Rabbit – meat and fur
If you haven’t considered raising rabbits in your backyard for meat, you should. There are numerous advantages to raising rabbit.
► They multiply rapidly: gestation is roughly 30 days, the pups are weaned by six weeks (separate the males from the females right after weaning as their form of play quickly turns to sex and you will end up with more litters than you imagined). Litter size can vary from 4-12. Pups are ready to harvest at 2-3 months old and you get 3-5 pounds of meat. A single buck and two does can produce enough pups to harvest 150-180 pounds a meat a year. Inbreeding is not a problem so you can select one of the litter at the age of 7 to 9 months to replace a buck or doe after three or four years. An older rabbit will make a good stew and their pelt will fetch a better price if you are selling it.
► They don’t require much space: don’t need a pasture to graze in. Small enclosures will suffice. USDA recommends 075 sqft per pound of body weight. A buck can get by with a 2x2 cage while a doe needs an enclosed hutch attached in addition where she can birth her litter. While the floor of the cage can be mesh screen to allow poop to drop to the ground (great source of fertilizer!), the hutch should have a wooden floor.
► They are simple to care for: You don’t have to buy processed pet food for them. They eat grass cuttings, clover, alfafa hay, leafy vegetables. Yep, they like carrots too. Water and feed them daily, remove what they don’t eat. Rake up their droppings and add it to your garden.
► Overall, they don’t cost much to raise: cages can be made fairly inexpensively. They don’t need special feeders or water bottles. Food is not cost prohibitive.
► They are “meal” sized when you butcher them: you don’t need to preserve the meat when you harvest a rabbit – it is about the right size to eat that day. Not to say you might not butcher several at one time but if you like the taste of fresh meat, you can harvest them as you need them. Additionally, since they are “meal” sized, you don’t need a series of levers and pulleys to butcher them, can be a one-man job.
► Once you start raising rabbits, they are a sustainable food source: You can eat the meat, tan the fur and recycle the poop as fertilizer. Really a great addition for those who desire to be self sufficient.
► The meat is lean, low in cholesterol and sodium. In short, it is a very healthy cut of meat and a good supplement to your diet.
Ok, so how do you get started?
There are several breed known as being “meat” breeds. The New Zealand White has the advantage of a nice fur which can also be sold or bartered. Select a breed for meat and not for fur or show. The Californian or the Chinchilla are also good choices. Get a buck and two or three does to start.
Build (preferred) or buy your rabbit enclosures. Rabbits are fairly hardy and can stand cold but they don’t do well if constantly wet so protect them from the rain. In warmer months, they need plenty of water and ventilation.
Let the buck meet the does. He only needs about 20 minutes with the doe (about 18 minutes more than most male American humans – I guess rabbits aren’t into much post-coital cuddling either…). I would stagger letting the does get impregnated so your “fryers” are ready to harvest over a several days or weeks instead of all at once.
Butchering your fryers: it helps if you don’t name your rabbits – calling a pup anything other than “dinner” may result in emotional attachment that frankly doesn’t lend itself to the desired outcome. Most people just hang them by their hind legs and give a whack to the back of the head. Others recommend quickly cutting the head off. Whichever method you settle on, you will get better at if after a couple of times.
Remove the head and let the blood drain from the body. Cut the fur and skin around the “ankle” and then make an incision across the belly (near the genitals). Cut off the tail and you can now begin to peel the skin down and off the body to the front paws.
Make an incision to open the abdominal cavity near the genitals and cut towards the sternum without puncturing any of the internal organs. Pinch off the bladder and remove it without spilling any urine on the meat, then cut out the anus and remove the intestines. You should be able to free the stomach, lungs, liver and heart and pull them free. Look for the gallbladder under the liver (a greenish tube), try to remove it without breaking it. Cut or break the sternum to the throat and pull the kidneys out. Remove the furry paws and you are done. You can chop the carcass into six parts: two hind quarters, two shoulders, the breast and the loin. We will post a video of the process on the ASP site.
Find your favorite rabbit recipe and go make some dinner. Meat is on the menu tonight!
Tanning the hides: 8-12 week old “fryers” don’t have ideal hides as they can be thin (and small). If you need hides, let the pup age up to 16 weeks (they will be a little larger when you butcher them = more meat) and their hides will be better suited for tanning. Of course, even older animals give a better hide. Also, note that harvesting a hide in the winter when they have their winter coat on will give you a better hide than a summer coat.
When you skin the rabbit, try not to remove fat or meat with the pelt, leave it on the carcass if possible. Note that skinning a still warm animal is easier than one that has gone cold. If you have some bits remaining, then scrape these parts away from the skin until you start to see the hair follicles. Your pelt is in a sleeve which is nice for making pouches or socks but you may wish to cut open the sleeve (groin to neck) and tack it to a board to make it easier to scrape (this process is called fleshing).
Soak the pelt in a tanning solution for 48 hours before fleshing. Use equal parts salt and alum (for about eight pelts use 1 cup each with two gallons of room temperature water) and dissolve it in a bucket. Stir the mixture twice a day to ensure the entire pelt get treated. Don’t let the pelts float, put a weight on it if reqjuired. Pull the pelt out after two days and rinse (don’t discard the tanning solution just yet) and scrape away any residual fat or meat from the hide.
Now mix another batch of tanning solution and add it to the bucket and soak the hides for another seven days, again stirring twice a day. One way to tell if the hide is done is to cut a small piece and boil it – if it curls up and gets hard and rubbery, the hide is not done. Once done, squeeze out excess water shampoo the hides (cleans them and gives them a nice smell) then air dry in a shady area (do not expose to direct heat or sunlight at this time). This could take several days.
Now you need to work the hide by stretching it a little bit at a time while it is still just a little damp. You can work the hide over the back of a wooden chair to do this, just don’t pull too hard, you don’t want to tear the leather. The hide is essentially done, just brush the fur and rub some mink oil into the leather.
As an alternative, you can use the brains to tan the hides, mix with an equal volume of water and cook for about ten minutes, then mix, mash or blend into a slippery paste. Divide it into two portions as you are going to use two applications after “fleshing”. Rub the brain mush into the skin and let it dry overnight, repeat and let it dry overnight again before working the hide. Nice thing about using brains is that you don’t need salt or alum (or the alternative mixture of salt and sulfuric or battery acid – these might be hard to find after TSHTF). We will have a video of the process on the ASP site.
If you consider tanning the hides like a recipe, once you have done it several times, you will get better at it.
In summary, rabbits make great sense for preppers as a ready source of food after TSHTF. They are probably the easiest barnyard animal to raise: they multiply rapidly, don’t take much space, simple to care for, cost affordable, and easy to harvest. And they can provide both meat and fur / leather. Right now you should be looking around your backyard for a good spot to set your rabbit hutches…
De Oppresso Liber