feed my flock focus more on energy and warming properties instead of being cooling and hydrating like summer treats. Along with feeding chickens scraps from the table, I also know how to make suet cakes for them. If you know how to make suet cakes, there’s nothing better for a winter treat for your chickens.
When it comes to providing energy in the cold weather, you just can’t beat fat which provides nearly twice the energy of carbs. It also slows the digestion rate, and increases the absorption rate of nutrients. If you save your cooking grease throughout the year, you can learn how to make suet cakes. It’s easy and very inexpensive.
When I learned how to make suet, I decided to avoid using bacon fat because of the high sodium and nitrate content, but other meat fats and grease are just fine. Throughout the year, any time I cook meat, I drain the grease (it’s okay if there are a few random tidbits of meat in it) and pour it into a container in the freezer until I’m ready to make the suet.
How to Make Suet Cakes At Home
Here’s what you’ll need:
• Grease or fat from cooking meatloaf, burgers, steak or other meats
• Unsalted nuts (peanuts are especially nutritious and a good source of unsaturated fat)
• Cracked corn
• Sunflower seeds
• Cayenne pepper (helps to heat the body and also stimulate the circulatory system)
• Heat/freezer safe container
• Suet cage
Here’s what I do:
Chop nuts and arrange them in your dish and then sprinkle some raisins, sunflower seeds and cracked corn on top along with a healthy shake of cayenne pepper. Warm the grease to a liquid then pour carefully over the nut mixture. Stir to blend and then put the dish into the freezer. (You can continue to add ‘layers’ to your container each time you have leftover grease, adding more nuts, raisins and cayenne as needed. You can also add other dried fruits or seeds.)
I store the suet in the freezer until winter and then start doling it out on cold days. Since the fat isn’t rendered, the suet should be kept in the freezer until ready to use and then only fed in portions that your chickens will eat fairly quickly. To serve, remove the container from the freezer and run a butter knife along the outer edge. Turn the container upside down and gently tap on the counter. Your suet block should pop right out.
I like to cut the cakes to fit into suet cages (sold in the wild bird section of hardware stores and garden shops). That keeps them out of the dirt and off the ground. I feel good knowing that I am not only helping our chickens deal with the cold, but also making good use of grease that I would otherwise throw away. If you’re wondering what to feed chickens in the winter for a healthy, warming treat, knowing how to make suet will be fun for you and tasty for your birds!
Note: I know lots of chicken keepers who offer their chickens commercial suet cakes marketed for wild birds. While I’m sure that’s just fine and won’t hurt your flock, I feel more comfortable knowing the ingredients that are going into my chickens’ treats.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.