Last week we started our conversation about whether raising rabbits is worth it for our family. If you missed that post you can check it out here. We were thrilled to find plenty of you fine folks that not only read our post but agreed with our conclusions!
Our Experience Butchering Rabbits
Being raised on a mini farm myself, I always understood that we raised certain animals for meat and that eventually they would be killed. This was a simple reality that I never really had a problem with. We hunted, we fished; it was just how life was for our family. Our animals were affectionately named things like “Steak”, “Pork Chop”, “Veal”, with the occasional odd ball like “Jean-Claude” and “The Terminator” for several of our most ridiculously huge black hogs. I quickly learned that naming of one of our sweet spotted female pigs “Summer” didn’t do anything other than make me feel bad when Dad sent her away in the back of the butchers van.
But when rabbit butchering day came around I’ll be the first to admit that this experience was still one that even I struggled with.
We did not allow ourselves to become attached to the rabbits we were going to harvest for meat, reserving those affections instead for our breeders. But still, it was a very fun and exciting experience to watch them grow through their various stages of cute little bunny antics. We were completely new at this whole experience, having no one around that we knew that raised rabbits. We quite literally ran this entire operation off of second hand knowledge from books, blogs and friends.
Raising rabbits is really incredibly simple. They don’t make any noise, just hop around in their little pens and are pretty much content all the time. Feed, water and pick up their poo….pretty straight forward. Oh and keep them cool in the summer, that was a rough lesson to learn. We will be sharing our pen setup and care regiment next week because let’s face it……when it comes to deciding whether or not you can do this, the most difficult thing is the actual butchering part. It’s also the part most people are most reluctant to talk about.
As a kid we raised large animals for meat, cows and pigs primarily, although we did try our hands at turkeys once. With all these animals, it was simply a shot to the head (usually done by my father), and then the butcher would come in and process them for us. But I had helped shoot, skin, gut and process several deer, quail and a cottontail growing up too so it wasn’t an entirely foreign thing to get my hands dirty or experience the sights, smells, etc.
But you don’t normally shoot a rabbit you have pen raised, much like you wouldn’t a chicken. We had chickens too growing up but they were never meat chickens, we kept them for eggs and then passed them on to my aunt when they were too old and she made them into soup.
Having to pick up and then process from start to finish a small animal with your own hands is an experience that really makes you understand that a life was sacrificed so you can eat.
I have always told Kevin that if killing our animals ever becomes an easy or enjoyable process that we should stop immediately. It is very important to us that the process should always be done with great humility, respect and gratitude to the animal for what it has given that we might continue to live.
Take away point? Butchering day at the Meyer household is probably not ever something we are going to jump out of bed eager beaver to get into. But we did it, and we will do it again in another month or so.
Our first 6 Home Raised and Butchered Rabbits
The Nitty Gritty of Butchering:
We were both actively involved in the dispatching process so photo’s and video’s were not an option. YouTube also has very strict rules on these types of videos and they can get you banned for “inappropriate content” so at this point we will point you to the resources we used.
Note: links contain detailed images of killing and butchering rabbits, if you don’t care to see them please don’t click on links.
We decided to use the Broomstick method to butcher the rabbits. This worked well and was very fast and humane when done right. The difficulty was in doing it correctly and quickly with a squirming rabbit in your hands. Here’s what we learned:
It is very important to wear gloves while you are handling the rabbits as they can scratch when you pick them up.
The best way we have found to pick them up is to slide your left hand under their belly and support the front legs through your fingers. Then take your right hand and slide down their back, ending with scoop them up under their bottoms. Pull them in close to your body or they will feel very exposed and thrash around. You can then transport them to the butchering area quickly and calmly. Place them on the ground using your right hand to pinch hold both back legs together. Once the other person has a hand on their body and places the broomstick over their neck you can let go and grasp a back leg in each hand. Together the broomstick holder should press down on the stick while the rabbit handler pulls in a firm but un-panicked motion. You will quickly learn to feel when you have pulled enough, it is better to pull a bit more or a second time if you are uncertain than to cause undo suffering. Once you are finished release them to the ground for a moment to allow the reflexive thrashing to pass.
If you are using loops of rope for their legs it really helps to have two people as well, my dad is building us a homemade version of the Rabbit Wringer and their butchering foot holders for our subsequent harvests which we anticipate being much easier for a single person to handle.
This video is one of a few good ones showing the entire process from start to finish.
The process was pretty straight forward, we did find that with ours we had to be a little slower with removing the hide than some of the videos and use our knife a bit to keep from damaging the meat.
Handling the Meat:
Once they were butchered and thoroughly cleaned we held them in cold water in our ice chest while we processed the remaining animals. We then brought them inside where they were cleaned again and bagged in Ziplocks. On recommendations we found we let them rest in the fridge for 3 days before freezing. This helps to tenderize the meat. Be sure to place them in a pan of some kind in case the bags leak at all.
We decided not to brine them at all this time and see our results. The one we ate fresh without freezing was so tender brining would have turned it into mush. This was quite encouraging as we hope to let them grow out a few more weeks next time (we butchered at 9 1/2 weeks) which can make them tougher. The one we fried was a bit tougher so this next time we will do a few in a brine to see the difference.
Turns out rabbits have extra large livers for their size so we managed to get a nice sized bag of livers in addition to the main meat. If you aren’t a fan of liver (or think you aren’t) you must give it a try again. I was convinced that I hated liver until Kevin’s mom showed me how to cook it. We flour the chunks of beef liver and fry them with lots of bacon and onions. Apparently rabbit livers are particularly mild and considered some of the best liver you can eat too! We will be sure to share when we give it a try.
Cutting rabbit up can be a bit of an awkward process the first few times. Even after cutting up a hundred billion (the actual number) of chickens in my semester at culinary school I was a bit intimidated by it.
Of course I chose to try my hand at the first one when I had 3 hours to get a complete rabbit stew ready for a potluck at Kevin’s work. They were told to “be creative” with their soup and he really wanted to have “Backyard Rabbit Stew” be our contribution. No pressure right?
It really would have been quite funny for someone to have been in the kitchen with me that first time. I googled all kinds of instructions, then mustered up my gumption and started hacking at this peculiarly shaped carcass.
These rabbits were fairly small, they dressed out at right around 2 lbs a piece. Which isn’t that small but these instructions were for like behemoth rabbits…..so compared to all my instructions, I looked like I was a baby rabbit killer.
The legs are the easiest part so I tackled them first. They are basically the same as a chicken, just pop the joint and slice around it. Same thing with the front legs.
“Ha!” I thought, I’ve got this thing no problem.
Instructions then read: “The rib cage can then be removed for stock with a cleaver.”
Turns out that a a cleaver is really a necessary kitchen tool to add if you are planning on butchering rabbits much at all. Of course that means that I don’t have one currently so you can imagine it was quite the sight as I did a whack hack job with my biggest chef knife.
I twisted that rib cage back and forth like they suggested, I tried to press down on the chef knife with all my weight, I rocked it back and forth…..after a few minutes of this I am muttering under my breath and sweating in frustration. I finally karate chopped the tar out of it and called it good.
Back to my computer with my one clean pinky finger I scrolled through more instructions.
“Remove the belly flap.”
Easy enough. My pair of shears did the trick. I am practically a rabbit butchering goddess right now.
Next: “Portion up the loin with cleaver.”
Gosh darn it!
More crazy chopping ensues. In under forty five minutes I had managed to finally got the thing cut up and relatively deboned (because we were going to be serving it to people who probably wouldn’t be excited about finding a whole rabbit carcass in their bowl of stew.)
I am also happy to report that my next attempt went much easier and thankfully significantly faster. This is highly likely due to the fact that I wasn’t under a deadline of course so I would recommend that course of action for your first attempt. Deboning is also a silly thing to do to a rabbit if you aren’t grossed out by bones being in different places than a chicken.
Soon I will document the “correct” way to chop up a rabbit for you. But don’t let that stop you! I am here to let it be known that even a hack job to your homegrown rabbits still makes for a tasty dinner….which by the way, is totally worth it.