We raise our rabbits for meat. We have three adults, and I got them this past fall so that we can have meat for our family. One small step towards our greater goal of being food independent. Although I would have preferred to wait until spring to breed our rabbits, one of the does was pregnant when I got them in late October. That left us with 7 kits ready for harvest at the beginning of January.
The second week of January, I harvested four of the kits. They were 9 weeks old at that point. I had been looking into what the most humane way of killing them would be – my parents raised rabbits when I was a kid, and my mom told me that they had always used a .22 pistol – it’s fast, easy on the rabbit since they feel nothing – it’s over in an instant. That’s what we ended up doing. A shot in the back of the head, and it’s over. It was a lot easier than I thought. It’s never easy to take an animal’s life, but I feel we did it in the most humane way. I also thanked them each for their sacrifice to us before taking them.
The first four took me a couple of hours from start to finish – from culling to having meat ready. I’m not going to go into detail here, but they are pretty easy to process – especially compared to chickens. It is still quite a bit of work, and it was cold out that day, so I decided to wait to take the other three at a later date. For the first four, we got about 6.5 lbs of meat – I weighed one beforehand, and it was about 4 lbs live weight. I got 1.5 to 1.75 lbs of meat from each kit.
A couple weeks later I culled the other three. I again got about 6 lbs of meat – they had grown a little more – one produced about 2 lbs of meat and the other two were just shy of 2 lbs each. I’d heard that you want to harvest them from 8-10 weeks old, because beyond that you are losing out on efficiency in terms of a meat harvested to food spent ratio. Also older rabbits tend to have a tougher meat texture. The first four we did at 9 weeks, the other three were 11 weeks.
One thing that made this whole thing easier was that we had not handled the babies a lot – they weren’t very friendly. They saw us as food and water providers. We try to pet the adults, our breeding stock, when we go out to feed them. But our plans are not to cull them – someday when they aren’t good breeding stock we may have to rethink that. I think in the summer the babies would get more handling, since it will be nice out and I’m sure my son will want to play with some. It may get a little harder then. But it’s kind of the same with our chickens. I’ve culled roosters that I really liked – I had reasons that they needed to be culled though – some were aggressive, or aggressive to hens. It’s all part of farming, and processing your own food. My son was interested in watching the harvest a bit, but did not participate at all. I always try to impart this lesson to him – “This is where our food comes from. If you buy a chicken or other meat at the store, it had a life once, and someone else killed it. At least we know our animals had the best life we could give them when they were alive.”
We are going to wait to breed the adults again until spring. We aren’t planning on having any rabbit kits during the winter anymore. Winter makes it harder to take care of everyone – water freezing, and me being worried they are cold – I don’t feel it’s fair to the does to make them have litters in the winter. I’ve planned out a breeding schedule for summer, so we should be able to get about 3 litters from each of the two does throughout the warmer months. I have an uncle that keeps saying we should get more. I think that the adults we have are plenty for now.