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Well, we did it. We successfully completed our experiment in raising rabbits for backyard livestock.

Those of you who read my blog post back in November know how ambivalent I was feeling about raising rabbits for meat. For some reason the chickens haven't bothered me, and the ducks bothered me a little, but I was really afraid of the day when the rabbits would become meat. This past Saturday, we hosted a workshop for fellow Baltimoreans interested in raising the rabbits for meat, and we went from 11 rabbits down to 4 rabbits.

I handled the actual processing of the rabbits better than I thought I would. They were put down quickly and cleanly (not sure if I should post the details on a public forum or not?) The furs are now marinating in a 'pickle' of aluminum sulfate and salt to be cured, and the meat is in our freezer.

However, I have realized that I definitely can't eat the meat. It's funny, I was raised vegetarian and for a long time I was never really sure how I felt about eating meat. It didn't bother me as much as people who became vegetarian by choice, and in college I started eating steaks and chicken wings and loving it. I now try to limit the amount of meat I eat and try to eat only sustainably raised meat, but I do still eat it. But I now know what some vegetarians feel at the sight of all meat- there is pretty much no question, I won't be eating this rabbit meat. I am kind of excited to use the furs though, which is sort of a weird conundrum.

We now have two female Rex rabbits, a male Rex rabbit, and a male Chinchilla rabbit. My gentleman friend is all for continuing to breed the rabbits. I am still ambivalent. I am glad to have gone through the process. I "did" one rabbit from beginning to end, and am glad to have had the life experience of that. But to continue breeding more rabbits for the purpose of meat, I'm not sure. Oddly enough, I have no problem planning to get chickens for meat in the spring.

Curious to hear your own experiences raising animals for meat!

Of course, once I figured out the costs of raising rabbits in terms of feed, you can definitely earn a lot of  money on your homestead for the furs in addition to the rare product of local rabbit meat. But there is the hidden cost of people looking at you like a monster when you mention raising rabbits for meat. (Of course, I wonder how many of those people would order rabbit off the menu at a restaurant).

For those of you interested in the cost of raising rabbits as backyard livestock, I did figure out the price per rabbit in terms of feed costs:

Feed = we were averaging 2 lbs. per day (not including hay, garden and food scraps)
11 rabbits = about 3 ounces per rabbit per day
average 60 days of feed per rabbit = 120 lbs. of feed
feed costs about $20 per 50 lb. bag = 40 cents per pound
Per rabbit feed costs = (3 oz. x 60 days) = 180 ounces (divided by 16 = 11.25 lbs)
                    =  11.25 lbs x .40 cents per pound
                    =  $4.50 per rabbit

Additional costs:

hay (one bale is about $5-10, we go through about one bale every two months)

chicken wire & lumber to build the hutches (or use pallets)

water bottles (including some that plug in to an electrical outlet if you live somewhere where the water will freeze over the winter)

If you are interested in learning more about my life on the urban homestead in Baltimore City, feel free to visit me at www.baltimorediy.org.

Views: 2676

Comment by Meg Paska on January 10, 2012 at 6:21pm

Congrats, Aliza! Did you end up dispatching that doe we spoke about? I sure hope maybe you'll be able to give rabbit a try at some point. After all, you put so much work into it and it would be a shame if you did get to enjoy the end result! 

Comment by Aliza Ess on January 10, 2012 at 6:37pm

Thanks Meg! I was thinking of you all day Saturday :) Yes, we did dispatch the Chinchilla doe. I don't mind so much not eating the meat, it is being enjoyed by Lee and also at the weekly Sunday barbeque we attend, so it is definitely being appreciated! Lee wants to make a hood for his vest with the furs, although I'm voting for a bit fluffy russian style hat and/or some little fur pouches.

Comment by Meg Paska on January 10, 2012 at 6:42pm

Well as long as it's going to good use! Some people raise rabbits to feed their dogs and cats! 

Just for any of the readers on this blog, I have to say this youtube video is the best I've seen on swift processing of rabbits using the broomstick method. This woman obviously has her technique down but it's amazing how little stress the rabbit is under before it's lights out!

Comment by Rachel Hoff on January 12, 2012 at 12:13pm

I can understand. It took me a long time to get over the meat issue. I still can't eat it right after we harvest rabbits. My husband is the same way. We usually have to wait at least a week before eating rabbit meat. 

Comment by Lauren Klouda on January 12, 2012 at 2:08pm

We recently processed both our litters... well honestly, this time my husband did all the processing. I am pregnant and a bit over emotional. I know it won't bother me when I am through this hormonal time. The rabbits didn't even know they went from life to death. Compared to the rabbits we have hunted these back yard babies have had a great, great life. About a week after butchering I was dying to try the rabbit meat and I wasn't disappointed. It really did taste and look a lot like chicken and just like all the books said it was more filling. I really could eat rabbit twice a week.

My biggest problem is not wanting to waste the animal. I want to save and use as many parts as possible to be respectful and mindful of the fact that these animals did die to feed us. I think it is neat how you are keeping the pelts. I am going to have to look into that for sure. 

We also won't be having any late fall/winter litters again. The work load is too much for our little homestead. The freezing bottles, no fresh veggies, no grass, etc. make winter baby rabbit keeping a lot of work. 

Best of luck!

Comment by Aliza Ess on January 12, 2012 at 6:29pm

Thanks for all the comments everyone! I will keep you posted on how the skins turn out. They are still in the first stage of soaking in a combo of aluminum silicate and salt, and we will hopefully be fleshing them this weekend and then putting them back in the chemical 'pickle' to soak some more.

Comment by Caroline Malcolm on January 17, 2012 at 2:34pm

Awesome post! Although I am desensitized to the idea of raising meat (as a former vegetarian), I still do not know if I could actually process an animal...so major props for doing that! I think everyone should have some exposure to it if they are partaking in the eating of meat to better understand where their food comes from; kinda like Mark Zuckerberg's undertaking to only eat meat that he kills himself...with his bare hands...eek!

Comment by Aliza Ess on January 17, 2012 at 6:21pm

Thanks Caroline! Yeah, it's weird, I was able to process the animal, but as soon as I start *thinking* about what I am doing, my emotions kick in, but if I just go ahead and do it I'm fine.  It's a delicate balance between being aware of  what you are doing without over analyzing it.

p.s. We spent some time on Saturday fleshing the rabbit skins... boy was that tough work separating the inner tissue from the "leather." We didn't have an appropriate fleshing knife so I mostly used my hands, although later I was talking to someone and they said that scraping the skin with some fine grit sandpaper might work. The skins are now soaking in a second pickle solution, and the next step will be drying and stretching the skins.


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