Since you are reading this I want to congratulate you.
You are (probably) here for one of a few possible reasons: either you have decided that you want to raise something for meat and are trying to decide if rabbits are right for you. Translation: can I really kill and eat something so cute and fuzzy?!
Or, you’ve already taken the plunge into rabbits. Maybe have a litter of rabbits that needs butchered soon, maybe should have already been butchered, and you realize you really aren’t too sure about this whole ‘turning an animal into meat” business and could use a little honest advice and information.
This is one of many first steps in a long often difficult journey to being more in touch with, responsible for and appreciative of your food!
I 10000000% guarantee it is worth it!
Butchering a Rabbit: Part One
I want to start off by saying there are many different ways to dispatch, slaughter, butcher (whichever you prefer) rabbits that work just fine. If you aren’t sure my way is right for you I can promise there are many other ways, this is what I’ve found works best for me.
A Sharp short knife you are comfortable working with, such as one of these that my husband makes.
A large cleaver like this, butcher knife (This one is shaped just like mine) or high quality pair of meat shears, I would love to recommend a pair of shears to you but unfortunately I have yet to find a brand I’m happy with.
A length of rope or shoe lace
A water source
A rag to wipe your hands or knife on.
A large bowl and a small bowl
Something to tie a rabbit to or hang it from
Metal or strong wooden broom stick, length of conduit or rebar.
A flat area of ground such as cement, soil that isn’t sopping wet or super squishy, or a good solid board on flat ground large enough to fit a rabbit on.
Knife sharpening equipment
Preparation: The Butcher
You ready for this?
Being mentally prepared is just as important as having all your knives sharp and equipment laid out. As soon as you have rabbits that might end up being eaten you should start thinking about them in that light. You need to make sure you are being honest with yourself about that fuzzy rabbit turning into dinner. I think how meat animals are raised and treated is very important, if you think more on that topic would be helpful read this post.
People I talk to often have a hard time with just the idea of eating rabbits because they think of them as sweet little pets. While I might disagree with that naive view of rabbits I also have to argue that chickens, sheep, cows, goats, turkeys and all the rest are cute too! I think most folks just aren’t around them enough to realize how cute they actually are.
I really really encourage you to find someone who will let you watch the whole process if you haven’t been around slaughter before. You need to be able to act- not freeze- when the time comes. You don’t want to freeze up and not be able to follow through, that will cause your animals more pain and distress than anything.
I will never lie and tell you it’s easy, at least it shouldn’t be if you have a properly functioning sense of compassion. With practice the acts of slaughter do get easier to do. The mental cost is always the same for me though.
I come face to face with my own mortality and that is never easy.
You on the other hand may not have an over active mind and have a much easier time.
Preparing Your Equipment
You want a fence, hooks in a wall or ceiling so you can easily hang rabbits while you skin and gut them. Whatever you attached it to and whatever you attach it with need to be strong enough to stay put if a good tug is put on them.
Also make sure if the rabbit is going to rest against a wall or fence that the area is clean and paint or rust isn’t going to rub off on the rabbit. You can always staple or drape a clean feed bag over the area to keep everything clean.
There are endless uses for feedbags I tell you!
Sharpen your knives. If you are using shears you should test them on a chicken wing or neck, if they can’t cut through that easily they are not going to work and you shouldn’t even try to use them. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be a good experience.
If you are doing three or more rabbits you may need to sharpen knives midway, you will only likely need to run it over a steel to straighten up the burr but it’s good to have a stone handy while butchering just in case they end up needing a little more work. I’m not going to get into the art of sharpening knives in this post but it is an important skill to get under your belt that I cover in this post.
Preparing The Rabbit
I prefer to leave them with water but make sure they don’t have any feed the evening before butchering. Some people don’t take anything away from them others don’t even leave water. If it’s your first time it’s a good idea to withhold food so the digestive track is smaller and easier to work around. The bladder will also be smaller since the rabbit won’t be eating which generally means they aren’t drinking as much water either. Don’t move them into a smaller cage if you can avoid it, especially a solid bottomed one. They can and will hold their pee because they don’t want to be in their own mess.
A full bladder is much easier to break and you really don’t want pee on meat.
One of the things I think so many people over look is keeping their animals tame and easy to handle. I think it’s so important it’s in my 10 commandments of good animal husbandry! This whole thing is going to go much easier if your rabbits don’t have a panic attack when you open the cage, never mind attempt to pick them up.
Keeping animals calm during slaughter is not just about being kind and humane. A stressed animal uses up the carbs stored in it’s muscles and the meat doesn’t age properly.
A Stressed rabbit is a tough tasteless rabbit.
We have come to the big question: How do you kill a rabbit?
Most importantly, very quickly.
A scared or hurt rabbit will scream. It just about breaks my heart in half and sends me into a total panic.
I’ve had three rabbits scream so far, every single one because I screwed up.
Slaughter is not for the faint of heart my friends, it’s not for everyone. While that rabbit is screaming like to shatter your heart into a thousand pieces you have to keep your head and finish the deed.
That is why it’s so important to know exactly what you are supposed to do even if you have never done it before. That’s why you have to be committed to the act.
Now, I’m not saying this is going to happen your first time or ever, I don’t know how many rabbits I’ve butchered now and I’ve only had three scream.
Eventually it is going to happen though.
I’m giving you a preemptive hug right now; I know how hard it can be but let’s put it in perspective.
Animals raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) don’t have a good life, don’t get to be happy, healthy, or express their true nature and they sure don’t have the person dispatching them caring about them as much as, or in the same way that you care about your animals.
The method I use is called Broom sticking.
The premise is that you quickly break the head away from the spine instantly killing the rabbit, the fancy term for this is cervical dislocation. There are other methods with the same basic idea. There are also gadgets you can buy or make that do the same thing just not on the ground. I think would be a good option and I might have one eventually.
I was going to have my husband film me slaughtering a rabbit but I just couldn’t feel right about it. I feel like it’s a very personal thing for me and the animal and I’m not comfortable taping it and having it loose on the world wide web. I have been thinking about offering classes and if folks are interested I would love to teach people.
That said, this video is an excellent example of the method we use. I urge you to go watch it!
It’s actually the one that made me decide this was the method for me. Done right it’s fast, someone without a lot of brute strength can do it and as far as I can tell the rabbits are not extra stressed, did I mention it’s fast?
The catch is your rabbits have to be handle-able to make this work, and you have to be comfortable handling them as well.
How to Dispatch a Rabbit With The Broomsticking Method:
This is where the whole knowing exactly what you need to do and not hesitating thing is gets really important.
First make sure you have everything you need in arms reach.
Now in as close to one fluid movement as possible and almost all at once you:
put your rod on the ground, one foot over one end of it
put the rabbit on the ground under the rod
Put the rod over the rabbit’s neck, right behind the ears against the skull. There is kind of a little indent there, make sure the rabbits front feet are not under the rod by pushing them out to the side instead of straight in front.
Step down on the other end of the rod while pulling the rabbit swiftly straight up, a little forward and a little back by the hind legs.
You will feel the neck break. At this point I pull the rabbit out from under the rod and move a little away from the dispatching area, hold the head steady by stepping on an ear and pulling back on the legs to stretch it a little, cut the head off leaving as much neck and fur attached to the body as possible.
Twitching is totally normal. The rabbit is dead, it’s just the nerving firing; it will stop shortly.
If you are strong or dispatching a smaller rabbit you may remove the head all together.
I’ve done it and I’m no hulk.
It’s not something I strive for but it happens; thankfully the animal is already dead by then.
I move away from the dispatch area because once you cut the head off the rabbit starts to quickly bleed out. You don’t want to slaughter the next rabbit in a pool of blood or with a bloody rod. They will -rightfully- scream.
You just slaughtered your first rabbit; take a moment to collect yourself because we aren’t done yet.
In the long run it’s more time efficient to slaughter all the rabbits you are doing and then proceed from there, that may not be a great idea if this is your first time or if it’s a warm day since you are going to be pretty slow even though this process with rabbits is 12,367,000 times faster than with chickens.
Make sure to string them up however you like as you go to keep them as clean as possible and to facilitate the carcass bleeding out.
Alright folks, there’s the first part, next up Butchering a Rabbit ~ part II: Eviscerating & Skinning