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How to Maintain Meat Rabbits

How to Maintain Meat Rabbits

Learn how to prepare to breed, raise, and butcher your meat rabbits for your homestead

Are you a homesteader with a functional rabbitry, feed, and breeding-age rabbits? If so, then you are ready to begin producing rabbits for meat.

Early stages of raising meat rabbits

Breeding rabbits for meat production is simple but not always easy. The process begins with copulation between a buck and a doe. The doe is placed in with the buck and monitored to see that the buck mounts the doe and “falls off.”

Does are territorial. Place the doe in the buck pen rather than the reverse; otherwise, the doe can be aggressive and dangerous. The doe can be placed back with the buck again in 12 hours to make sure the impregnation took.

Read: How to Start Raising Rabbits for Meat

Domestic rabbit gestation takes 30 days, give or take two days, so place a nesting box in the doe’s pen at around 26 days so she can build a nest. This is also a great time to clean her pen and add fresh straw bedding. About a day or so before giving birth, the doe will begin making a nest. This is not universal, though—one of ours always waits until the morning of and seems in a big rush. The doe will make part of the nest with bedding and pull her fur for the rest. One of the first signs is the doe having a bundle of straw in her mouth and a slightly panicked look in her eyes. She may or may not build the nest in the nesting box, so if she doesn’t, move it in, intact, before she gives birth.

Birthing and caring for rabbit kits

When the birthing day gets close, regularly check on the doe, but use your eyes and not your hands—it’s important to not interfere with or stress the doe. 

Checking on her is particularly important in cold weather, as untended newborn kits can die quickly. An overstressed doe can ignore or actively kill her kits. She’s not malicious; it’s just an evolutionary response. If the doe gives birth out of the nesting box, gently pet her to calm her and get scent, and place the whole nest with kits in the box.

First-time mothers don’t always do a great job, but most end up taking good care of their young. Regular checks are still important to make sure all kits are alive and cuddled together. Further, remove any kits that died so they do not contaminate the nest. The kits will nurse from their mother initially and then transition to available feed, both hay and grain, over the next several weeks. 

The kits can be left in with their mother until they need more space or she gets annoyed with them, both usually occurring at 4-6 weeks. Most does can be safely rebred a couple of weeks after birth, even while the kits are still in with her, or she can be given time to rest and recover.

Taking care of independent rabbit kits

Once the kits are in their pen, free-choice water and feed should be made available. 

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At 10-12 weeks old, the grow-outs, or fully grown rabbit kits, should weigh over 5 pounds and are ready to be butchered at any time. But there’s no rush, as grow-outs will continue to grow, just at a slower rate. If you’re keeping them longer, separate the males from the females 12 weeks before butchering. 

Note, rabbits reach sexual maturity very young, generally around 3-6 months, and they’ll breed if kept in the same pen. Plus, males and females will also fight in the same pen if they aren’t separated.

Prepping meat rabbits for butchering day

Be prepared ahead of time for butchering day. You’ll need some equipment and to be mentally ready so that the rabbits are killed quickly and humanely. 

Further, your tools should be laid out and ready to go before starting. You will need: 

  • Heavy-duty latex gloves
  • A durable apron to help protect from sharp rabbit claws
  • A dispatch tool
  • A sharp knife
  • Game shears
  • A 5-gallon pail for blood and offal
  • A pot for carcasses
  • A box for pelts. 

There are multiple dispatch methods to choose from, some of the most common being an air rifle, a broomstick, a loop of paracord, or a device called a “hopper popper.” 

The air rifle is used for a point-blank headshot. The other three options (and others) are used to break the animal’s neck quickly. When considering which dispatch method to use, consider your strength and ability to complete the decisive action. Hesitation can lead to a less-than-perfect neck break and leave the rabbit suffering.

Once the rabbit is dead, immediately hang the rabbit by the hind feet over a 5-gallon pail using a small gambrel hook or paracord loops. Slit its throat with a sharp knife or snip it with the game shears. The rabbit will bleed out quickly. Note: bleeding rabbits improves meat quality. 

Skinning, cleaning and processing meat rabbits

After killing the rabbit, and with it still hanging by the hind legs, begin the skinning process. 

This should begin at the groin, then move up to the ankle joint on each side and cut around. The now separated pelt should be grabbed and pulled down like taking off a sweater, with a pause to snip the tail at the base with the shears. Pull the pelt down to the neck and down the forelegs to the paws. There shouldn’t be any need to use a knife here; pelts slip off easily. Use the game shears to sever the wrist and the neck, discarding the head and forefeet, setting aside the pelt. 

Use a sharp, thin blade, such as a fillet or boning knife, to start the gutting process. The blade tip should be inserted pointing upward (toward the hind legs) at the sternum and slid upward, taking great care not to rupture any guts or the bladder. Putting a fingertip on the knife’s spine, right behind the point, as you move upward can keep the guts from touching the blade. The offal must be pulled out and put in the bucket—the liver separated and placed in the pot if desired. When handling the liver, take care not to rupture the gallbladder. Cut it away if you’re keeping the liver to eat. 

Split the pelvis with a knife or shears. Any remaining tissue should be removed. Slice the diaphragm and pull the lungs and heart. Discard the lungs and place the heart in the pot if you wish. Use the game shears to remove the hind feet at the joint. Discard the feet and put the finished carcass in the clean pot.

Post-butchering rabbit carcass care

Once the butchering is complete, the carcasses should be rinsed and wiped down, and any blood and hair removed. Chill the rabbit meat by placing the carcasses into an ice water bath for an hour or so. You can also place them in the refrigerator for a few hours.

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While the meat is cooling, clean the butchering area and sort out the by-products. If you’re tanning your pelts, set them aside if you’ll use them later that day. If not, salt the flesh side, roll the pelt tightly, and store it in the freezer until you’re ready to preserve them. The offal and other non-edible parts can be fed to chickens, composted, or discarded.

Vacuum seal or tightly wrap the cooled carcasses in freezer paper and freeze. Depending on the wrapping method, rabbits hold very well in the freezer for six months or much longer. 

How to cook rabbits

You can cook rabbits whole, or you can break them down into primal cuts. We prefer to cut into quarters, then cut a saddle and a rib section. We flay back and split the ribs for even cooking and ease of eating, too. Rabbit is as versatile as chicken. Whoever is cooking it up for dinner is limited only by their skills and imagination.

One of the staple rabbit meals in our home is to slowly braise a broken-down rabbit with a beer in a glass baking dish. A couple of hours in the oven is enough to have the meat fork-tender. Once pulled out and cooled enough to handle, we toss it in a mix of flour and cornmeal and either pan fry or air fry. 

A meal or two of a well-cooked, home-raised rabbit will have the whole family on board with a homestead rabbitry. You may even forget about raising meat chickens or even forget entirely about meat from the grocery store.

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