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Ashley's Bragging Right's Rabbitry

Dressing Out a Rabbit

08-09 Beginning Rabbit's 4-H Project
April 7th, 2009 Meeting
Dressing Out a Rabbit
A Little History...

Step by Step Photos and Commentary

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I grew up helping my Grandfather dress out farm animals. It’s always been a way of life for our family. All animals have their purpose and New Zealand White rabbits just happen to be, in my opinion, the best meat breed there is! Rabbit meat is also one of the healthiest meats you can eat, it’s even better than chicken. I have taken the time to take step by step pictures and explain the butchering process to show people one way of dressing out a rabbit. These are actual pictures and some of them are very graphic so if you are not interesting in actually seeing a rabbit being butchered than do not continue to scroll down.

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Step 1: The proper way to hold the rabbit

The picture below shows the proper way to hold the rabbit’s hind legs. First cradle the rabbit in your dominate arm with its head resting in the curve of your elbow, this will help calm the animal down. With the rabbit in this position use your less dominate hand and place the rabbits left back ankle between your ring and middle finger; then place the rabbits right back ankle between your index finger and your thumb. If done correctly you can hold the back feet tightly with your thumb, pinky and ring fingers. Then rest the rabbit, with head facing down, against your thigh. The rabbit usually struggles slightly during this step and if not held correctly can brake one of their hind legs. I was taught to hold the rabbit’s hind legs as I explained above because it greatly reduces the risk of broken legs. You have much more control this way.

Step 1

Step 2: Killing the Rabbit

Now that you have the animal relaxed resting up against your thigh with its head facing down slowly straighten out the arm that’s holding the rabbit. Then place your “killing device” against the nape of the rabbit’s neck, right behind the ears as I have pictured below. I use the term “killing device” because there are several different things you can use successfully. It really depends on your own personal preferences and what you are most comfortable using. I personally use a 2’ piece of rebar because I like the length and the weight. My Grandfather preferred a 1’ long screwdriver and used the handle as the impacting side. I was actually taught to butcher rabbits with an old ax handle. Now that you have chosen a “killing device” and have it placed at the nape of the rabbit’s neck, right behind the ears you should be judging your swinging angle. You want to make contact directly in this position because it will dislocate the scull from the spinal cord if done correctly. This blunt force trauma will kill the animal right away if done correctly. If you hit to high up on the shoulders you will create bruising which is pictured below. This is unattractive and takes away from your finished product. Also if you hit to high up you will not kill the animal immediately and the rabbit may struggle and suffer.

Step 2

The picture below was a bad swing, notice the brusing on the shoulders.

Brusing from a bad contact hit

Step 3: Preparing the Rabbit for Hanging

 After killing the rabbit place it head first into the bucket you have prepared, but still keep a hold of the hind legs. The animals nerves will kick in about 10 to 15 seconds after you make the kill and it will begin thrashing around. By placing the rabbit into the bucket you will minimize the thrashing around and by keeping a hold of the hind legs you will help protect yourself from a stray hind leg kick. Remember the rabbit can still break bones in their legs or other parts of their body so keep a firm hold on the hind legs. The nerves should stop after about 30 seconds. Now take your knife and make your fist incision between the Achilles tendon and the bone right above the ankle. With a sharp knife it just takes a slight poke and you’ve pierced the area straight threw.

Step 3

Step 4: Hang the Rabbit up

Using the hole you just created in the hind leg, hang the rabbit from your hook. Then repeat the step and hang the other leg. Hang the rabbit so the belly is facing you. The proper height for your hooks should place the rabbit’s midsection at about face level. Hanging the rabbit in this fashion will make things easier on your back.

Step 4

Step 5: Start Cutting

Take your less dominate hand and pinch the skin by one of the back ankles. Then using your sharp knife begin cutting the skin away from the muscle. Continue pulling the skin away from the muscle as shown in the picture below. Your cut should run from the ankle to the groin. Repeat this step on the other side.

Step 5

Step 6: Exposing the Back Legs

Now using your index finger like a hook, push threw the membrane holding the skin to the muscle up by the ankle so that your finger comes out the other side. If done correctly your finger will be wrapped around the leg up by the ankle. This is what I am doing to the leg on the right side of the picture below. Once you have the skin separated from the muscle you can cut it free and then peel the skin down to the groin area. It should look like the leg on the left side of the picture below. Repeat this with both back legs.

Step 6

 Step 7 & 8: The Groin Area

It is hard to see in this picture but I have used my index finger in the same fashion as above to separate the skin from the groin muscles. Now look at the 2nd picture. Once this is complete you can reach back with your less dominate hand and grab a hold of the tail. Pulling firmly away from the rabbit and your face cut the tail off right at the base. Pay attention to where your fingers are because it’s easy to slip and accidentally cut yourself in these steps.


Step 7

Step 8

Step 9: Pulling the Pelt Down

After you have completed steps 7 & 8 you are almost ready to pull the pelt down. First you must grad the skin that you separated in step 7 with your less dominate hand and pull it away from the muscles. Then cut threw this with your knife so that it separated this section from the tail section. Be very careful not to puncture the bladder during this step, as well as not to cut your hand. Now put down your knife and grab the tail section with one hand and the front section with the other. Try and pull both sections down at the same time and pull them all the way to the front legs. In older rabbits the pelt might stick to the belly section, I believe it’s because of the fat content.  In this case just take your knife and cut threw the upper most membrane between the belly and the pelt. Use a cut and pull down method until you get the pelt free. Be careful not to rip the meat if you encounter this problem, take your time and do it right. Another problem you may run into here is if you take to much time between this step and the killing step. The faster you dress the animal out the easier it goes.

Step 9

Step 10: Releasing the Front Leg

Once you have pulled the pelt down to the front legs you will noticed they appear to be stuck. With both hands work the legs so that the form a triangle sticking out of the pelt. There is a membrane you will need to break threw with your finger, sometimes it’s to tough and you’ll need to start the hole with the tip of your knife. Using your fingers work the hole so you can get your index and middle finger threw. Then pull the leg loose from the pelt, everything should be exposed except for the foot. I hold on to the pelt for leverage at this point. You can see this in the picture below. Sometimes the foot will pop out during this step as well and if it does just skip to step 11. Repeat for both front legs.

Step 10

Step 11: Cutting off the Front Feet

With the front legs exposed you can now cut the front feet of one at a time. With your free hand make the ankle bend so that the joint is exposed. Cut threw the tendons you have just exposed and the foot should come right off. Be careful not to cut yourself.

Step 11

Step 12: Cutting off the Head and Separating the Pelt from the Body

Pull the pelt as far down as it will go. It will look like the picture below. Then cut right where the head meets the spinal core, where you made contact in step 2. You will need to cut all the way around the spinal cord and then pull down. The bones should separate with ease. Sometimes the head will just come off as you pull the pelt down. Notice that there is no bruising on the shoulders from the kill hit. Now just drop the head and pelt into the bucket unless you are planning on keeping the pelt.

Step 12

Step 13: Gaining Access to the Abdomen

Make a small incision up close to the groin area just big enough for the tips of your index and middle fingers to get into. Then using your fingers as a safety guide slid them down the abdominal wall with the blade sitting between then. If you only put your knife in less than the width of your finger tips then this will insure that you don’t puncture any internal organs. Now stop right above the rib cage and this will hold the internal organs in while you do step 14.

Step 13

Step 14: Removing the Bladder

Gently grab the bladder and twist it about 7 times so the urine can’t squeeze out.  While pinching the section you just twisted with your free hand cut the bladder out and drop it into the bucket.

Step 14

Step 15: Remove the Internal Organs

Finish opening the abdomen as you did in step 13. Then simply scoop out the internal organs with your hands as shown in the picture below. Gravity will tear lose any membranes holding the organs in except for the trachea. To remove this just grab the trachea and pull it out. (The trachea will feel ridged and ribed as comarped to the other internal organs).

Step 15

Step 16: Remove the Kidneys

The kidneys should be the only things left in the abdomen at this point. They are about the size of an egg and can be removed simply by grabbing and pulling them out. They usually have some fat around them. Some people save the kidneys to eat as well. In the picture I am removing a kidney. The kidney is the reddish thing and the white/yellow stuff is fat.

Step 16

Step 17: Removing the Diaphragm

You must remove the thin layer of flesh that separated the chest cavity from the abdomen which is called the diaphragm. Just place your finger into the small hole that was made when you removed the  trachea and pull out the diaphragm. It should come out very easily. If you have ripped the diaphragm, and it didn’t all come out at once than just continue pulling the pieces of it out until completely gone. This exposes the heart and lungs. I have the diaphragm on top of my fingers in the picture below.

Step 17

 Step 18: Removing the Heart & Lungs

Just as you did to remove the internal organs simply use your hands to scoop out the heart and lungs. Sometimes a piece of the trachea will still remain in the chest cavity and in the event just pull it the rest of the way out. As you can tell by looking at my hands in the previous pictures this is the bloodiest part of the butchering process. Many people save the heart to eat as well.

Step 18

Healthy Lungs (left) and Heart (right)

Step 19: Remove the Hind Feet

You’re almost done! Remove one of the hind feet from the hook as shown in the picture below. With one hand grab the foot and with the other grab the hind leg right above the ankle joint. Now you are going to break the foot off and this takes a little strength. You will break the bone by forcing it in an unnatural direction.  Once you have broken the bone you can take your knife and cut the Achilles tendon and sever the foot from the leg.  Now remove the other leg from the hook and repeat the process. This can be a bit tricky if you don’t have a table to lay the carcass on.

Step 19

Step 20: Rinsing the Carcass

I have always brought my carcass inside to rinse the blood and hair off. Some people have a rinsing table outside, but then you might have a bee/fly problem. When removing the carcass from the sink I let it drip over the sink for a little bit to get some excess water off.  

Step 20

 Step 21: Wrapping the Carcass

I have always used butcher paper which you can purchase at the super market. You place the paper shinny side up and place the carcass in the center as shown below. It helps to have an assistant at this point. Then wrap the paper around the carcass and tape with freezer tape. I always double wrap to help prevent freezer burn. I know of a lot of people using the air-tight seal-a-meals. I plan on upgrading to this method as well.

Step 21

Step 22: Labeling the Package

It is very important to label your package! We butcher a lot of our own meat so our whole freezer is full of packages about this size and shape. I always make sure to label the package with the date it was butchered and what it is just like in the picture below.

Step 22

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Previously known as Ashley's Itty-Bitty Bunnies