Please keep in mind that these are the things we have found that work for us. As you get further into your meat rabbit projects, you’re going to find things that suit you better. But as a newbie, these were the things I wish I would have known. There will be links to all of the products mentioned below so that you can visually see them — I’m a visual learner, it helps me!
Choosing the Breed + Buying Rabbits
On our homestead we raise Standard Rex (above) and Flemish Giant rabbits. We’ve had our fair share of learning the hard way when it comes to buying rabbits, so I cannot stress enough to do your research on the breed and the previous owner. Typical meat rabbits are New Zealand, Californian, Standard Rex, Silver Fox, American Chinchilla and Flemish Giant. The larger boned breeds, such as the Flemish, should be bred with a different, less boney breed (such as we do with our Rex). Otherwise, you’ll have more bone than meat on your processed rabbits. We breed our Flemish giant does to our Rex bucks. This allows for a large meat rabbit, but with less bone and more meat. We also breed purebred Rex rabbits for meat and pelts.
It’s easy to get on craigslist and find a rabbit breeder, but just as with any other livestock or product you’re buying, you need to make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for, and that the animals are healthy.
Check for the following:
— Is it the breed that they say it is? There are a lot of nice people out here who are dishonest or simply don’t know what they have. You could have a rabbit that looks like that particular breed, but could very well be a mix. Make sure they know their stuff about what they are selling.
— Overall health. Make sure there aren’t any ear mites (crusty, red ears), runny discharge from nose, eye discharge, sore hocks (missing fur and sores on feet), wheezing, or genital diseases (overly red or blistered). Also make sure that they aren’t too thin and that their teeth look healthy and aren’t overgrown. Ask the seller if they have ever had any health issues, have been bred before, and what kind of feed they were on. If you are going to the seller’s property, inspect the rabbit’s living conditions. Just because a rabbit doesn’t look sick, doesn’t mean they aren’t sick or bringing parasites back home with you. Always quarantine new rabbits away from your other breeding stock for at least 3 weeks before introducing them to each other.
— Pedigree’s and age. I always suggest buying a rabbit under the age of 18 months. Most rabbits start slowing down at the 2 year old range, and does can stop having efficient litters at 3-4 years of age. You want to get the most out of the rabbits that you are buying. Should you purchase a rabbit that comes with a pedigree, insist on getting the pedigree in-hand when you purchase the rabbit, rather than waiting for them to email it to you. A pedigree is simply a piece of paper that states their generational information for at least the past 3 generations. All of our Rex rabbits are pedigreed so that we can sell them more efficiently for people who purchase our rabbits for show. We sell kits whenever we have extra kits from a litter or whenever we have a beautiful litter that we know will do well at shows.
Prices range when purchasing a rabbit — it varies by age, breed, quality, and how many you buy at one time. But above all those things, remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for. After making sure all of the above things check out, then ask price and negotiate. Meat rabbits are an investment into your family’s lives, don’t try to take the cheap road out on this new adventure. You will certainly get back what you pay into them. At the same time, don’t over pay either. Do your research on the breed and pricing in your area. Self research is the best research.
|The hutch that’s attached to our chicken coop.|
|Large ground hutch for grow outs and nursery.|
Time to Process
Depending on the breed, you can process your rabbits between 12 weeks and 20 weeks. We have processed 6 month old rabbits and they have tasted exactly the same. The younger the rabbit, the better. But in my honest opinion, I cannot tell a difference between a 12 week old rabbit and a 6 month old one. You start getting into tougher meat after the 6 month mark.
Processing day is normally a family process here, however, the more we do it, the more I find myself doing it alone. Which is actually something that I, as a woman, am very excited about and take a lot of pride in. When it comes down to it, our lives are extremely busy. This inevitably means that it is easier for me to process rabbits during the day than it is to wait until the evening when mountain man gets home. Thankfully, I have a husband who is very patient in teaching me new things.
Here is a quick rundown of the process:
The first step is the dispatching of the rabbit. We prefer the broomstick method, which is when you place a broomstick on the neck of the rabbit and pull their hind legs up so that it instantly snaps their neck. It is quick and painless, I promise. I prefer this method because it comforts me in knowing that I can feel the rabbits body instantly go limp, which means the kill is complete. There are involuntary jerks every now and then, but nothing like a chicken with its head cut off.
After dispatching, you need to hang the rabbit and cut off the head to allow it to bleed out. However, you can start butchering right away after cutting the head off. You can leave the head on if you prefer to keep the entire skin.
We created the board above so that everything is easily accessible. There are hooks to hang the rabbit on, and hooks for the hose, a knife, and shears or butchering scissors.
We have found that hosing the rabbit down makes it easier to skin. You can even do this if you plan to save the pelts for tanning. This just enables you to work quicker without hair flying everywhere and getting on the meat. It is extremely hard to get hair off of rabbit meat. A rabbit skin is very easy to take off, and we often refer to it as “taking off a sweater”. It truly is that easy after zipping around the legs.
Once the rabbit is skinned, you’ll need to gut it, making sure you do not hit the bladder or urinary tract. Be careful not to hit any of the organs either. You can keep the organs and use them as scraps for the dogs or chickens. Or you can save the livers, etc, for yourself. We toss them to the dog and the chickens.
A word of advice, use latex gloves. Just my preference…
|This was during our first processing. These rabbits were very small, but we were too excited to wait!|
|He’s a good multi-tasker — he was talking on the phone and butchering rabbits!|
The above video is a great source to see the step by step process. This is not our video, but it is one of the video’s we learned from as we went along our journey. I am planning to video my next processing day — I will update as that takes place.
After the Processing
After your rabbit meat is completely cleaned and washed off, you can simply bag it and toss it in the freezer. If you want to keep one out for dinner the following day, you can place it in a salt brine and allow it to sit for 24-48 hours in the fridge. However, I simply just toss all of them in the freezer to discourage rigamortis, and then thaw the rabbit out the following day.
Rabbit meat takes the place of chicken most of the time in our household. You can roast a whole rabbit the same way you roast a chicken, however, you must serve rabbit immediately, otherwise it will dry out quickly if left to “keep warm”.
Leftover rabbit meat can be tossed into soup, made into a pot-pie, or even made into rabbit enchiladas. There are endless possibilities, and we like to use them all.
Long story short, we love our meat rabbits, and we love to bring awareness of how simple it is to raise your own. The key is not allowing it to overwhelm you. Think with your mind, research constantly, and give it all you’ve got. Eventually it will be so familiar that you won’t have to think about it.
You may run into issues along the way, but you’ll survive. Don’t give up. Lean on the homesteading community that surrounds you. Ask questions, and don’t feel bad for asking them. We’re all on this journey together, some longer than others.
I am currently in the process of writing more in-depth about the Meat Rabbit process and hope to share more with you soon. Until then, I hope these basics help you!