Make your own Fatballs for your Garden Birds

There are a wide range of fatballs, suet blocks and pellets that you can buy to feed your garden birds, but it can be fun, cheap and easy to make your own! This an activity for adults and children alike. See below for the shopping list and instructions you’ll need to make homemade fatballs for your garden birds this winter.

The Shopping List

The core ingredient will be lard, suet or beef dripping. Your local butcher might have these, but otherwise most supermarkets have it in the fridge aisle near the butter. Look for small blocks of ‘Frytex’ beef dripping, or a supermarket own-brand equivalent. Note that butter, margarine, coconut oil, peanut butter etc. are NOT suitable for birds. They don’t provide the right saturated fats for the birds, and also they don’t freeze as solid as lard/beef dripping, meaning grease and oil can get on birds feathers, which destroys their heat-insulating capabilities and can be lethal as a result. So, don’t risk it! For the same reason avoid using cooking fat from cooking turkey or chicken.

What you add next is up to you and there’s no hard or fast rule as to what exactly has to go in. You can buy raisins and sultanas, porridge oats, mixed seed, peanuts, grated cheese, breadcrumbs etc. in whatever quantities you like. Some of these are ingredients you might have in the cupboard already. With regards peanuts, you can chop or blitz them in a food processor before adding. Roughly speaking you want two parts dry ingredients to one part ‘wet’ (i.e. lard). Do not use anything with salt in it as this will make your birds sick! And similarly you can’t use anything with mould on it.

Then, you’ll need something to put them in. It’s worth checking your recycling bin for this! Old plastic takeaway containers work really well, as do yoghurt pots and similar plastic containers, or old coconut shells. If you don’t already have a cage feeder suitable to hold your fatball/block, then you might want to pierce a hole in the bottom and knot some string through it to be able to hang it once it’s ready.

Lastly, you’ll need either a large bowl (method 1 below) or a saucepan and spoon (method 2).

How to Make Them

There are two ways to do this. If the whole family is helping then go for Method 1. If you want something more efficient and less ‘involved’ (i.e. messy), then Method 2 is for you!

Method 1 (for the whole family)

Take the lard block out, chop it into a few pieces and start to press it between your hands over the bowl. It starts off solid, but quickly warms up and becomes easy to work and mash up. Once it has warmed up a bit, start adding your dry ingredients. Take a handful ad mash it into the fatball over and over again until they’re part of the fatball, and then add more! Keep adding dry ingredients but stop before the whole thing becomes crumbly – you want it all to stick together. Once you think it’s done, press it into your plastic container, put in the fridge overnight, and you’re done!

Method 2 (more efficient, less messy)

Put your lard into a saucepan and heat it on the cooker. Once it has melted, add your dry ingredients and stir to make sure everything is well covered by the melted lard. Once you’re done, pour the mix into your plastic containers (be careful, it’ll be hot!) and leave in the fridge to solidify overnight.

And there you have it!

And that’s it! Easy, cheap and really rewarding to see your garden birds eat something you’ve made yourself. Don’t panic if they don’t go for it immediately – it can take a few days before they try something new, but once they’re used to it they’ll keep coming back for more! Remember too, these sorts of foods are great for garden birds during the cold winter months, but don’t put them out when the temperature warms up in spring and summer!

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