Yesterday was the day to process six 10-1/2 week old Rhinelander kits for meat. I ended up butchering and “puttting up” 4 1/2 rabbits. One rabbit, I cut the stomach open and another one, I didn’t like the color of the upper half [ribs and front legs] so I tossed that area away also, leaving 4 1/2 rabbits to process.
I start by getting the kitchen ready, having the cutting board and knife ready for packaging & having the Ziplock freezer bags out. This time I experimented with the vacuum-sealed Ziplock freezer bags. Read on for a trouble that I had with them during packaging.
Next, I set up the processing area by gathering the “butcher block”-homemade device to hang rabbit on, and drop waste into bucket [cut-out trashcan], trash bags, gloves, knife, gardening pruners [for cutting off front and back paws-I have used them also for cutting the neck spine], and small cooler with ice [for storing carcasses during processing, before packaging.
Second, I gather the rabbits. I work with only one at a time to ensure that they are the freshest and can be processed quickly. I picked up a rabbit, and hold it by the hind legs until it stops wiggling, or at least calms down the most that I think that it can. Using a thick piece of thin wood [2"x2"] or a metal rod of appx. 1″ or 1 1/2″ diameter, and continuing to hold them by the hind legs, I strike them behind their ears. When I can tell that they are dead, then I hold one leg, and put a slice in their lower legs between the bone and achilles tendon, and hang them on the butcher block on stainless nails. I clip off the front paws, then cut the artery in the neck, and drain the blood from the body. I remove the fur from the carcass by cutting the fur from around the hind legs, the groin and tail area, and pull it downwards, until the fur is off the front legs. When the fur gets tough to pull down, then I have to use a knife and cut some of body tissue to release it. Sometime between draining the blood and taking the fur off, I cut the head loose from the body. Once the fur is off, then I put it and the head in a trashbag.
Third, I clean our the carcass by making a slit in the abdominal area near the groin, and run it down to the middle of the ribcage. I try to be careful to not cut any intestines, bladder, kidney, or stomach tissue. If I do, then its contents leak onto the meat, and like this weekend, I tossed away one carcass, rather than try to clean it fully, after cutting into the stomach. I cut the tissue holding the entrails off the front of the spine and the entrails are easy to just dump forward into the bottom of the trashcan below the front legs. Then I cut the liver and gallbladder [stuck in the liver] out, and I save the whole liver except that portion that holds the gallbladder. This is full of liquid bile, and if you cut its sack or its tubing, it also will leak and drain it’s contents. If it does, at least you only lose the liver and not the entire carcass. Next, I reach down, and pick up the lungs and heart, cutting the lungs off of the heart, and saving the heart. Next, I cut off the kidneys off each side of the back, then remove the bladder, holding it so it doesn’t leak, and any sex organs and tissue that remain. I then also clean out the rectum, removing any tissue there. At this time in the butchering process, I only save the carcass, the liver, and the heart for eating. The rest I throw away. I remove each leg from the nail, cutting off the foot. I rinse it out/off very well, including the body cavity and rectum. Then I put it in the cooler, putting ice on top of it, and I also put the heart and liver in the cooler also.
Fourth, and this step I do inside, is the cutting up on the meat. I again rinse the carcass. I then cut the pelvis from the spine, and either cut each leg off the pelvis by separating the hip joint or just split the pelvis into 2 pieces. I next cut off each front leg [they are only attached to the rib cage by muscles]. Next I cut the rib cage off of the back. I either leave the back as one piece or cut it in 2, depending on the size of the rabbit. There is a thin sheet of muscle on either side of the back [like the latissimus dorsi in humans] that can be left on or cut off for a separate use.
Fifth step is the packaging. I do this different ways. Here is how I did it yesterday. I packaged the hearts and livers together. I packaged all the front legs together – rabbit wings. I packaged one back and 2 legs together. I packaged all the thin sheets of back muscles together. I packaged one whole carcass also. For all the meat, I figure I can get about 15 meals out of it. I put all the meat into the new Ziplock vacuum seal bags-thought I would try them out. One trouble that I found with them is that when you are suctioning the air out, if there is a liquid also, and you suction a certain amount, the liquid leaks out at the seal area. I will have to wait and see if it seals fully.
Things I have learned so far… 1. Put all of your waste in the freezer until trash day. If not, you will have maggots all over your trash can until trash day. 2. Use plenty of gloves, and if you think you need to change them, then change them. 3. Have your butchering and packaging stations set up ahead of time, before you start on a rabbit. 4. Use a sharp but manageable knife for butchering. 5. You will be lucky to kill a rabbit on your first strike. 6. You won’t butcher your first rabbit properly, so be willing to practice on one or two. 7. If you can’t get beyond the “cute little bunny” syndrome, disregard any information you have read here.
For those of you have done this also, what things have you learned? Share by commenting here. Thanks in advance!