I struggled with the idea of doing this article because I have always felt it would cheapen the sacrifice made by the animal. But peoples need for this knowledge out weighs my personal feelings on the topic.
TOOLS: A sharp filet knife is what I like to use best, but the fat and skin will dull it so I always keep a sharpener near by. Limb trimmers for breaking bones, rabbit bones are quite thin (giant breeds excluded) so even small hand held ones will suffice. A few containers for warm soapy water to wash in, to hold the meat, and furs if you’re saving them. Some gloves, and finally a large dowel rod or rake handle for dispatch.
There are many ways to dispatch a rabbit. My preferred method is called the broomstick method. I have also used a .22, my first dispatch I botched and the poor girl suffered. I had chosen to shoot them at first because having no experience in this lifestyle I thought maybe, I could still be distant from the process. Oh how wrong I was. The animals we put on the dinner table have one bad day but I don’t want any of them to suffer. Using the broomstick method is very up close and personal but there’s no chance for a botched attempt.
Before dispatch, I say my goodbyes and give each animal my thanks. To dispatch I place the rabbit on the ground and place the dowel rod on the rabbits neck just behind the ears. I then step on the dowel rod with one foot on either side of the rabbit, grab the hind legs and give a good pull. There may be a release of some bowels and twitching, don’t worry it’s normal. If you’d like a visual, a quick you tube search will give you a lot of great videos.
SET UP: I find processing is easier if the rabbit is hanging vs. lying on a butcher block. You’ll have to try both to find what works best for you. I use zip ties to hang the rabbit on a garage organizer (not sure of it’s actual name lol). Some weed blocker doubled up and tacked to the wall to keep the blood spatter off the wall and a bucket for catching innards.
STEP 1: first thing after dispatch is to hang the rabbit and use the limb trimmers to break the front feet at the ankles. Then I take the knife and cut the feet off. This will make pulling the skin off easier in a coming step.
STEP 2: I pull the skin away from the leg and cut it all the way around each ankle trying not to cut the muscle. After that’s been completed I make what’s referred to as a Y or V cut. Cutting the skin from the ankle down the inside of each leg to the groin area.
STEP 3: Pull the fur down the legs to the groin area and work my fingers under the skin to separate it from the meat until I can work them all the way through, creating an opening for my knife. I do this for both the front and back near the tail. Then use the knife to cut upwards removing the pelt from the base of the rabbit.
STEP 4: Grab the fur and pull down. If the rabbit isn’t too old it is quite easy to do and is like pulling off a sock. Once I get to the shoulders I can pull the front legs out of the pelt. This is why I cut the forelegs off in the beginning. Once the neck is exposed I cut off the head. Sometimes the limb trimmers are needed to finish breaking the bones, but I find that using the broomstick method to dispatch usually completely separates the head from the spinal chord so all I need to slice through are connective tissues.
The reason I cut the head off after skinning is because I save the furs and this way keeps them much cleaner. It is easier to wash blood off of skin than it is to wash blood off of fur. I do end up sacrificing some of the hide this way, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
STEP 5: Pinch the belly flap and pull the skin toward myself and cut a hole just big enough to fit my first two fingers inside. Once inside, I pull the belly away from the intestines and slice the belly open down to the rib cage. What’s nice about rabbit is the belly is very thin. my first few butchers I was so worried about nicking the innards I just ripped the belly open after making a slight downward cut.
STEP 6: I pinch the bladder closed and slice it off. I then find or create a space between pellets and cut the colon as close to the groin as I can. Reaching beneath the stomach you’ll find the esophagus. I grab that and pull it out of the neck, the rest of the innards come with it and can be dropped into the bucket all together.
STEP 7: You’ll see the kidneys suspended in fat, I remove those but I like to leave the fat on the rabbit for flavor and to help keep it from drying out while cooking. The membrane at the base of the breast plate separates the heart and lungs from the rest of the innards.
STEP 8: Breaking through the breast plate will open the rib cage. I remove the heart and lungs. They seem to be much more squishy (lol) so it was hard to get a good grip my first few times.
STEP 9: Last thing to do is to remove the rest of the colon. I cut away the remaining fur in the groin area. I slice through the muscle in between the legs to expose the pelvic bone. Breaking the pelvic bone can be done with the limb trimmers or with hand power. Once the the pelvis is open I grab what’s left of the colon and gently pull it up and out, slicing at the connective tissue as I go. Finally take the limb trimmers and break the legs at the ankles to remove the rabbit from the butcher station.
I always give the carcass a good wash to remove any blood and fur. Before packaging I like to cut the belly flaps off and set them aside for jerky. Stay tuned for that recipe! We freeze our rabbits whole. I find that with four kids its easier to butcher as needed based on meal plans. I also find that cooking the rabbit whole helps to reduce chances of over cooking and drying out.
This particular rabbit gave us 3 pounds and 12 ounces! This is pretty regular for us, we raise New Zealand and Californians and will constantly get 3-4 pounds of meat per rabbit. This is why I absolutely LOVE raising rabbits. We get so much for such a little input.
Rabbit is a highly nutritious source of meat that is not only easy to raise but also to dispatch and butcher, even for those of us who have never been exposed to this task and lifestyle. If you would like a little more visual guidance you can check out this video I did for my you tube channel.