How to Butcher Rabbits
This is part two of a 3-part series on raising, butchering and processing rabbit for meat and fur.
This article has been contributed by Anne Marie Duhon. Anne Marie is a wife, mother of six and a full time off-gridder. She and her husband currently live in a totally off grid 200 sq foot “tiny home” and are in search of (again) that elusive perfect spot to call home. Besides being a wife and mother she, and her family, have raised many different animals on their various homesteads and have lived and loved being off the grid and many miles from the nearest paved road. She would like to share her first hand experiences and help others to learn to live and love living off grid and being as self reliant as possible.
Butchering rabbits is not my idea of a good time. It is one of the many necessary chores around a homestead that, while distasteful, HAVE to be done. A long time ago when we decided to make our own meat we came to the decision that all our animals would have the best lives we could give them and only one moment of pain. Meat -no matter how many think otherwise- does not come from the backrooms of your local store wrapped in plastic.
So now you managed to raise that first litter to 12 weeks of age and they are looking mighty tasty, how do you turn a cute fuzzy rabbit into a delicious meal? There are as many methods as there are rabbit raisers. I will show and explain some of the “better” more humane ways of killing rabbits in this article. The main and most important goal in this is to make the death as quick and as painless as possible. Any stress during the butchering process can result in the release of adrenaline and other endocrine hormones associated with the animal’s flight response. These hormones negatively affect the flavor of the rabbit meat, and will toughen the meat. If your farm’s rabbit meat tastes sweet like chicken, that means the rabbit died peacefully and humanely.
Setting Up Your Processing Area
First, find a time and a place where you will not have any unwanted observers! Neighbors may not agree with you killing “cute, fuzzy bunnies” and make a fuss, children may not understand, and others just might make you nervous your first go around and make the process more stressful for both you and the doomed rabbits. A good place would be in your garage or basement or a separate enclosed building specifically designated for butchering. If you are lucky and live way out in the boonies and have no neighbors you could do it in your yard. No matter where you choose to do the deed you will need the same basic tools. These basic tools are a gambrel to hang the rabbit to make gutting and skinning easier, a table, two buckets of water, and of course several sharp knives.
Methods of Butchering Rabbits
A shot to the head will cause an instant death. It will kill the rabbit before it even knows what has happened. But it goes without saying that this isn’t an option for many situations. There are ‘manual’ methods which can be used anywhere, on the spot, that anyone can do. They are the neck break (also known as cervical dislocation or broom sticking), and clubbing or blunt impact to the head. Be warned, I will talk about killing rabbit in a blunt way and it might shock you.
This can be performed with a very small caliber handgun or rifle, or (especially in an urban or suburban environment) with a more silent pump action pellet gun (not a BB gun). Create a small pen out of wire and place the rabbit in that pen with a treat or some greens to munch on. While the rabbit is occupied, place the end of the gun between the ears at the back of the skull and aim towards the mouth. If you are using a firearm, a gun safety course is highly recommended and it is recommended you do not perform this on a rocky or hard surface where there is a risk of ricochet.
Broom sticking is called that because you use a broomstick or similar long pole. Place the rabbit on the ground, on its belly with its front legs out in front of it and hold on to its back legs. Lay the broomstick across the back of the rabbit’s neck, right behind the ears. Place one foot on the pole – use only enough pressure to hold the pole in place. Slide your hands back and grab the rabbit by the back legs.
Now then step onto the pole with both feet and firmly pull the rabbits legs straight up. You should hear the distinctive sounds of crackling bones. This method is one form of cervical dislocation and is rapid and relatively painless. Here is a link to a video to better show how this is done.
The Rabbit Wringer is a commercial product that uses mechanical cervical dislocation as a safe and humane method of dispatching rabbits.
Here is a description from their site:
When done correctly, there is no blood until you severe the head, except in some cases, blood will drop out of the nose of the rabbit while hanging. No need to bend down and hurt your back, and no coordination issues. A proven, and reliable method whereby the rabbit goes from alive to dead in a split second kill, with no chance for recovery.
Here is a demonstration of the product being used:
Manual cervical dislocation
This is just a fancy way of saying you’re breaking the rabbit’s neck causing the brainstem to be completely dislocated from the central nervous system.
This method requires no extra tools and, when done right, is incredibly fast and painless for the rabbit. However, it does also require quite a bit of technique and muscular effort to pull off right and is not recommended for a novice. I bought an educational video that displays this method, but for copyright reasons I cannot share it. If you wish to learn this method it is best to have someone experienced show it to you. Here is video from Youtube that will give you a better idea of how this is done:
Blunt force trauma
Carry the rabbit nestled in your non-dominant arm with the head facing out and the rear nestled towards your elbow. Hold the front legs immobile with your non-dominant hand. Push the rabbit’s ears forward causing it to drop its head downward and expose that spot between the ears at the back of the skull.
Using a ball peen hammer or other heavy, sturdy object (like rebar, a club, or even your own fist if you’re strong enough), strike that spot on the back of the skull HARD. Once to stun, and then two more times in rapid succession to kill.
The most important thing to keep in mind with this method is to make sure you are accurate and forceful with your blows and that your non-dominant hand is out of the path of the blows.
Quickly test the pupillary reflex and add additional blows if warranted. But the first blow needs to be strong enough to render the rabbit completely stunned in order to be successfully humane.
Dressing out the Rabbit
Whew! Now the rabbit is meat! The hardest part is over.
As soon as the rabbit is dead, hang it on a Gambrel by the hocks (back leg “ankle joint”) at a convenient height for you to work on the carcass.
With a knife remove the head first so it can bleed out. While it is bleeding out remove the front feet and tail. Skin the hind legs from hock joint to the anus/groin.
Using your fingers, peel the whole hide down and over the body as you would turn down a sock. It might take a little force but the whole hide should come off turned inside out fur side in. Decide at this point either to keep for tanning or discard the pelt. Tanning will be my next article!
Being careful not to puncture intestines, make a slit the full length of the body from groin to front of breastbone. Again using your fingers, by blunt dissection remove the entrails, leaving the liver, kidneys, and heart in.
The carcass should be rinsed in one of your buckets of cool water to remove any blood and hair. A rabbit can be cut into seven pieces much like a chicken. Legs, loin, shoulder, back. Chill the meat in ice water for two hours then wrap up and place in the freezer. It could also be stored in the fridge for up to five days and used fresh.
So now what?
Rabbit can be cooked in most the same ways chicken can. So get out your pots and pans and get inventive! Rabbit has a mild flavor and is a very healthy, easily digested meat!
I hope all this work to make a meal for your family was as worth it for you as it is for us! Enjoy!
- Posted in Homesteading
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