Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cake for the Chickens!

by Meredith Chilson

It’s probably no secret that I’m a bird lover. I have several backyard bird feeders, am often found slowly cruising summer back roads looking in shrubs for nests or even occasionally can be caught standing in my yard staring at the sky following the flight of a raven or the call of a pileated woodpecker.  And—well, then there are the chickens….

This time of year, when cold, snowy days keep the chickens close to the coop, I like to supplement their feed with a few energy-filled treats.  I also like to make sure the girls have something for entertainment, to keep them from picking at each other.  While I was preparing suet treats for my backyard feeders this past week, I thought I’d make a large cake of similar ingredients for the chickens.

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s “All About Birds”site: Suet is technically defined as the hard fat around the kidneys and loins in beef and mutton, but in common usage, most kinds of beef fat are also called suet and can safely be fed to birds….Animal fat is easily digested and metabolized by many birds; it's a high-energy food, especially valuable in cold weather.

I use suet as the base for my winter backyard bird-cakes, I have occasionally fed my chickens small pieces of animal fat, and I know they are omnivores.  We just received our winter’s supply of locally grown beef, and part of the order included suet, too.

I “rendered” the suet by cutting it into small chunks and melting it over low heat in a heavy kettle.  This step took about two hours, because I was very careful not to let the fat burn, but just liquefy. When I make this recipe for the backyard birds, I am very careful to strain out any pieces of meat.  I think, however, the chickens might enjoy a few crispy pieces of meat scrap!

While the fat was melting, I lined a bread pan with waxed paper,  and added the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl.
 The general measure I used was this: for each 1-1/2 cup measure of liquid fat, add about 5 cups of cereals, 1-1/2 cups of seed, and ¼ cup peanut butter. I used oatmeal, breadcrumbs, cornmeal and whole wheat flour for the cereals and scratch grain for seed.  I also added a handful of dried cranberries. 

I stirred the peanut butter into the hot fat, poured it over the dry ingredients in the bowl and mixed well.  The “batter” was then placed in the prepared pan, firmly patted down, and left to cool overnight on a rack. In the morning, I removed the cake from the pan and peeled off the waxed paper.

Over the years that I have been chicken keeping I have tried various “seed blocks” in the winter coop.  I’ve found that the hens will spend some time pecking at a block when it is first introduced and then only occasionally work at it.  I have never been able to figure out a good way to hang the large blocks, and the girls end up making a mess of them and on them when they are just left on the floor of the coop.  My idea was for this Chicken Cake to hang, or swing, from the ceiling, somehow, so the girls could peck at it for entertainment while getting a nutritious, high-energy treat.

I clipped off a section of chicken wire from the end of a roll I had saved.  Then, I wrapped the wire around the solid, cooled cake.  I used the heavy cord already tied to the rafter in the coop (left from last season’s extra feeder), threaded it through the wire cage, and let it swing.

The girls had been standing on my boots while I tied the cord, and as soon as I let the Chicken Cake in a Cage swing freely, they were pecking at it.  Success!

It was a fun project –very inexpensive as I used ingredients and wire I had on hand.  I always like to find something I can make at home to give to the girls as treat—this is entertaining as well as nutritious!

If you’d like to read about the treat I made for the wild birds, CLICK HERE.

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