Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We started raising meat rabbits on our small acre homestead, and wanted to honor the animals that feed us by using as much of the rabbit as possible. The innards are buried, and turned to compost. The ears and feet are dehydrated, and used as dog treats. Also the hides are saved, and preserved the best we can. The process we use takes around 3 weeks to complete, so I save up hides until I have about a dozen before processing a batch.
To obtain the hide we cut around each foot, and between the leg, and pull the entire hide off in a tube. I rinse in cold water to remove as much blood from the neck area, and roll them skin side out. Each hide is placed in the freezer in a large bag until I have enough to process. They will keep about a year in the freezer.
Once I am ready to process I remove my hides from the freezer, and let thaw about 6 hours. I fill a clean 5 gallon pail (or Rubbermaid tub if you have more than 10) half way with hot water. Add 1 cup non iodized sale, and 1 cup aluminum sulfate (alum) to water. Stir until fully dissolved. I add fresh or thawed pelts to the solution. This will tan 10-12. If needed I top off with a little more water, and weigh down with a plate, and something heavy to make sure that all pelts are fully submerged.
My pail is stored at room temp for 5-7 days, and stirred twice a day to make sure that all areas are soaked in brine. It is important to keep this out of reach from animals and children. 5-7 days after the first brine I pull my pelts, and squeeze out as much brine as possible back into the bucket. Do not wring them out, just squeeze. The brine is saved for the next step.
To flesh each hide I start at the back tail section, and gently start peeling the flesh layer from the back. The edges are thinner, and can tear easily if you are not careful. I peel all around the edge, and gently but firmly pull down. Sometimes I can get it off in one piece, and other times it comes off in strips. The younger the rabbit the more fragile the pelt.
Once I get off the main pieces I go back through, and look for little bits that were left. If some is missed it's okay, because I can scrape it after it dries out.
When all pelts are fleshed I leave them inside out. I add another cup of non iodized salt, and another cup of alum to the remaining brine, stir well, and return all pelts. The pelts are weighed down, and topped off with a little extra water if needed. Pelts are covered, and left to sit 7-14 days. If pelts are not stirred twice daily there is a risk that folded areas will not get well brined, and this causes hair slip, and bald patches.
After the second brine each hide is pulled, and rinsed in cool water twice. I then cut up the belly to make each hide open. I use a bodywash or shampoo to clean fur. Each hide is rinsed in cool water twice. I then fill the tub with cool water to let them soak. I drain and refill 2 times to make sure all pelts are fully rinsed. I squeezed as much excess water out of each hide, but never wring them.
Once clean, and rinsed each hide is hung in the garage to drip dry on a line. They can also be tacked to a board to encourage them to dry flat, but I tan 12 or more at a time, and space is an issue. Hides are checked twice daily to test them for drying. The trick is to stretch the hides when they are "mostly dry," but not stiff. Catching them at that point makes the stretching process much easier. If they become to dry and stiff I simply rewet using a damp cloth and cool water, and begin stretching again. The edges are most susceptible to this.
Once stretched I return them to the line to dry fully. Once totally dry I shake out loose hair, and work over the back of a chair or wood post. When they are all soft and completely dry I coat the back with mink oil. This preserved, seals, and softens the leather. It also smells pretty good, and makes the hides smell less like a rabbit.
Once the skins are well oiled I store them skin to skin, hair to hair, so I don’t get mink oil on the fur sides. Where the fur meets the fur from another hide I place a scented dryer sheet to make the hair smell sweet. I keep my hides in a cardboard box rather than a sealed plastic tote so the hides can breath, and slip 2 bars of soap in the box for scent, and to keep any bugs away. They are then ready for whatever project I decide.
Many folks will take this a step further, and smoke each hide over an outdoor smoldering fire. I only make pet toys with my current hides however, so I don’t smoke my hides. If you plan to store for a very long time, or make clothing or blankets from your hides, then I would recommend smoking them as well.
This video shows my step-by-step process of how I personally preserve our rabbit hides at home.
Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows plums, apples, pears, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.
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