Warning: This post talks about the practicalities of raising rabbits for meat, and includes a graphic description. While I do not wish to offend those who do not consume meat, I also make no apology for our choice to remain omnivores and to raise our own meat.
“Food became for me a way of becoming self-sufficient with my hands, to regain manual literacy, which I think has been lost on our generation and certainly younger generations.”~ Timothy Ferriss
Ethics of Raising Meat Animals
My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs, and our food arrived nicely packaged from the grocery store. This is our first experience with raising animals for meat, and I can tell you it has not been easy. Buying meat from elsewhere allows a level of detachment that we take for granted. But as a committed omnivore, I feel more respect for the meat I consume when I am aware of the life that has been sacrificed.
We are choosing to raise rabbits for meat.
The woman reached into the closed box and gently pulled a rabbit out by the scruff of its neck. Quickly she brandished the length of metal pipe which she used to strike the rabbit at the base of its skull, effective stunning it. With a fluid grace she quickly hung the stunned rabbit by its rear legs and slit its throat with the long blade. Death was quick.
In less than 10 minutes, the rabbit was skinned, gutted, and ready for a cooking pot.
This was the scene my husband, youngest daughter, and I witnessed on our visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms two springs ago. We had already completed our tour and were wandering back from the small farm store when we stopped to observe one of the interns dispatching a group of rabbits for a wholesale order. Polyface sells their meat rabbits to upscale restaurants.
At first, I was concerned about the impression this might have on my four-year old daughter, who, only moments before had been feeding dandelion flowers to the baby bunnies in their little portable hutches lined up in the grass behind the last row of greenhouses.
However, as she often does, she surprised me. She was neither shocked nor repelled. In fact, she was respectful, fascinated, and full of appropriate questions. So we explained the process. Later, we would ask her about the scene, but she remained very matter-of-fact about the whole thing.
Now, when I asked Joel why more people didn’t raise rabbits for meat, he reflected that it is perhaps the “cuteness factor”.
But I think it is hypocritical to place more value on the life of a rabbit, simply because they are “cute”. At least the rabbits my family raises and slaughters will lead comfortable lives and die without unnecessary suffering. How can we continue to support the industrial food system’s atrocities just because they are invisible to us?
Huge subject, I know. And I digress.
Practicalities of Raising Meat Rabbits
When Carl and I first researched and discussed the possibility of raising meat rabbits for our small homestead, this is the list we came up with:
- Rabbits are an inexpensive investment requiring very little infrastructure
- Easy and inexpensive to feed
- Don’t require a lot of space
- Easy to raise, simple to breed
- Few health problems
- Short gestation and quick to reach maturity
- Because of their small size, they are easy to kill humanely
- Tasty and tender, domesticated rabbit is very similar in quality of taste and texture to chicken
- Rabbit manure can be applied directly to soil and does not need composting as does other animal manures
- Little environmental impact
The rabbits we raise will help reduce our reliance on purchased meats, will provide a low-cost source of healthy protein, and will add nutrients to our soils each year. This can all be accomplished in a small amount of space, with minimal cost.
After much research, my husband decided to purchase two well-constructed hutches and to build a third, larger hutch for breeding. There are many choices available for rabbit hutches, and our decision was based on several factors.
- Shelter from wind and rain. We live in a valley that experiences frequent winds year-round. We wanted to be sure to provide enough shelter while still allowing adequate ventilation when needed.
- The cages we use have wire bottoms allowing urine and feces to pass through. Because we are concerned about the health and comfort of our rabbits, we line the bottoms with straw. The rabbits seem to enjoy burrowing into the straw and it is easy to clean when soiled.
- Security. We have an abundance of raccoons and possums, and we wanted secure cages to keep the predators out.
Feeding and Care
We feed our rabbits alfalfa pellets, winter rye grown in our garden, and during the spring, summer, and fall, their diet includes garden vegetables and small amounts of Comfrey from our perennial herb garden.
We started raising rabbits last year, and so far everyone has been healthy and happy. This year we would like to add some portable rabbit tractors like those used at Polyface Farms. This will give the rabbits greater access to pasture.
Serving Our Community
A large part of our desire to live self-sufficiently includes being able to remove ourselves from the industrial food system. This is important to us for a variety of reasons, including economic, social, political, and ethical reasons. But being “self-sufficient” is not an entirely accurate term. As we develop relationships within our community, we are finding ways to give and receive. Raising rabbits is allowing us to share healthy, humanely raised food as we barter what we produce with others for items, services, or skills we do not possess. And for each rabbit we share, that is one less factor-farmed animal being consumed.
Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Rabbit
2 whole processed rabbits
1 medium-sized head of garlic
Handful of fresh rosemary sprigs
Handful of fresh sage
Salt, pepper, paprika
Rinse rabbits with cold water and place on their sides in a large roasting pan.
Add enough water to cover about 1/2 inch in the bottom of the pan.
Leaving the garlic clove whole and in the skin, simply cut off the top.
Tuck 1/2 of the fresh herbs around each rabbit.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika
Roast at 350 degrees for 1-2 hours (depending on the weight of the rabbits). I often basted the pan liquid during the baking process. The rabbit is done when it reaches 160 degrees.
Rabbit gravy can be made using the liquid from the roasting pan, and is very similar in color and flavor to chicken gravy. Because the rabbit is so lean, I had difficulty getting my gravy to thicken. I added extra butter for a creamier texture.
Mix 4 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of flour in a pan on medium heat until browned and bubbling. Add 2 cups of roaster pan drippings. If gravy is not thick enough for your preference, whisk 3 tablespoons of corn starch with 1/2 cup of cold water and add to pan gravy, stirring until well-combined.
For more information on raising meat rabbits: