The Day the Bunnies Died: peek into the world of home rabbit farming and extreme locavorism

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This post is explicit. A few photos in the back half of the article might make you sad or nauseous. I hope you’ll read it if you want to join the discussion of where our food comes from. -Cat

A very young bunny. He's the Next Generation of bunnies.

We’ve talked before about my friend Kyle. This summer he built a rabbit hutch and resumed breeding meat rabbits — something he’s done since childhood.

When it came time to butcher the rabbits he’s raised this summer, he invited me over. He and Ken, his rabbit buddy, butchered one rabbit a few weeks earlier, but now it was time for the other five in the litter. 

I didn’t have a second thought about whether I would go see this butchering happen because — hi. I want to see all the things ever happening in the world. But I wasn’t sure what my reaction to seeing it would be. I’m not squeamish but I mean…I’ve never seen something bigger than a fish die by someone’s hand. Maybe I’d have a sudden horrifying rush and barf everywhere or — oh God — cry

But of course I was going to go. I’ve never seen a butchering before! I love organs and bones and seeing the insides of things! Other than the possibly-traumatic bunny death, this would be my best day all month! 

I’ve eaten vegetarian for about five years — ever since I drunkenly discussed industrial agriculture with a friend one night and made a declaration, because that is how I do. But I’m also an intensely curious person — and I’ve felt for a long time like I have a good grasp on what factory farming looks like, but little idea of what more traditional, small-scale operations do. Kyle is a prolific hunter, and my (very personal) opinion is that his habits make him the best locavore I know.

First, Kyle sharpened his very tiny knife. I didn’t ask why he didn’t use a bigger knife. Maybe that was a good-sized knife for rabbits. 

Bunny hutch

It’s getting to be the golden hour and it’s almost cool enough for a long sleeve shirt and it seems pretty effing idyllic to be going out to pluck a rabbit from a green backyard, butcher it and put it in one’s stewpot. And I guess I’m here because I wanted to find out how idyllic it actually was. I like to know when I’m just fantasizing about the unknown.

These guys have about 10 minutes left to live, by the way.

Ken and Kyle take six bunnies out of the cage and plunk them into a milkcrate. I admire bunny fur while they talk. 

They weigh the bunnies. I guess I’m not sure why. Just to see? They did compare them to the first bunny. And then they sexed them — they were considering holding a female back for further breeding.

There was just one girl bunny, and apparently Kyle’s prodding determined she had bones in the right places and was a suitable genetic specimen because she was deemed saved. 

Spared bunny identified and all bunnies weighed, the guys crated them for the long trip 30 feet to the garage. It was then that I realized we were those people. Future children of Kyle’s neighbors would hear about how we did weird things. Because we are about to butcher five rabbits in a suburban garage. 

Ken and Kyle set up a Death Area. A Butchering Zone. They overturn a milk crate — for Ken to stand on while holding a bunny body so Kyle can get leverage to deglove it — and set up a five gallon bucket with liners to catch blood, guts, and bunny extremities. 

And then, Kyle picks the first bunny up by its rear legs and kills it. 

Killing the bunny.

I shit you not: you knock bunnies out with a karate chop. 

The little guy is out before his neck is broken by the bar. 

Kyle uses the teeny tiny knife to cut off Bunny’s head and drops it in the bin. He quickly moves the body over it, too, to let the blood drain out. 

There isn’t very much blood. This shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. It seems like there’s maybe a cup with of blood total in a rabbit. I’ve bled that much and haven’t needed stitches! I know. I’m much, much, larger. Ken and Kyle informed me. 

Ken grabs the rabbit’s shoulders and holds the body firm while Kyle slices through the skin — very lightly — all the way down the middle of the body. 

The guys tell me that, when learning to butcher, the degloving is compared to “helping a lady remove her coat.” I am not on board with that. 

When the skin is off, Kyle again slices down the middle of the body to split open the pocket which holds the organs. He carefully slips his knife behind their connections at both ends — at the neck and the groin — and flips the whole body over to dump the delicious organs into the liner. 

I’m fascinated by these organs. I really want to look at them more closely, but I don’t want to get in the way of the butchering, and I also don’t really want to touch them. Kyle tells me they once found a heart still beating inside the chest cavity and I am intrigued. Would I die with sadness over that or would it be cool to see a heart beat and move? 

Bunny ends up in the meat bin, ready to move on to the next step. 

The guys do the other five rabbits. I’m not really bothered. One bunny squeals and I cringe, but even he only has a few moments of pain before he’s gone. I keep remembering — everyone has to eat. We kill animals and our parents killed animals and that is what our omnivorous species does.

I don’t feel sad or grossed out after the butchering, but I do have a slight need to wash my hands just because I was in the vicinity. And change all my clothes and definitely take off my shoes. 

I would not enjoy killing my own animals, so I’m glad I can be satisfied with growing my food in vegetable form. However, I’m concerned daily with how separated from our food we are, and interested in becoming closer to my sustenance.

I see these animals Kyle raises, and see how much food he gets for his resources and effort and how kindly the animals are treated from beginning to end and I want everyone to see it. I think it is pretty idyllic; blood and guts be damned.

This post originally appeared on Hipster Housewife. There are so many more photos of this afternoon on Flickr, if you’re interested.

Comments on The Day the Bunnies Died: peek into the world of home rabbit farming and extreme locavorism

  1. When I was a kid, we had chickens and ducks and geese and rabbits for fun as well as food. All spring through fall, we’d play with them and take care of them while knowing that they would end up as dinner. And I really think that animals you know had a good life taste better. ^^

    • And I really think that animals you know had a good life taste better.

      i agree. if they’ve been fed properly (i.e. cows eat grass and wildflowers and random other foliage, NOT CORN), they’ll taste hella better than they do from a factory farm.

      my SO and i buy our meat from a local farm, and i try to make a point to meat the animals i’ll be bringing home in plastic bags, post-butchering. i like to remind myself this was a living animal, and it had a face and some sort of identifier (either a name or a number). it had a life, and that life was good…and now it’s going to feed my SO and me.

  2. Whoa, that’s a serious trip down memory lane. Growing up, it was my responsibility to raise and butcher meat rabbits for the family. The same breed as in the article to boot!

    It’s a big part of what’s made me a vegetarian (not hating, just saying). But boy, do I love bringing it up when people whose meat always come wrapped in plastic start acting superior and like I’m the uninformed one.

    Thanks for sharing this post! I love these agriculturally oriented articles.

  3. Rabbits are not major food sources where I live. We eat more locally. Sheep, poultry, reindeer, fish, fish and more fish, and whale.
    I was reading this post and got a little “NOT THE BUNNIES”, but that’s the way of things. I am a chef, and deal with all kinds of raw meats, but never have experienced the butcher and slaughter of it. My husband said that as a child, growing up in the north of Norway, he once saw a massive whale being butchered with what looked like samurai weapons. That would be something to see!

  4. Wow Cat, thanks for bringing us along on your adventure/new experience and thank you for handling it in such a tasteful way. I haven’t ever seen an animal butchered before and wish I had some friends like yours who did so I could check it out too. I’ve been thinking that when we move I would like some chickens (more for fresh eggs than meat) but butchering would be something I would need to learn regardless if I go that route.

  5. Thank you for this post. My grandma raises her own chickens, geese, ducks and pigs and I have been part of the the dispatching and butchering of livestock since I was a child.

    Last Christmas, I killed and butchered a pig on my own (under my grandma’s supervision) for the first time. I had done chickens and ducks, but never a full grown pig. After all the work and blood and guts, I felt a new appreciation and deep connection with my food and a connection to my grandmother for all her work and sacrifice farming a on her own all these years. i was very proud to have eaten from a healthy, happy pig, that roamed freely around the farm and have never tasted pork as good as that one since. It’s good to know where everything comes from and I’m glad that i did it. i plan on doing it again this year too.

  6. Great post! I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to raise animals for meat (skinning, gutting, all this I can do, but a killing blow with my own hand is hard for me), though I do hunt for wild game. Maybe some day. Thank you for sharing your story! It’s totally refreshing to read about raising/harvesting meat. It gets so little press.

  7. I’m not sure if other states do this, but in Nebraska the Game and Parks Commission has a “deer exchange” that connects hunters who have more meat than they need to folks who don’t hunt and want the meat. For folks who want a connection to locally harvested meat, but don’t have the skill, desire, or money to hunt themselves, it seems like a pretty great deal. We haven’t done this yet since we don’t have deep freeze to store the meat. I grew up eating fish, deer and pheasants my dad and brother harvested. Not only did it save our family money, venison is leaner than beef and it felt good knowing it was earth friendly. Thanks for the really interesting article Cat, and the interesting comments everyone.

    Here’s more on the deer exchange, FYI:

  8. I’ve watched cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits all be butchered and didn’t blink. It’s a way of life around here.

    You know what I couldn’t handle? Watching a live lobster being put in a pot of boiling water, lol! Something about it grossed me out too much.

  9. Well, I forced myself to read this whole article and I’m glad I did. I’ve been struggling with my 9-year-long vegetarianism for a couple months now (summer does that; too many delicious looking barbecues and parties), but this… this really got me back in line.

    That said, I do find where food comes from really interesting and I really appreciate people who take good care of the animals they plan to eat.

    Another commenter said that they thought vegetarianism was a luxury and I really have to respectfully disagree. I went my first 5 years without so much as seeing a protein supplement or soy product. If you have access to vegetables, you can be a healthy vegetarian. Sorry, I have a personal vendetta against the idea that the vegetarian diet needs any supplementing what-so-ever. Its an easy and practical diet and needs as much supplementing as a omnivore’s diet (as in, only if you’re terrible at feeding yourself!).

    • You know, we don’t supplement our diets, either — a little tofu here and there and a few soy burgers once in a while. BUT — there is definitely the issue of being able to have much say at all in what you eat. If I was carless and living in a food desert I’d be pretty hard-pressed to eat vegetarian from the QuickTrip.

  10. Thank you for this post. I raise goats, and while we haven’t yet taken the leap to butchering, I do sell the wethered boys for meat. For me, the toughest part is castrating. I put off banding my bucklings so their urinary tracts could develop, and wound up letting them get too big to band. Since they were my goats and my responsibility, I get to be the one with the knife. Someday, it will be me who takes one from pen to table. It is tough, but it is the commitment I made for eating meat.

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