Monday, February 11, 2013

Rabbit Harvest

We raise American Chinchilla and Champagne d' Argent rabbits, they are both meat and fur breeds of rabbits. It was inevitable that we would have meat and fur to harvest at some point.  Much as I'd like to just have rabbits as pets and sell their offspring for a little side money, economically speaking it only pencils if you sell them between 8-12 weeks of age, then you haven't put a lot of money into feeding them quite yet.  I went through so much rabbit food the last couple months that even I had to admit, at a certain point, it would be wiser for us to keep them in-house and enjoy the product rather than sell them.  Over the holidays I advertised them on Craigslist and sold a few, but realized it wasn't the best time to sell rabbits, the Spring, Summer, and early Fall are the best.  These two litters of rabbits were a little over 4 months old, they were not pedigreed rabbits like I will have this year.  We had a litter of purebred American Chinchilla's and a litter of half Champagne and half mini rex's.  I didn't realize the latter were not purebred until they had almost completed their growing and they didn't reach full size.   

After 2 weeks of agonizing over what to do I finally made a decision that we would do it (the night before I had a moment of madness and thought maybe I'd just let them all go free into the pasture...seriously, I thought about it) I also contemplated that if I didn't have it in me to do it, we'd just get out of rabbits all together.   But, last weekend I finally got up the courage to not feed them for the required 24 hours, then it was time...Ready or Not!  Thankfully my husband (who has as soft a heart as me with regard to animals) took the job seriously to assist me in the first part.  He used a gun for step one and a chisel and mallet for step two removing the head, and from that point on I did all the rest.   All of this was done with respect and reverence for each animal and the sacrifice they were making for us, may they be a blessing to us and may we show respect for them by using every part, including the fur.

This was not one of the  high points on this farm, but was a necessary lesson for me to know and understand the cost to feed and raise rabbits, you will have an abundance of them as a breeder.  The first one was hard on me, then I was committed and we did two batches of 4.  Once I got into the intricacy of cutting and processing them I went into a mode that is almost trance-like it is such detail work.  I saved the heart, kidneys, and liver, and of course the furs.  There was a considerable amount of meat on each one and I couldn't believe how heavy they were to lift them up and string them onto the limb for skinning.  Rabbits are considered the easiest animal on a farm to process.  I also did extensive research on curing the furs, the health and nutritional value of the meat, and what I could make with the furs once cured.  These are all different topics I will be writing more on. 

Now that I have a freezer full of delicious rabbit meat I am going to have fun trying some new recipes, the day after it all I made an absolutely delicious rabbit stew that lasted us several meals (Tessa wouldn't eat it) she has no intention of eating rabbit, but the rest of us are all thrilled to have some good fresh meat.  I baked the rabbit just like a chicken then proceeded with deboning and making the stock (boil the bones and carcass along with carrots, onions, and celery) for approximately 4 to 5 hours, this is where I included the heart, kidneys, and liver, I figured that would be a good way to get the nutrition of them into the soup.  Once I strained the stock, I added more carrots, onions, celery and potatoes from the garden.  I added the deboned meat 20 minutes before it was finished. 

The next meal I'm planning at the request of Jarin and Kaley is a rabbit pot pie.  The health benefits of rabbit are amazing, there is a high ratio of calcium and phosphorous, along with vitamins and minerals.  It is one of the highest protein meats with the lowest fat, it's easily digested and can be used just like chicken.  In many parts of the world rabbit is a gourmet meal, and served at the finest restaurants. 

The method I used to cure the furs is the sulfuric acid method.  Sulfuric acid is found in battery acid which is diluted sulfuric acid, it's easy to find and inexpensive.  It takes away some of the chore of fleshing the hides and it sounds easier than brain tanning.  I still have another week of it sitting in the tanning solution so we'll see how they turn out.  Here's a great tutorial and how I'm tanning the 8 furs that I have, Tanning rabbit furs

What will I make with the furs?  I'm planning to make myself a hat first to experiment, then I want to make mittens, a throw pillow, and maybe even a vest.  Looking online I found many cool things to make. 

The overall value of each product from a rabbit is worth raising them, from their compost to their meat and fur, as well as the ease of housing and feeding them.  They are right up there with chickens for their valuable contributions.


LuckyRobin said...

Oh, do share the rabbit recipes you try. We're probably still a year out on raising rabbits, but the local food co-op has had some in the freezer lately and I'm going to try it. Love to see what you like and don't, since most of the recipes you've posted I've liked.

Mich Heywood said...

Well done for taking the big step of harvesting your rabbits, as with anything like this the first one is always the hardest.
I am going to buy some ready for the oven rabbits to see if my partner will eat them (he was a veggie until recently).
If I get the thumbs up I think I will get some rabbits to breed for meat and their contribution to the garden.

Jewel said...

Lucky Robin, I will be trying some new recipes after I make the rabbit pot pie on Sunday, and will share the one's I like.

Mich, Thanks for your understanding, if you get into rabbits you will love their contribution. They are a foundational part of a good permaculture/ and small farm and garden set up.

jules said...

Jewel! A fellow rabbit person. We got into rabbits last year when we were 'gifted' with a mom and 7 kits. They were nearly 10 weeks old when we got them, and my DH harvested them after about a week or so. He had to see if he could do it as well, before we got more into it. We kept mom and one of the does. After that, we got a buck and unsuccessfully bred our does. AHAHA!!! Who knew you could unsuccessfully breed rabbits. After the 31 days were up, and there were no kits, we rebred again and successfully raised our first batch of buns. This past weekend, we harvested 7 of 10, the littlest three got a reprieve, to grow out a bit more.

We've had our share of learning. The curve is so steep sometimes. Mom successfully bred again and had 10!!! kits, but got mastitis in one breast, so we ended up losing 3 because of them being unable to nurse, and lost 1 to getting drug out of the nest box and we didn't see it. But the remaining 6 are good. Again, we were unsuccessful in breeding the other doe, or we could have fostered. Her breeding was poor conditions with a new untried buck. We 'rescued' that buck and next time he should be successful. (We think he's a silver fox! Long, sad story)

All in all, we are very pleased with our efforts. We got a little over 50% dress out and I think we should get at least 75% finished meat after cooking. We made rabbit pot pie over the weekend and it is delicious!! There is a dish called Country Captain that is wonderful as well.

Sorry this is so long, but it's hard to find meat rabbit growers. I am interested in how your pelts turn out, as we tossed some absolutely beautiful pelts this weekend, soft as they could be.

Yippee! I'm encouraged already. Thanks!

Jewel said...

Hi Jules and welcome! I'm so glad you shared about your rabbit raising experiences. The learning curve is steep and it takes a while to start reaping the rewards of raising rabbits. Once you have a mature doe that raises successful litters then it gets a little easier.

Learning to process them and how to make delicious meals with the rabbit meat is the next step, and the final one is learning how to tan the rabbit furs and make luxurious things with them, this is the icing on the cake of rabbit raising for me!

Thanks for your comments Jules, it's always nice to hear from other's who are on a similar path.