*Raising Rabbits for meat in the City*
First of all, you may be wondering, why raise rabbits? Well, there are a few reasons. If you currently live in an urban environment like I do, it is the probably the best livestock for the environment and it also serves as a great starting point for someone interested in beginning to raise livestock. Rabbit meat is also a very delicious meat most closely resembling the taste of chicken. If you chose, their fur is especially thick during the cold months can be used to make fur clothing, hats, etc. There is also a very good feed conversion ratio of the amount of feed to get one pound of meat on a rabbit. They are very low cost animals and relatively low maintenance as well. Rabbit manure is also an excellent fertilizer and is the only manure I am aware of that does not need time to sit and putting directly onto soil with plants growing will not burn them.
I currently have in my apartment a set up consisting of 2 does and one buck. The preferred rabbit breeds for meat are New Zealands or Californians and I would recommend getting one of those if possible but any full size rabbit breed will work. That is a good starting point and can easily be added upon later once you get the hang of it. Female rabbits are referred to as does and males are referred to as bucks for later reference. If you have a house somewhere out back would work fine but if you donít have any area for them a porch or balcony would work fine as well. In my apartment I have my rabbits on the balcony and also have access to the roof via a window. Setting them on the roof could also be a good place to keep you rabbits as long as your landlord/maintenance person does not go up there very often. Rabbits can also be kept indoors in cages, rabbits naturally do not have an odor and to avoid one be sure to keep their cages clean. You will need to keep them in cages which can either be bought or made from steel wire. Many people in the city may find it offensive that people are raising livestock and do not like the killing of animals etc. It is very easy to convince someone that the rabbits you are raising are pets and not livestock to be eaten.
You will need a water bottle for them to drink from which can be purchased at any store that has pet supplies for about three dollars or you can just use a small plastic tub which you will want to use anyways if it gets cold enough to freeze. The water bottles will freeze solid if you live in a cold area or in the winter months in most places so you must put it in a dish. However, a water bottle is more convenient and less messy when it can be used. Rabbit feed can be purchased in big bags for a reasonable price and a 50 lb bag should last a few months if you only have a few rabbits. Avoid buying treats in the store for you rabbits as they are expensive and not very healthy. I would only use the rabbit feed in large quantities for litters from the time they are weaned from their mother until slaughter, about 4-6 pounds. 4-6 pound rabbits are a good size for frying in a pan.
The buck and does I use for breeding get a large majority of their diet from the city park down the street. Rabbits will eat most grasses you give to them and certainly love to eat dandelions. This cuts down on feed cost for rabbits you arenít planning to slaughter at the present time and is more economical.
Breeding rabbits should be at least 6 months of age. The bucks and does should be kept in separate cages. A good method I have found is to take the doe to the buckís cage and leave for 15 minutes. Remove her for an hour and put her back with the buck for 15 more minutes. This usually produces favorable results. Gestation for a rabbit is about 30 days. A few days before the litter will be born she will begin pulling hair from her nipples to build a nest. You should put a small box into the cage for her to build her nest in as well as some straw or grass. Rabbits should be weaned from their mother in about 6-8 weeks. After that time you can breed the doe again. Then you can separate them from their mother and you can keep the rabbits you plan to slaughter all in the same cage until they are about 4-6 pounds then its time to put them in the freezer.
Butchering: Living in the city you donít want people to see you do this so I always take them to the sink in the kitchen or if I skin them on the porch I do it at night. You will want a butcher knife will preferably a 7 inch blade and being sharp is a must. A quick blow to the back of the head with the knife should kill the rabbit. If does not work repeat until desired results. "There is more than one way to skin a cat they say", but here is the easiest method I have found to skin rabbits. Make a cut down the middle of the back perpendicular to its body. Be careful not to cut deep into the meat and just cut through the hide and surface skin. Once you have made a cut where you can fit your hands around the hide grab each end in each of your hands and pull in opposite directions. This should bull the hide all the way off to the head and hopefully all of the way off. Remember to pull hard the hide is at least to the feet and head. Then you can use your knife or a pair of wire cutters and cut off the feet and head. The next thing you will want to do is lay the rabbit on its back and make a cut down the entire length of its belly up through the ribs. Make sure to not cut too deep and puncture any organs and make note to simply cut the outer layer of skin. When it is cut open use your hand to simply pull out all of the organs on the inside. The liver, heart, and kidneys can be saved for eating if you prefer. Make sure to go all of the way up into the ribcage and pull out the heart and the windpipe. Once that is all cleaned out make a circular cut where the tail is and make sure all parts of the intestine are gone as well as cut away the tail. Then you will want to rinse the rabbit in warm water to get all of the loose fur and blood off. After he is cleaned up are you ready to cut into the cuts of meat. I normally cut the back legs off separately then have the back and front ribcage piece. Cut that way those pieces can be fried, baked, put into a stew, or cooked anyway you want. If you donít desire to eat the rabbit right them making sure it is fully cleaned place it in freezer bags and save it for later.
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