At what age do you process rabbits? How to skin a rabbit and how to process a rabbit.
Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Before we talk about processing your meat rabbits, let's go over a couple of the terms. Processing is the removal of the head, feet, intestines, tail and skin. A dressed rabbit is what you have left after it's been processed. Dispatching is the term used for slaughtering the rabbit. Grow outs are the kits you are raising.
Now that you know the terms, let's talk about timelines. The exact timeline depends on the breed of rabbit your raising due to some growing at a slower rate than others, but let's just go with average. For just meat, generally you are looking at between 10 and 12 weeks but sometime you should wait up to 16 weeks depending on how you like to cook them. A young rabbit is very tender and the meat can fall apart while cooking. If you like to use a slow cooker, an older rabbit that is around 16 weeks would work best. A dual purpose rabbit tends to be grown out longer as well it provides a thicker skin and better pelt. They tend to be dispatched closer to 16 weeks.
There are variables within the time line. How you feed them changes things up. Do you feed strictly pellets or do you use tractors and allow your rabbits to forage? A foraging rabbit grows a tad slower, but it costs less to feed, making your cost for the meat less, and has a more natural diet. So you can pick to pay more in food and process earlier, or feed them pasture grass and hold on to them and extra week or so.
There are multiple ways to dispatch rabbits. You can use a bolt gun to the head, a pellet gun to the head, you can electrocute and bleed out, or the most common way is to dislocate their neck. Dislocating the neck can be done in a number of ways. There is a product to assist with this called the hopper popper. It's a simple design and made out of stainless steel. This is their site. It has demonstration videos and illustrations on how to dispatch and skin your rabbit. https://theoriginalhopperpopper.com/Hopper_Popper/how-to-guides/dispatching-hanging-process/
Once you have dispatched your rabbit, you will want to slit it's throat or completely remove it's head, hang it upside down and bleed it out for a minute. Once it's bled out you can process it either still hanging, or laying flat on the table, whichever works best for you.
You can process first and then skin, or skin first and then process, again it's up to you and your preference, however the most common practice is to skin it first.
To skin a rabbit you will want to take your knife and cut the skin around the rabbits back ankles. Cut all the way around. You will then slice from that cut down to the groin forming a V. From the point in the V you will want to cut to the ribcage forming a Y. Make sure you only go deep enough to cut through the skin and not puncture the stomach.
Take your fingers, and starting at the back ankles, work the skin from the meat. It should pull away with not too much force. If you are keeping the skins, make sure not to yank too hard as young rabbits pelts can rip easily. Once you have the back legs done, you can either cut the tail off, or skin that area as is. The tail may or may not come off with the skin. Continue working the skin towards the front legs and head. You can then slice around the front feet the way you did with the back, and then either slice around the rabbits head, or cut it off. Continuing working and pulling the skin over the chest, front legs and neck.
One you have the skin off, you can continue processing your rabbit. Some people use a sharp knife, some bone scissors, or plastic pipe cutters. Whichever you use, you can then cut off the head. If you dispatched for breaking or dislocating the neck, all your really cutting through is tendons and meat. If you dispatched using another method, you will have to cut through the bones as well. The feet will also have to be removed. You can cut through the bones, or dislocate the ankle joint and cut between the bones to remove the feet. If you haven't removed the tail, that needs to be removed now as well. You would cut in a V shape from the side of the tail towards the groin.
You now have to slice the abdomen of the rabbit being careful to not puncture the intestine or organs. You will want to cut from belly button to groin. You can use your hands to reach in at the top and scoop everything down and out. Make sure to get the colon and any remaining feces that is in the rabbit.
You then want to extend your cut upwards to the top of the chest cavity. There is a membrane separating chest from Abdomen. You will need to cut this to allow you to reach into the chest cavity to remove the heart and lungs. Remove the membrane as well.
Here is a video of a gentleman skinning and processing a rabbit in nature. Minimal knife use. It shows how easy it is to rip a rabbits skin, and how quickly rabbits can be processed with little equipment involved. https://youtu.be/GeFr_HuAR1M
You will then want to thoroughly rinsed your rabbit both inside and out to wash away any hair or debris. The heart, liver and kidneys can be rinsed off and saved as well.
Rabbit can be packaged whole, or cut up into sections depending on your needs and preferences. It's recommended to let your meat sit in the fridge for 24 hours before cooking or freezing it.