Urban Meat Part 1: Rabbits

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen
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We eat meat. We enjoy it greatly and believe that animals raised for food are an integral part of healthy and regenerative farm systems. Before getting our land and before our local food coop existed, I would agonize over meat buying decisions. I would enter a supermarket and wander up and down the meat aisle wondering what was OK to buy. What does “Natural” mean?  Are “Free Range” chickens frolicking on great yards of plenty or do they have a tiny door leading to some 4’ by 4’ area they might notice if they can get past the other 10,000 chickens in their prison?  What about organic?  Has this label been co-opted like so many others?  Time and again I would leave the store frustrated and confused with a lost look on my face my wife came to know only too well. We now raise rabbits and pigs and have not bought meat since September of 2012.

When we landed on our half-acre we started thinking about what we can produce onsite to feed ourselves and share with others. What could we raise well in this oft windy, high desert climate with short growing season, on our clay-rich earth right in the middle of Reno?  Animals came quickly to mind because of the great waste streams we can tap in the city. We researched goats, pigs and rabbits (chickens were a given) and decided on pigs and rabbits.

Rabbits are a great urban meat source. For starters, they taste great!  Our kids love them and the four of us get two meals from each one – one of fried or roasted rabbit then a second as a soup or stew. Second, they are easy to care for. Some of our organic greens and grass (and some gleaned from the city), some mixed organic grains, the occasional apple or bread, fresh water…Third, they are easy to butcher. To dispatch them I thank them and breathe with them until we’re both calmer then place them on the ground and put a broom handle behind their ears. I put both my feet atop the handle and pull the rabbits hind legs up. It’s quick and effective. From there I hang them, remove the head to bleed them out, cut off the front feet, cut the skin around the back feet and pull their pelt off like a shirt. No plucking necessary!  The actually butchering and cleaning are easy as well. Fourth, they are friendly and cute. Neighbor kids and those who come over on field trips spend LOTS of time in the pens playing with them. Fifth, their fertilizer is great for the garden and requires no “cooling” time as does chicken poop. Sixth, they are a great “crop” for us who live electricity-free. We can harvest them on a rolling basis – about one a week, usually. Most folks will butcher all of the litter at one time, say 12 weeks old, and put them in the freezer. We start taking them at maybe 11 weeks and just go until the litter is gone. No refrigeration needed!  Seventh, they reproduce like rabbits. With a little planning one can manage to have rabbits ready to eat almost all the time. Last, their pelts are warm and soft. Admittedly, we have not made great use of their pelts but we are learning how to tan them to use with moccasins and the like.

Our California/New Zealand cross rabbits enjoy ever-expanding accommodations on the ground, with ample shade in the summer and plenty of sun in the winter. Originally I built a standard hutch for them divided into four raised pens of about 2’ x 3’ but felt so terrible seeing them unable to even hop around I built three runs where they can dig (as deep down as the buried chicken wire, that is – about 8”), hop, chase one another, hide in pots and boxes, snuggle each other and generally live like rabbits. We took out two walls in the hutch creating two “rooms” and use it now only as the nursery. About a week before the does are due I move them up there with a nest box so they can have some space to give birth. The mama and newborns stay up there until the wee ones start to leave the box and frolic around (about 5 weeks). We feel we are raising these animals well and maintain our end of this sacred covenant while we connect more profoundly with the cycles of life and death on a weekly basis.

They have become a welcome and integral addition to our little urban homestead and thankfully keep me far away from the meat aisle in the supermarkets.

Stay tuned for Urban Meat 2 – Pigs! 

Kyle and Katy run the “Be the Change Project” – an urban homestead dedicated to service and simplicity in Reno, Nevada.