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HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN FAT CAKES

Most birds love fat cakes especially in winter and a couple of these hung up can give the birds a ready source of high energy food just when they need it. They can be the ONLY source of local food if the ground is covered by a layer of snow or ice. You can buy them from shops but it is just as easy (and cheaper) to make your own and include the foods your local birds like. The key to a successful fat cake is finding a source of hard fat. Suet or lard tend to be much too soft and your fat cake will disintegrate on the first mildly warm day, dropping to the floor in a greasy mess! Many stores have blocks of beef dripping or similar products that are just fine, though you need to experiment to find the ones that set the hardest.

POSSIBLE INGREDIENTS TO USE

Peanuts (whole or broken)
Sunflower hearts
Ant eggs (that the goldfish didn't eat)
Oats
Bread crumbs or chunks
Dried fruits
Bits of cut up fat
Pond fish food left over from summer (good way to use it up)

Suitable container and hanging mechanism!

IMPORTANT - Always use good quality ingredients with NO MOULD

HOW TO MAKE THEM

You need the following:

  • A smooth sided plastic, metal or ceramic container with either vertical or sloping out at the top sides - Ideally something like a container used to store tablets in large quantities ie 500 / 1000 or anything similar. Size is not important but from experience about 3" (75mm) wide x 5" (130mm) or larger will be fine. Try to find something long and thin rather than short and fat as the cake lasts longer and is less likely to fall apart.
  • A piece of string 3' (1m) long and strong enough to support the weight of all the ingredients.
  • A plastic curtain hook, piece of knitting needle or other support about 1" (25mm) long.
  • A pan to melt the fat in.

What to do:

  • Cut off a large chunk of fat, place in the pan and warm SLOWLY until it just melts (Don't get it too hot).
  • Tie the plastic support ie curtain hook on the end of the string and place in your container.
  • Start filling your container with the fat cake ingredients ie peanut layer, sunflower layer etc..
  • Make sure to keep the support right at the bottom of the container.
  • Carefully pour some of the melted fat over the mixture until it is covered.
  • With a knife, work your way around the mixture making sure that fat has reached the bottom and is fully mixed with the ingredients.
  • Add another layer of mixture.
  • Add more melted fat.
  • Again use the knife.
  • Repeat this process until your container is almost full.
  • The top layer is a mixture of peanuts and oats.
  • Using the knife, make sure the top layer is pushed into the fat.
  • Put the whole thing in your freezer supporting the excess string on a shelf above (so that it hangs right).
  • Wait until fully set.

Releasing the cake from the mold

  • Boil some water.
  • Place the frozen container in a heatproof bowl sufficiently deep to allow the full height of the container to fit.
  • Pour boiling water into the bowl until it is just below the lip of the container.
  • Wait until you see a thin ring of melted fat appear around the edge of your cake.
  • Take the container out of the water and carefully pull the string.
  • Your new fat cake should pull out very cleanly.
  • Make some spares! Store in the freezer.

    Tie the cake on a branch or support and wait a few days. Your diners will have to get used to it but once they do, your cake will start to shrink, slowly at first but then rapidly.

SQUIRREL TROUBLE?

If your fat cakes are being attacked by squirrels - get mean! When you make them, add some Capsicum (red, green or yellow sweet pepper) seeds or try some Chilli seeds. The birds don't seem to mind at all but squirrels hate them and a good mouthful of chilli seed will give you a dancing squirrel that will stay well away from your fat cake!!

LOCAL OBSERVATIONS

We always put some of these out between Autumn and Spring and find it easier and quicker to make a few quite large cakes rather than many small ones. All the birds have a different technique on how to feed from fat cakes that is interesting to watch. Always the first are starlings that land above the cake and slide down the string. They start hacking of the top layers. Tits tend to work from below. Blackbirds stand underneath, then take off at great speed and dive into the cake beak first hoping to break a lump off. Robins strangely tend to use lots of energy hovering at the side whilst doing a poor impersonation of a humming bird! Greenfinches copy starlings and slide down the string whilst being very aggressive with other birds. Sparrows, almost always the last to explore this new delight, just land on top. Chaffinch and other more timid birds, stand underneath waiting for bits to fall from above.

Hope this inspires you to start planning for Autumn!

We never recycle the used strings or bearers - they get very grubby.

Please report back any success / failure / suggestions for things to include / improve.

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Regards from the staff at DTSystems and have fun making some cakes - BUT - DO IT SAFELY!

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