Wildscaping Bark Butter Recipe

by Trish Meyer – January 2015.

(Yes, this is long! Hopefully the amount of detail is helpful and not overwhelming. If nothing else, it will help ME next winter to read these notes as it's amazing how much you forget when you don't make it all the time! Next week when I make the next batch of bark butter, I will try to take photos of the process and add them here. )

Why is "bark butter" and why make it at home?

While there are many recipes for homemade suet for birds, we really liked the "spreadable" suet we found in the commercial Birdacious Bark Butter at Wild Bird stores (http://shop.wbu.com/p/jims-birdacious-bark-butter-32-oz?os=354). If you want to first determine if it's worth making it at home, try some of this with your birds first!

The birds devoured it(!) and we were soon going through one container a week. At about $14 each, that was adding up! So I set out to find a homemade replacement that would cost less. I found I could make it at home for about a quarter of the price, so could afford to give the birds twice as much for half the cost! Plus, a container makes a nice gift to give to a bird-loving friend or neighbor over the winter holidays. We only feed bark butter during the cold winter months (during the summer we use store-bought suet cakes called Peanut Delight that we put in a suet feeder). 

I read many blog entries before starting to experiment with making Bark Butter. This was the best resource imo:
Julie Zickefoose discovered that bark butter needs nutrition added via chick starter mix.
VIDEO on making it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9_oOhXNG6A
and this is her blog entry, explaining why you use chick starter mix:
http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2010/03/zick-dough-improved.html

My final recipe is very similar to hers, although I add more peanut butter to make it stickier, and use less flour. 
She doesn't "grind" the dry ingredients, but grinding in a blender (or food mixer) makes it nice and smooth like the commercial bark butter! Most people seem to skip the grinding…but I think it's worth the mess and the noise!

Feel free to adapt this recipe to suit your preference for how sticky or crumbly it is. Be sure to include the Chick Starter mix though, as this is very important for the bird's health so they get enough nutrients and avoids problems with bone density.

Also, I do NOT add seeds! It read somewhere that seeds need to be hulled as they are eaten, so birds would be swallowing unhulled seed if you mix seed in. However, you could add "hulled sunflower chips", as this would be akin to the chunks of peanut that is in chunky peanut butter. We offer bird seed in a separate feeder and scatter some on the ground for the towhees. (Hulled sunflower chips - or "no waste" seed mixes - are great if you don't want a mess on your patio or deck!) 

You can buy all the ingredients below at CostCo and Kroger stores, with the exception of "Chick Starter" mix, which you'll need to get from an animal feedstore. I also found a regular one on Amazon (link may change in future):
http://www.amazon.com/Manna-Pro-Chick-Starter-Medicated/dp/B003AEXOEW
Be sure to get the NON-medicated version! You don't want wild birds using antibiotics!
Feedstores sell 5lb or 25lb sacks and it's cheap (cheep?!). The "starter" means for baby chicks, and includes protein and nutrients for healthy growth. It should look like CRUMBLES (and not lumps of corn and grit meant for larger fowl). The crumbles grind up easily in the blender too.

I buy a big sack of chick starter mix at the beginning of the winter and store it in a metal container in the garage; a 20 or 25lb bag will last all season. 

If you want to spoil them, I found that Amazon also sells a couple of Organic, non-GMO chick starter mixes (links may change):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KY4ZJKI/
http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Naturally-Starter-Chicken-25lbs/dp/B0068SP3V4/

I buy peanut butter in bulk from Costco (both the Skippy Creamy and Skippy Chunky jars). The rest of the ingredients I get at Kroger (~Smiths/Ralphs) and get whatever brand is on sale or cheaper (Kroger is usually fine). 

I use a Blender to grind down some of the chunkier dry ingredients, so check out local Thrift Stores. (A food mixer might also work.) You may not want to use your good stuff as the chick starter mix is not for human consumption. Same with all the utensils in the "box o' stuff" (see below) - I keep a separate set of utensil just for the birds! 

The "Tub" Measurement
After I wasted time weighing each of the dry ingredients, I now cheat and use an empty plastic "tub" of FAGE Yogurt - make sure it's the 1000g size. I just fill up this "tub" and skip all the weighing! Believe me, it's SO much easier than measuring "cups" or "oz" or weighing anything.  (Costco used to sell this 1000g size, but they now sell larger 1360g size.) You will need at least 2 of these "tubs". Or feel free to measure out cups...

THE KIT
Big stuff from your kitchen:

Box of Utensils

(check local Thrift Stores for most of these!)

I keep a box of utensils for making bark butter so it's all in one place:

when cooking is done:

INGREDIENTS for ONE Batch

(makes about 5 tubs of bark butter, but I make 2 batches in one session for one month's supply)

WET ingredients (use weighing scale):

DRY ingredients:

(a "tub" = FAGE 1000g plastic tub, measured up to the line that is 1" from the top, not the very top)

HOW TO MAKE BARK BUTTER

QUICK OVERVIEW of major steps (more details below):

  1. Melt the "wet stuff" - Lard and Peanut Butter - in the stock pot on low heat on the stove.
  2. Use the Blender to grind down the Chick Starter and Quick Oats, then mix with the Corn Meal in large bowl.
  3. Add the flour to the melted wet stuff on stove, and whisk until mixed well and heated. Take off stovetop.
  4. Spread some newspaper on the kitchen floor, put the stockpot on the floor, and add the "dry" mix to the stockpot mix while stirring continuously (two people are better than one for this step!) 
  5. Once wet + dry are mixed together, scoop the warm mixture into empty containers with lids and cool overnight.

Store one container at room temperature for easier spreading, and store the others in a cool place until needed.
The next morning (or in a few hours), the bark butter will be firm and ready to feed to the birds!

Because it takes time to get started as well as to clean up the mess(!), I try to make TWO BATCHES in one evening. I usually make it after dinner and let it sit overnight.

The first few times I made it, it took me so long I thought I'd never make it again! But once I had organized my box of utensils, and practiced a few times, I can now make the first batch in about 40 minutes from start to finish, then the second batch takes about 30 minutes, plus cleanup and time to put everything away. So allow 1.5 hours total for two batches once you get organized.

Each batch will make about 4+ "tubs" (FAGE 1000g size) of bark butter, or 8+ for two batches.  Depending on how much you spoil your birds, how bad the weather, and the number of birds you have, a tub will last from a couple of days(!) to a week. In really bad weather, we use about two tubs a week (two feedings a day, morning and lunch); so two batches worth should last about a month. 

And just wait until you see how many birds will be lining up outside in the morning, and how much they enjoy it...

DETAILED STEPS in order of appearance:

  1. Find the notes with my last recipe! See if there are any tweaks to make.  Check that I have enough of ALL the ingredients before I start anything...
  2. Put the stock pot on the stovetop and turn on the extractor fan over the stovetop
  3. Put the medium mixing bowl on the scale (the large one is used for the dry ingredients).
      If using an electronic scale which turns off automatically, write down how much the empty bowl weighs in your notes!
  4. Set the scale to Zero Out (so that scale reads 0). 
  5. Using the serving size metal spool, measure out 2 lbs of Lard onto bowl on scale
       (If you are slow about it, and the scale turns itself off, you'll need to add the weight of the empty bowl to the 2lbs.
       So your recipe should have two values for weight: Lard and Lard+Bowl!)
  6. Using a silicone spatula, scoop the lard out of the container into the stockpot on stove
  7. set burner to LOW heat (2 out of 10). There's no rush. Put on the lid if you have one.
  8. Ditto with Peanut Butter: Weigh out 2lb 6oz on the scale in the same container, using a mixture of Creamy and Chunky peanut butter if you like.
       (Again, make a note of how much PB + weight of container adds up to, in case scale turns itself off.)
  9. Using the spatula, add the PB to the lard in the stock pot - which should now be starting to melt.
       (The medium bowl can now be used for a spoon rest to keep messy stirring spoons off the countertop.)
  10. Stir the wet ingredients occasionally as they melt and keep the temperature low so things are only melting, NOT bubbling. (Low = 2 on a scale from 1-10.)
    Note that chunky peanut butter will have lumps so this mix will never be 100% smooth.

Now turn your attention to the dry ingredients:

Grind Chick Starter

  1. Plug in the blender (which should be beefy enough to crush ice without blowing a fuse…)
  2. Measure out TWO "tubs" of the mix (a "tub" is a FAGE 1000g container, up to the top line about 1" from the top)
      (if it's in a metal trashcan, it's easy to scoop it up; I leave a small yogurt container inside the can for topping off)
      (note that I don't just use one tub and fill it twice, as it's easy to lose count as you're blending...ask me how I know!)
  3. With TWO tubs full, put HALF of one tub into the Blender and put on the lid(!)
  4. Blend on LOW for 30-45 seconds or so until it's finely ground down. YMMV here.
      (I don't try to blend a whole tub at once - it does not blend very well and so doesn't really save time!)
      (note that the FAGE containers are wider at the top, so "half" the tub is a bit deceptive) 
  5. Pour the finely ground results from the blender into the LARGE mixing bowl
  6. repeat: keep blending half a tub at a time until it's all ground down and in the large mixing bowl.

Grind Quick 1-Minute Oats:

  1. Measure TWO "tubs" of Quick Oats (in the same FAGE containers you used for the Chick Starter)
  2. This is ground down the exact same way as the Chick Starter, a half tub at a time, but it's quicker to blend and less noisy!
  3. add the ground oat "flour" to chick starter in the large mixing bowl.

Add Corn Meal:

  1. Open 24oz container - no measuring needed! pour into the large mixing bowl with the ground chick starter and quick oats. 
  2. Using the large metal spoon, mix all 3 dry ingredients well.

Add Flour To Stockpot:

  1. Plug in the electric hand whisker (if using one) near the stock pot, or use a manual large whisk
  2. Measure 3 cups of All Purpose Plain White Flour (see tip below)
  3. Gently put each cup of flour into the melted mix of lard/PB, and using a whisk, turn it over until it's reasonably wet (otherwise it will fly everywhere when whisked!)
  4. If using an electric whisk, turn it on and whisk the mix for a few minutes until all the flour is absorbed well (this works also with a hand whisk, it just takes longer and is tiring!)
  5. continue stirring until the mix gets a little bubbly; it's okay if the mix heats up almost to a slight simmer as the heat activates the "gluey" property of the flour.
  6. Turn OFF the heat on stove and see if someone can help with the next step...

The Big Mix

  1. Place newspaper on floor in corner of kitchen (easier than making even more of a mess of the stovetop…ask me how I know...)
  2. Put stockpot on newspaper (can use old heat mat under it, or a folded newspaper)
  3. Have one person stir the melted stuff with the large strong metal spoon (see Capholon pic above) while second person tilts the dry ingedients into it using the spatula. It will be very easy at first, then get harder as it gets almost done.
  4. Once it's as mixed as can be, use the large spoon to scoop it into 1000g size yogurt containers (or similar); put on the lids.
  5. You can reuse all the dirty containers and utensils if making a second batch (if not, start the cleanup!)
  6. We leave the extra bark butter containers on a cold floor in the pantry, and keep one out in the kitchen at room temperature. 
  7. As you put things away, make a Shopping List of which ingredients are running short of so you can buy them for next time. 

Feed the Birds!

The next morning (or a few hours later), use the spatula to smear some bark butter on a tree branch, in little nooks and crannies of the tree, or in special bark butter bird feeders. Try to put some low down on an easy stump or hollow, where towhees and other birds that don't "cling" can get to it.

Try not to feed bark butter too late in the day; if it's left out overnight it will freeze hard and only the woodpeckers will be able to eat it! We usually feed them when we get up, and if the weather is bad we'll give them extra at lunch time.

 

Tip: Create a "cheat" measuring tub for the flour:
This saves measuring the flour each time, so you only have to do it once!

Carefully measure the 3 cups of All Purpose Flour, leveling off each cup. Pour the flour into a large yogurt tub (an extra FAGE 1000g tub works fine here too). Rock it gently until the flour is level and not peaked in the center. Take a Sharpie pen and draw a line around the top of the flour. This line is how far up to measure the flour the NEXT time! You'll never have to measure the flour carefully again! Of course, keep this marked container in your kit when you're done. 

 

Notes:
Most of the recipes add the flour to the dry ingredients, which makes no sense to me! I believe the flour is added to make the ingredients bind together. If so, it makes sense to me to activate the flour with heat (hot flour = wheat paste = glue). Once I started doing it this way, the flour held the bark butter together better, reducing the “crumbliness”, and I could cut back on the flour (from 4 cups to 3 cups).“

The original recipes online call for equal part lard and peanut butter, but we found that was too dry. When we tried to smear it on the tree branch, it would crumble and fall.
By adding more PB, it was stickier. Heating the flour seems to make it stickier too. So after a few experiment, we settled on the recipe above.

 

© 2015 Trish Meyer, Wildscaping.

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