What age/weight to process rabbits?

lfrj(7)July 20, 2007

At what age or weight should we begin 'processing' our rabbits? Our New Zealands are 12 weeks now. Articles I've found to read on the topic suggests that this is about the right age for fryers (actually, I think I read that 8 weeks was optimal). I'm beginning to get myself ready, but I'm not sure they are. They seem smaller than I expected them to be. Dad is a solid specimen so I expect they would get thicker eventually.

We've kept them on wild greens and rabbit pellets since weaned. They're not puny or under-fed. (I can't feel their ribs). Color, eyes and droppings are a normal. They seem to be as healthy as can be.

Still, I looked over a fryer carcass at the market the other day fetching $6.99 per pound! (Didn't know I was raising such delicacy). It weighed about 3 lbs. Dressed out, I'm not sure ours would quite top out at that, so I'm waiting for now. Should I give them another few weeks?

Thanks

LF

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alhunt(5)

Being a rookie rabbit raiser, I can't really answer your question, but the meatrabbit group on Yahoo is very active and has a lot of very helpful people.

Apparently, I can't post a yahoo groups URL here. e-mail me direct, if you can't find it with a search engine.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2007 at 11:07PM
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lfrj(7)

Thanks ALhunt. I'll definitely search for it. In the meantime, to fill in my question, I weighed 5 of the 8 youngsters, starting with our smallest. Should provide a fair sampling.

Our smallest weighs in at 3 lbs precisely. The rest were 4lbs, 4.5lbs or so, and two at 5lbs each. (Not sure what this converts to in Kilos, Maggie).

Maybe they're right on target for their age.

Thanks

LFRJ

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 12:24AM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Ha! you knew I'd be along sooner or later, didn't you? ;)

I kilo = 2.2 pounds, but I prefer pounds anyway. It's a sign of age.

Five pounds at eight weeks is what commercial producers work towards and that's when they butcher. For most backyard ventures, 5 pounds by 12 weeks is acceptable, especially if you are feeding green. So yours are a little under but not that much.

The commercial producer is interested in volume selling and because he buys feed in bulk he can still make a profit with the little buns eating like broiler chickens. Commercial rabbitries usually sell on the hoof to processors and receive so much a pound, so they tend not to care if the buns have fat as well as meat. It is the commercial norm.

There is no one right way to decide WHEN -- neither weight nor age are absolutes. Some people feel that rabbits much past 12 weeks may be a little tougher or stronger flavoured. They tend to butcher early because they want rabbit that tastes "just like chicken". Other people prefer to postpone butchering, liking the texture and flavour of a more mature meat. In Europe, many rabbits are raised to full size (several months old) and sold as "roasters". So it is entirely a matter of personal preferences. Some people prefer veal and others prefer beef, so to speak... although that's not a perfect analogy.

Why not try butchering a couple of the largest ones and weigh them both before and after dressing out? Compare what you get to what you saw in the store in terms of meatiness. Age them a couple of days in the fridge and then eat one. If it tastes just right - not too bland and not to strong or tough, it will be an indicator that you hit it just right for your taste. By trial and error, you will soon get a feel for what you prefer and can adjust your butchering schedule accordingly. There is no BAD, just GOOD, BETTER and BEST.

If you have never cooked rabbit before, there are a few tips that will help prevent disappointment. No time to get into that now, but I'll be glad to share my views on that too if you are interested.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 2:29PM
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eric_wa(San Juan, z8 WA)

Maggie,

"If you have never cooked rabbit before, there are a few tips that will help prevent disappointment. No time to get into that now, but I'll be glad to share my views on that too if you are interested"

I'm interested, if you have the time.

Thank you
Eric

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 2:53PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Well as it happens, I do have the time now that it's evening. :)

Rabbit is a very fine textured, but dense white meat. It has more protein but less fat and moisture than chicken. So although it can be used in most chicken recipes, it is often a good idea to use a lower, more gentle heat and to use something to add moisture or a bit of fat.

Last summer we tried barbequing rabbit. It came out dry and chewy because "someone" (a guest) turned up the heat because he was used to cooking chicken. As a result, this person did not enjoy the meat and probably won't try rabbit again. We don't barbecue often, but if we do rabbit that way again, I think I would either marinade it first to increase the moisture or wrap the pieces in a slice of bacon to baste them as it cooks. AND use a lower heat.

Fried rabbit is a favourite with many people, but again, too high a heat will mean tough rabbit.

Rabbit is at its best in recipes where the heat can be kept below 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I prefer it oven cooked to fried. Our favourite way to cook it is easy too.

Take a big roasting pan and cut up lots of vegetables (carrots, celery, pepper, rutabagas, tomatoes... whatever you have and like. Dust with your favourite herb: marjoram, sage, savory or thyme etc.) Put in about 3/4 cup of apple juice and the same of water. Arrange the rabbit pieces on top, dust with the same herb and lay slices of bacon over it. Cook at 375 until the veggies are done and the bacon is a bit crispy - about an hour. Good served with baked potatoes.

The reason this works is because there is moisture from below rising as gentle steam and there is the bacon fat basting the meat and then adding flavour and richness to the vegetables. It tastes roasted, not stewed, but it does not dry out the way it might otherwise.

I'm not a lover of processed foods, but a shake n bake type coating (I prefer to make my own but have used commercial ones) also works well for rabbit. It keeps in the moisture too. I make oven fries with this (just a little oil and seasonings on the potato wedges) and served with a salad is a reasonably healthy supper when you have a "fast food" craving. Popular with kids too.

So, you get the idea. A little lower heat, a bit more moisture, a touch of oil or bacon (yogurt with herbs should work well too... must try that!) and your rabbit will come out delicious and tender. We like it better than chicken and it has pretty much replaced chicken entirely for us, except for the odd cockerel or old hen.

For older rabbits, I generally use the slow cooker to give it even more moisture and even slower cooking. Rabbit makes AWESOME soup, stew and meat pies. :)

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 10:44PM
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lfrj(7)

Thanks Maggie. Yep! I figured you'd reply. YOu are, afterall, our inspiration for raising rabbits. This project moved along faster than we expected since we unwittingly purchased a pregnant doe, but we learned fast!

Since there is no harm in waiting, I think we'll let them achieve a bit more bulk and overall, be more worth the effort. I'm not looking forward to processing day, but am preparing mentally and have ordered a good book on the topic. In the meantime, if you can share recipes and/or cooking tips, etc, we'd appreciate - particularly since we'll likely wait for roasters. Our short term goal is to provide our entire Thanksgiving dinner menu. Our garden is looking good, so should be doable. Barring some travesty, we will actually have quite choice of entrees (we have ample geese and muscovies), and roast rabbit might be an option.

Sound's like we're doing okay raising these as well. (I don't waste a bit of that fertilizer either!) I think in the future though, I'd like to experiment with better stock. Maybe crossing with a Flemish giant. The sire is a solid fellow, but the doe is somewhat smaller. She's very docile though, and a good mom, so perfect for us beginners.

Thanks again, all.

LF

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 10:50PM
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eric_wa(San Juan, z8 WA)

You are making me hungry, drewl, drewl.
Know if I only had rabbits. Two Dogs, 5 geese, 18 ducks and 2 pigs in the spring. Rabbits? Rabbits? I don't know!

Thanks Maggie
Eric

    Bookmark   July 21, 2007 at 11:32PM
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picklespickles

omg. there is a family not five minutes from me who sells rabbits. ai. i am not ready to proccess them myself, but maybe i could buy a finished one to taste. never had it before. the apple juice sounds like a good touch. i like cooking with that, too. especially greens.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2007 at 3:58AM
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lfrj(7)

Hey MAggie, our messages crossed, but thanks for the cooking tips. One question though - if you don't mind - you mentioned that rabbit has replaced chicken on your table, how many do you keep? How many hutches do you have? How often do you breed your doe(s)?

LFRJ

    Bookmark   July 22, 2007 at 1:25PM
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Maggie_J(z5 Ontario)

Up until last fall I had three does and two bucks. Now I just have a trio. We culled hard and just kept the best through the winter.

We average about eight rabbits a litter and about four litters per doe per year. Last year we had more than that and there is still rabbit in the freezer. This year we didn't get going on time, so we will have less rabbit to eat. :(

Our first litters are due in about a week (normally these would be second litters) and won't be ready to eat until early October. But we're back on track now, so let's look at what to expect from a good trio of breeders like the ones I have now.

Two does and a buck, eight kits each per litter, four litters a year = 64 fryers in the freezer. At two and a half pounds of dressed meat each (they are usually a bit bigger than that, but let's use it as a convenient number) that is 160 pounds of meat. There's only three of us here, so that amount goes quite a long way.

Please keep in mind that four litters a year is a leisurely breeding schedule. I don't like overworking my animals.

Now that I am feeding a mainly green and hay diet, feed costs will be minimal. If it works as well as I hope, that rabbit meat should cost us no more than $70 in purchased feed: hay and a bit of grain. That's less than fifty cents a pound. Last year, on pellets with some greens, the meat worked out to about $2.75 a pound, which still made it a good deal.

Yup, a trio of decent meat rabbits sure can put meat on the table. We were eating rabbit at least two nights a week and we sure didn't miss store-bought chicken. Most of the meat we bought was pork or beef.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2007 at 11:54PM
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trippticket

In the course of researching my intended expansion of our meat rabbit operation I came across this thread, read it through, enjoyed it, joined your community, and thought you might enjoy my recent blog post called "Rabbit-Powered Lawn". Cheers.

http://smallbatchgarden.blogspot.com/2013/09/rabbit-powered-lawn.html

Here is a link that might be useful: small batch garden blog

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 3:00PM
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