After choosing a
breed, the next step will be your choice of housing and care items for
your family’s new meat production project. A lot will depend on your
climate and the area where you plan to keep the rabbits. Rabbits can be
kept inside or outside depending upon your type of cage. It is also an
important fact to remember that rabbits do better in the cold than in the
heat. This means if you live in a climate that gets very hot in summer
make sure to provide plenty of shade, water, and cooling for your rabbits. If you plan to have cages outside in the weather the best type cage is
usually referred to as a hutch. This is a wooden cage with wire sides and
bottom, with a solid roof. If you have an indoor area such as a barn or
shed that will offer protection from the inclement weather then you will
only require a wire cage.
When the rabbits reach butcher weight the time has come to
decide if you will do the deed yourself or arrange for someone else to
butcher the rabbits for you. In my case, most often, I have a friend
who does it for me in trade for some of the meat. This works out
better for me because I would rather give away some meat than clean up
afterwards. However, butchering rabbits is much easier and is far
simpler than butchering poultry.
Depending on the one
doing the butchering, the way to kill the rabbit is a personal preference.
Snapping the neck, slitting the throat or knocking the rabbit in the head
are the most common methods used. Remember to plan your butcher date ahead
of time so you will be able to withhold feed for about 24 hours before
butcher time; this saves a lot more mess when butchering.
The tools you will
need for butchering are a sharp skinning knife, a refuse bucket, a bucket
or barrel of cold ice water, small pair of dikes, and plastic zipper bags. After
the rabbit is dead, it is most common to hang the deceased rabbit by the
hind legs on a post or suspended in air by some manner. At this point some
butchers will spray the rabbit’s fur with water to discourage loose hair
from flying around the meat when skinned. Next, they split the skin at the
back legs below the hocks cutting around the tail and simply peeling the
fur right off the body. At this point take the dikes and cut the bone of
front legs off.
Now, its time to gut
or clean the rabbit; you’ll need to cut from near the anus towards the
chest of the rabbit. Try hard not nick or cut the bladder, intestines or
other organs so as not to contaminate your meat. Once the body cavity is
open remove the entrails, split the chest and remove the heart, lungs, and
trachea. Last step is to split the pelvic area and remove rectum.
Use the dikes again
to cut the back leg bones above the feet. Take the carcass and put it
into the ice water while you work on the next rabbit. When you have
finished with the rabbits you are butchering, remove them from the ice
water and place them into zip-tight bags. You have just provided your
family with fresh rabbit meat.
There are lots of
recipes available for preparing rabbit dishes. Basically, any recipe you
use with chicken can be used for rabbit with a few minor modifications. Because of the lower fat levels, rabbit meat is dryer than chicken so less
cooking time and a lower cooking temperature are both necessary to
consider when preparing.
I have fixed many
rabbit dishes over the years but the one that my family prefers the most
is a sweet-and-sour dish. It requires a little more prep time than, say,
an easier crock-pot-type meal but the taste is definitely worth the extra
effort that it requires.
If you would like to
try the sweet and sour rabbit dish you will first need:
2 ½ - 3 lbs of
½ tsp. Each of salt &
½ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 ¼ Tbsp cider
4 Tbsp horseradish
½ tsp dry mustard
Green pepper cut into
1 20 oz can chunked
1 11oz can mandarin
Brown the rabbit in
the oil for about 10-12 minutes on each side. Place the browned rabbit in
a baking dish. Drain the pineapple but keep the liquid, drain the oranges
also. Cover the rabbit with 1/3 of the pineapples and 1/3 of the oranges,
then place the green pepper strips over the fruit.
Add brown sugar and
vinegar to the reserved pineapple liquid. Pour the juice over the rabbit,
cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Puree the remaining
pineapple chunks and mandarin orange slices; add horseradish and mustard,
mixing well. Pour this over the rabbit, and continue baking for an
additional 30 minutes. This is an excellent dish with rice and serves 4-6
Another recipe option
that my family enjoys is barbeque rabbit fixed in the crock-pot. This is
an easy favorite as it does not require a lot of effort for me. I simply
put the whole rabbit in the crock-pot set on low for the day. By evening
the meat should be separated from the bones and you can remove them. Pour your favorite barbeque sauce over the remaining rabbit and leave it
for another hour or two. Spoon out plates with some baked beans and you
have another hearty meal.
You now have all the
basics to start raising rabbits for your family table. Rabbits are easy to
raise and can be a rewarding project for the homesteader wanting to grow
their food. It takes little space and time as well as being one the most
inexpensive types of livestock to raise for food production. Rabbit is a
true bargain in today’s economy and food market for those wanting to grow
and produce healthy meals.