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Rabbit meat is a lean, dense white meat that is high in protein and low in fat. Not only is rabbit meat one of the healthiest meats available, it is also very simple and economical, plus rabbits take little space and are quiet. Rabbit meat has more protein and less cholesterol and fat than chicken, turkey, pork, beef or lamb. For example, rabbit meat is very high in protein at about 20%; it’s very lean with only about 10% fat compared to the average chicken meat at 11%. The calorie value in rabbit is approximately 795 calories where chicken has about 810 calories.
Many of us dream and work toward a more self sufficient lifestyle, preferring to raise our own food and provide a healthier, more natural diet for our families. And with today’s economy, more and more people are raising rabbits as a low cost and more efficient way to raise meat than any other animal. Because rabbits breed and grow so quickly, two good does and a buck can give a family 600 pounds of good-tasting meat per year. Rabbits require less food and water to produce than other meat animals. If you fed a cow and a rabbit the same amount of food and water, a rabbit will produce 6 pounds of meat and a cow will only produce one pound. By raising your own meat, you know the history of the animal, how the animal was treated, whether drugs were ever used, how the animal was slaughtered, and how the meat was handled and stored. You can provide your family with a safe and healthy food source that you raised by working together. You can build a herd of meat animals that you can rely on in times of crisis.
There is no better way to ensure that you and your family will value your food than to breed it, raise it, feed and water it daily, and care for it before you butcher and process it yourself. Rabbits are easy to care for and even better, easy to butcher and process yourself at home without any specialized equipment. Just like when you harvest your homegrown vegetables from a garden, you will definitely appreciate your meat more than you ever thought possible when you have been witness to the birth, life, and death of each rabbit. Luckily, rabbits are one of the easiest and least messy animals to butcher.
Before you get too much further, though, the most important thing to think about is whether you will be able- emotionally, physically, and mentally- butcher your rabbits when the time comes. If not, you’ll need to make some other arrangements. It’s okay for it to be difficult, but it will need to be done otherwise you won’t be raising rabbits for meat anymore, you’ll be raising pets.
Butchering time is not something anyone truly looks forward to, but it’s a necessary element in any back-to-basics lifestyle. In order to get the meat that you raised, you have to do the dirty work. Not everyone can handle dispatching emotionally. That’s okay. I won’t lie to you. It’s very hard to kill an animal yourself, especially when it is not sick and suffering but instead is a cute little fluffy bunny that you raised yourself for several weeks if not months. Taking its life should be hard. The moment it becomes easy, you should probably stop raising rabbits for meat.
It can be a challenge to overcome our modern way of thinking of slaughter as cruel. But really, cruelty doesn’t even enter the picture. The job is handled in the cleanest, most humane way possible. By raising the animals with care, attention and the best food and environment possible we give them lives that are stress-free and enjoyable. When it’s time for them to provide food for our families, the methods used are humane and as painless as possible. Knowing where your food comes from, ensuring that it is chemical free and knowing that your stock is cared for in the proper way is vital to anyone trying to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
I was raised understanding that some of the animals we were raising were to be eaten. My kids are being raised the same way. That gives us a little bit of a benefit over people who have not been raised that way. There’s a slight disconnect that you develop over time that may make you seem callous to some people. It’s not being cold-hearted; it’s protecting yourself emotionally and mentally while you do something very difficult. As long as you honor your rabbit’s sacrifice for your well-being, then there’s nothing wrong with dispatching and processing.
I dispatch using the cervical dislocation method “broomsticking” and I process via the hanging method. I finish by quartering the meat.
One little warning: in the US, rabbits are still not commonly considered a meat animal. Because of this, it’s best for you to be careful about who you discuss raising rabbits for meat with. Some people still view rabbits strictly as pets, and they consider pets a beloved member of their family. Rabbits are cute and furry so many people are repelled at the thought of killing and eating them. This is referred to as the “Easter Bunny Syndrome.” Animal Rights Activists (ARAs) may try to cause problems for you as well. Some ARAs will visit a rabbitry and then return to steal or release your rabbits. Don’t scoff, I know people it has happened to. Be mindful of where you dispatch and slaughter your rabbits. Especially if you live an urban environment your neighbors will not be likely to appreciate witnessing you dispatching and processing an animal. You may get the cops or animal control called on you. Be as discreet as possible.
New Zealands and Californians are two of the most popular breeds for meat production. A good line can grow a four to five pound fryer in ten weeks. A good quality Californian or New Zealand doe can have six litters a year while still maintaining good condition. There are quite a few other commercial type breeds that can be good meat producers including but not limited to American Chinchilla, American Sable, Blanc de Hotot, Champagne d’Argent, Cinnamon, Crème d’Argent, French Angora, French Lop, Giant Angora, Harlequin, Palomino, Rex, Satin, Satin Angora, Silver Fox and Silver Marten.
There are a few compact breeds that make great meat rabbits in spite of their diminutive size including Dutch, Florida White and Mini Lop. These breeds may be a bit less productive than Californians or New Zealands, and sometimes their colored coats are less desirable than the plain white as pelts; however, the color may make them more fun to raise and they give you an opportunity to support a less common breed.
Some breeds, such as the Rex or the Silver Fox, have unique pelts that are even more valuable. Flemish Giants are often considered a meat breed, but they aren’t very efficient because they have a lot of bone. Many breeders cross Flemish Giants into their crossbred rabbits, but I absolutely do not recommend it. Breed isn’t quite as important as bloodlines. If you can buy from a good meat-producing line, the less popular breeds can be very profitable to keep.
Ideally, your kits will all be ready to butcher at 8-10 weeks old; however, especially when you are starting out, you may not find that to be the case. As you fine-tune your rabbit raising you’ll learn how to best grow out your kits. I like to butcher all of my rabbits a little older, closer to 12-14 weeks, to make a larger carcass and a nicer pelt. I’ll butcher rabbits up to 6 months old for human consumption, but anything older than that will probably have to be pressure cooked in order not to be tough. Just remember that at that age, they have eaten a lot of food and so aren’t much of a bargain cost-wise.
You can butcher older rabbits at the end of their breeding life, let’s say three years (many rabbits can breed longer, but their fertility may drop off), and make a stew out of the meat, or pressure cook it to keep it tender. The pelts from these older rabbits are significantly more valuable. Or, you can offer that older meat as pet food.
Handle your rabbits as much as you can while they are young. It takes around 8-12 weeks for an average meat rabbit kit to attain “fryer” weight (around 5 lbs). When you process the kit, you will be placing the rabbit into unusual positions that they might ordinarily object to. After the first week of the kit’s life, handling them will get them used to these positions so that when the time comes, they will be more comfortable being held that way. Pick them up, place them on their backs, carry them around, etc. Even if you’re mot raising rabbits for meat it’s a good idea to get them used to being held on their backs as this is the preferred position when trimming nails, checking teeth and sexing rabbits.
Do not name any rabbit you intend to raise for meat. Rabbits are beautiful, sweet, cuddle creatures and it is very natural and common to develop an emotional attachment to them. The act of giving them a name creates a relationship that will be that much harder to end when the time comes to dispatch. If you see a particularly exceptional animal that you intend to raise as breeding stock, wait until it has developed enough that you can reasonable certain you intend to keep or sell it before giving it a name.