This article covers the processing and storing steps of raising rabbits for meat. If you haven’t read the first part of this series about raising rabbits, check it out here. And then read part three, on how to build a rabbit hutch.
As we’ve mentioned in earlier articles, raising rabbits for meat is one of the most cost-effective and easy small animals to raise for meat on a homestead. They reproduce so quickly you might even have to give some away to friends!
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To get started cleaning and processing your meat rabbits, follow the tips below.
How Raising Rabbits For Meat Can Save You Money
How much of your monthly grocery bill goes towards buying meat? Most likely a pretty large chunk. Finding ways to supplement your family’s meat consumption with your own supply will help lower your grocery bill. It will help boost your financial self-sufficiency and your reliance on outside sources for your family’sfood supply.
Even if you don’t fully cut out store-bought meat from your diet, raising rabbits for meat will give you a clean, healthy alternative to include in some of your favorite recipes. You could freeze rabbit meat for soups or stews. Try smoking rabbit meat for a different flavor, or using it in pemmican.
If you have too many rabbits for your family, you may sell some to neighbors and locals, barter rabbit meat for other things, or simply share with those in need.
Selling rabbits for meat or for breeding is a creative way to make some extra money when living off the grid.
Even with the startup and feeding costs included, raising rabbits keeps its spot as one of the cheapest meats to raise on a homestead. For example, rabbits take 3 - 4 pounds of feed to gain 1 pound of weight. Cattle take 6 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of weight. That makes rabbits almost twice as efficient in the feed-to-meat ratio, saving you costs on feed.
When to Process Your Meat Rabbits
Depending on the breed of rabbit you have, there will be different ideal butchering ages. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick with the New Zealand breed since it’s the most common for beginners, and easiest to get started with.
For New Zealand rabbits, you want to process them once they reach the 10-12 week mark or about 5 pounds. Keep in mind, the older your rabbit gets, the more feed they will require for less weight gain. Because of this, you want to make sure you process your rabbits at the right age to avoid buying the extra feed that won’t give you a good feed-to-meat ratio. Also, the meat tends to taste better on younger rabbits.
Don’t forget, meat rabbits don’t have a “rut” or breeding season the way other animals do. They have litters all year round, which means you will have to be processing rabbits at least every 10 - 12 weeks, but possibly more often if you stagger your litters and get a second breeding doe.
What You’ll Need
Whether you're butchering chickens, rabbits, or other homestead animals, prepare before you start. Before you start, gather all of your necessary supplies and tools or equipment. Use this list to make sure you get everything you need:
- Skinning knife
- Knife sharpener
- Heavy shears
- Cut-resistant gloves
- 10-gallon bucket for the “offal”
- Bowl of water for cleaning your knife and hands
- Hard flat surface
- Water hose with running water (optional)
- Hopper Popper Combo
- 2 nails OR a way to suspend the rabbit while you work on it
If you don’t have these exact items, get creative with whatever's available in your homestead kitchen. The water hose is an optional convenience for cleaning up the mess afterward, but definitely not required.
As with any knife, make sure your skinning blade has been sharpened as much as possible. Dull knives make every cut hard and increase the possibility of cutting yourself. Always keep your knives sharp!
The Hopper Popper combo is a very useful tool designed specifically for culling and butchering meat rabbits. Made by a small family business in Oregon, this tool makes the unenjoyable task of processing rabbits, more humane, efficient, and easier.
How to Process Rabbits for Meat
To use the Hopper Popper, simply follow the how-to guides found on their website. It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it.
If you don’t have the Hopper Popper, no problem. Here’s how to get started processing meat rabbits the old-fashioned way.
Dispatching the Rabbit
You first need to dispatch the rabbit. Some people do this by simply grabbing the rabbit around the neck and quickly snapping it, to minimize any pain or suffering for the rabbit. You can also simply hit it in the back of the head with a hammer or mallet. A quick and well-placed strike will kill the rabbit instantly.
Once dispatched, hang the rabbit upside down with the head facing the ground. You can do this by placing two nails in a wooden wall or tree and hooking the rabbits' feet around them. Tying their legs with string also works well.
Skinning the Rabbit
Cut little slits around the feet of the rabbit to begin the skinning process. This might sound weird, but imagine the rabbit is wearing a sweater that you’re helping it pull off.
Starting on one of the slits you just cut, use your knife to start separating the skin from the carcass and work down the leg until it meets the body. Now repeat this process for the other leg. Once you have both legs done, use the same process to work the rest of the skin off of the rabbit.
Once you’ve skinned the rabbit all the way to the head, cut off the head and skin all at once. Place your offal bucket beneath and let the blood drain out of the carcass. Hose or wash off the carcass to remove any remaining hair.
Gutting the Rabbit
Starting at the anus, cut down the center of the rabbit. Be careful not to push your knife too deep, as you may accidentally cut open some of the guts that will sour the meat. Just cut slowly and shallow enough to give yourself a lot of control with the knife.
As you cut down the rabbit, organs will start to fall out. As they fall, aim them towards your offal bucket to keep everything tidy and contained in the bucket. Make sure the cavity of the rabbit is empty, and all intestines have been removed. Once you’ve double-checked that, cut the anus out as well.
Hose down the inside and outside of the carcass again to remove and remaining guts and keep your meat clean.
Butchering the Rabbit
Raising rabbits for meat will give you a lot of practice in butchering. As with most things, the first time is the slowest and most difficult.
Start by taking down the carcass and placing it on a hard flat surface like a wooden cutting board or tree stump. Flip the rabbit on its side, lifting a front leg up and outward. Run your knife along the scapula and towards the sternum to separate the leg and shoulder from the body.
Now move down to the hind leg on the same side of the carcass. Beginning at the top of the rump, cut down, separating the hind leg from the carcass. You will feel the joints and bone connecting the leg, you can pop this out of the socket or even cut through it with the shears.
Repeat this entire process for the legs on the opposite side of the carcass.
Once the legs have been removed, cut out the remaining pelvic bones at the end of the carcass. Split the sternum down the middle. Loosen and pull back the eye of the loin, it ends at the last rib where the tenderloin begins.
You can then separate the rack from the saddle. Remove the remaining tailbone and belly fat, and you will finally have a perfectly butchered rabbit left on your cutting board.
Storing a Butchered Rabbit
Once you’ve finished butchering your rabbits, place all of the meat in a large pot or bucket full of cold water. Let it soak in the fridge for a day, as this helps remove any remaining blood from the body.
After soaking for 24 hours, your rabbit will be ready for storing. The easiest and most common way to store rabbit meat involves vacuum sealing it to freeze for extended periods. If you have a vacuum sealer or a similar solution for freezing meat, that will work fine. Some people also like to use alternative ways of meat preservation, like smoking, dehydrating, or canning.
Raising rabbits for meat is experiencing an increase in popularity due to homesteaders’ ability to generate hundreds of pounds of meat a year with such low costs to produce. Rabbits have a small footprint compared with other types of livestock and reproduce at an incredible rate that helps you sustain a consistent supply of meat for you and your family.
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