Update February 2016: I used to use Trex solid vegetable fat to make these fat cakes, but I now use coconut oil exclusively. Two reasons for this: coconut oil is higher in saturated fat, which is better for birds; and non-sustainable palm oil (found in Trex) contributes to the destruction of wildlife habitats. If you’re in the UK, the cheapest coconut oil I’ve found is available at Tesco, where a 500ml jar (Ktc brand) is £2.25.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen vegetarian fat cakes for birds… they all seem to be made of suet (beef tallow) or some other fat rendered from animals.
With the winter being so harsh this year, and with bird numbers already on the decline due to destruction of wildlife habitat and modern farming methods (eg. monoculture, pesticides, herbicides etc), I really wanted to encourage birds to our garden.
Fat cakes provide calories and energy for our feathered friends. But I didn’t want to buy traditional fat cakes because, for one, it means supporting the meat industry, and secondly, the by-products are probably about as healthy for the birds as they are for humans (that is to say, not at all).
After a little research, I discovered it’s not only possible to made your own fat cakes for birds, it’s also easy to substitute coconut oil for the animal fat that’s typically used.
There is some debate over whether vegetable fats are suitable for wild birds. The RSPB cautions against using “polyunsaturated margarines and vegetable oils” because of the lower saturated fat content. However, coconut oil is higher in saturated fat, and lower in polyunsaturated fat, than either lard or suet.
|Saturated fat||Polyunsaturated fat||Monounsaturated fat|
There’s some good info and recipes here on homemade fat cakes and balls for birds, including the advantages of using vegetable fat over animal fat. I adapted one of the recipes to make a much smaller amount, because it’s easier to make and store a small quantity.
I upped the fat content the second time as the mixture was quite crumbly the first time. However, the birds ate it with gusto both times.
Vegetarian fat cakes for birds
|50g||coconut oil||4 tablespoons|
|2 tablespoons||peanut butter||2 tablespoons|
|2 tablespoons||sugar||2 tablespoons|
|3 tablespoons||quick oats (or process large-flake oats in blender)||3 tablespoons|
|2 tablespoons||plain (all-purpose) flour, white or wholemeal||2 tablespoons|
|2 tablespoons||sunflower seeds, chopped||2 tablespoons|
|2 tablespoons||raisins, chopped or cut into bits||2 tablespoons|
1. Melt vegetable shortening, peanut butter and sugar over low heat in a small pot.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. When shortening and peanut butter have melted, add it to the dry ingredients and mix to combine evenly. Scrape into a shallow container (I used a plastic tub from a takeaway), press the mixture down, cover and refrigerate.
3. When mixture has firmed up, cut into squares and place on a platform-type bird feeder. You can also smoosh the mixture into small balls. Alternate ways of serving the fat cakes can be found here.