We are complete beginners at processing meat rabbits. Sometimes, it takes a true beginner to fully grasp what other beginners need to know to be successful. In this post, I’ll walk you through three major steps in the process of culling, cleaning, and freezing rabbits for meat.
We started our journey of raising meat rabbits about a year ago now. We knew that we wanted to focus on adding our own homegrown meat to our family’s diet. However, with just over an acre of land- large breed livestock was out of the question. We were inspired by how quickly rabbits grow, how little space they need, and how low maintenance they are.
I’d love to share more with you regarding the process of raising these rabbits, but today let’s focus simply on processing meat rabbits so you get them onto your dinner plate.
The first step in processing meat rabbits is the actual process of culling (killing) the rabbits. Luckily, it’s quite simple.
We used the “cervical dislocation” method which separates the spine at the base of the neck, instantly culling the rabbit. While there are several other methods, we’ve opted for the most simple and “free” method of using materials we already have on our homestead.
Rabbit Culling Supplies
- Broom handle
- Hard surface
Rabbit Culling Steps
- Place the rabbit stomach down on a hard surface
- Keeping your hand on the rabbit’s back, gently place the middle broom handle directly onto the base of the rabbit’s skull, taking care to ensure the ears are on top of the broom handle
- Use one of your feet to put pressure on one end of the broom handle while quickly releasing your hand from the rabbit’s back and stepping on the other end of the room handle
- At this point the rabbit will be trapped under the broom handle by the pressure of your feet on either side of the handle
- Keeping your feet in place, grab the rabbit’s two hind legs and pull upwards at a 30-45degree angle. You’ll need to give a firm tug on the legs until you feel the neck sever from the head. You may hear a popping sound.
- The rabbit should instantly die, but you may notice postmortem nerve movements or kicking
- In order for the blood to drain properly, quickly lift the rabbit by the hind legs and prepare to hang it (continued in next section)
If you’ve ever processed poultry– you are in for a treat! Processing rabbits is about 3x as fast as processing poultry! A rabbit can be culled, gutted, and prepped for dinner in about 10 minutes.
Rabbit Cleaning Supplies
- A tree branch, rafter, or something to hang the rabbit from (about a foot taller than eye level)
- 2-3 sharp kitchen knives
- Bone cutters
- Lead-free hose
- Thumb-operated hose nozzle (optional but so nice when you have bloody hands)
- Dishrags and towels
- Two buckets (one for blood, one for guts)
Rabbit Cleaning Steps
- Immediately after culling, hang the rabbit by its hind legs. While you can buy special hangers for rabbit processing, we opted to hang ours using rope we already had around the homestead.
- Take an arm’s length of rope and tie a noose knot into it (make 2)
- Affix the ropes about 12″ apart so that the nooses lie around eye level
- Place a bucket with a few inches of water in it under the rabbit
- Take a sharp knife or bone cutters and slice off the rabbit’s head. If you used the cervical dislocation method of culling as described above, the head will come off smoothly as there are no bones making a connection between the skull and spine anymore.
- Discard the head into your guts bucket
- Use a sharp knife to slice the skin of one of the hind legs from the inner thigh to the hock. Make the same cut on the other leg (this will make a rough “V” shape cut).
- Use your fingers to work the skin away from the meat around the circumference of the leg. If you are lucky the skin will pull right off, use small cuts with the knife to assist you as needed.
- Pull the leg skin down around the thigh (your rabbit looks like it has a women’s one-piece bathing suit on at this point)
- Work the skin away from the rabbit’s lower back to right underneath the tail
- Insert your sharp knife between the lower back and the skin you’ve just pulled away so that the blade of your knife is pointing toward the tailbone.
- Grasp the tail in one hand and cut upwards at a 45-degree angle towards the rabbit’s front side to remove the tail (and anus) from the rabbit.
- Once this cut is made, you should be able to peel the entire rabbit hide all the way down the body, inverting the fur as you peel. When you get to the front feet, firmly tug the hide to fully remove it from the body. Alternately, use bone cutters to cut off the front feet which will allow you to remove the hide fully.
- Some people do save the hide for tanning, we added outs to the guts bucket
- Make a small incision into the rabbit’s abdomen about 3″ from the anus, careful not to cut too deeply for fear of puncturing the bladder.
- Start by locating the bladder, which is a quarter-sized yellow sack. Pinch the top of the bladder and firmly tug it away from the body.
- Place the bladder into the guts bucket
- Then, place your hand into the body cavity to remove the stomach and other guts.
- Place the guts into the guts bucket
- There is a small layer of separation between the two body cavities, puncture with your finger down into the second compartment to locate and remove the lungs and diaphragm.
- Ensure that the windpipe is removed fully by sticking your finger through the body cavity and out the rabbit’s neck. Continue to use your hands to remove any additional innards.
- Ensure that the anus and intestines are fully removed by sticking your finger through the body cavity and out the rabbit’s anus. Continue to use your hands to remove any additional innards.
- Wash off the rabbit with water from a lead-free hose or by dousing it with water from a bucket
- Take care to remove any hair, feces, urine, blood, etc from the rabbit
- Use bone cutters to remove the front feet (if you haven’t already) and clean up any blood or skin that is left around the neck
- While holding the rabbit’s body with one hand, use the bone cutters to remove the back feet, releasing it from the noose knots.
- Refrigerate the rabbit for at least 24 hours before freezing or cooking
Thank goodness these rabbits freeze really well! With multiple rabbits ready for processing on the same day, it was important for me to find an easy way to freeze the whole rabbit without them getting freezer burned. We were able to use the same shrink-wrap bags that we use for our fresh poultry, and with a little trial and error- they shrunk up super tight I am 100% pleased with the end result.
Rabbit Freezing Supplies
Rabbit Freezing Steps
- Prepare the water for shrink wrapping as directed by the manufacturer
- Bend the rabbit so that the hind legs fit into the body cavity.
- Bend the front legs down onto the thighs so that no sharp bones are sticking out that will puncture the bags.
- Use the cotton kitchen twine and tie a knot to firmly keep the front legs in place if needed
- Place the rabbit into the bag backbone down
- Shrink wrap the bag as directed by the manufacturer
My hope is to take some of the fear out of processing meat rabbits because they are truly such simple animals to raise and prepare for the dinner table. If you’ve processes chickens or turkeys before, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with how quickly these rabbits clean up and how amazing they will taste in some of the recipes your family already loves.
Check out our full Rabbit Processing Shopping List
You'll also want to gather these household items:
- Broom handle
- 2-3 sharp kitchen knives
- Two buckets
- Large pot for water
- Cotton kitchen twine or string