Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Butcher Our Rabbits

Even now, before we get our breeding rabbits we had a big question we have to answer before we even decided to finalize our decision to get rabbits. What about butchering them. Given our requirement for ourselves that our raising methods be humane, we also require of ourselves that we give a humane death to our rabbits. To some this may seem like a strange statement, after all, we are killing them for meat. That said, there are better and worse ways to kill an animal. Think of it this way, why do we euthanize our dogs and cats instead of letting them die at home of cancer, or cluster seizures? It's less painful and frightening to them. Ok, so why bring them to a vet which is stressful for them instead of shooting them at home? My answer to that is two fold, one, I don't want to kill my pets if I can avoid it, and two, an injection of lethal doses of anesthetic or other method isn't going to miss a vital organ and leave a screaming animal in pain. So, given that to have a meat operation we would have to kill animals, we went to our favorite activity, research.

The Methods of Rabbit Slaughter
There seem to be three primary methods of killing rabbits, and a debate over which is best. The three methods are:
* Shooting
* Cervical Dislocation
* Thumping

There is a fourth method that is less common, but potentially ideal. The Captive Bolt Gun.

Each of these methods has its pros and cons.

In the shooting method you take each rabbit to be slaughtered out of the hutch individually, take it over to a separate cage away from the others that doesn't allow for much movement, and from close range you shoot the rabbit with a .22lr pistol or rifle. When properly aimed and executed, this method is instant, and doesn't involve frightening activities for the rabbit as long as you have socialized them to be used to being handled by you.

* Quick
* Virtually painless as far as we know
* Instantly lethal
* Physically easy

* You have to use a gun
* Loud
* Potential to miss
* Skull is destroyed

Given that we'd like to use the skull that's an automatic down check for this one for us. Beyond that, while I am licensed to shoot and shoot well, not using a gun is always preferable to using one in my book.

Cervical Dislocation
In the cervical dislocation method you break the rabbits neck at the base of its skull causing a nearly instant death. There are a few ways to do this method, but one of the popular ones seems to be a tool called the Rabbit Wringer advertised on the linked site. It definitely seems to have its up sides, especially with the tool to assist decreasing the required strength and skill needed for a humane slaughter.

* Quick
* Relatively Unskilled
* Quickly Lethal
* Very inexpensive

* Potential for extremely painful mistakes
* It seems to me the rabbit knows something is wrong.
* The blood pools in the animal after death

This method is still in consideration as it certainly does seem to be the easiest of the methods. That said being able to drain the blood immediately after death is a down side to us. My biggest concern is the same concern with cervical dislocation in rats, even with a tool it can be botched.

This method is known by a number of names, but it comes down to you hit the rabbit in the back of the head to knock it unconscious, and then you hold it upside down to slit its throat. This kills it while unconscious and gets the blood drained. IF properly executed the blow to the head is quick and comes without warning causing no fear in the animal. A lack of fear is important to our concept of humane slaughter.

* Quick
* Very inexpensive
* If done properly no fear is involved
* Blood is easily drained

* Highly skilled
* Mistakes will be particularly traumatizing

So far this is the method that we're looking at. I'd be less likely to do this particular method if there wasn't a local who was willing to give me instruction on how to do it to avoid a first time botch which was a major concern for us.

Captive Bolt Gun
The captive bolt gun is in effect an automated method for thumping using a compressed air, or rubber band fired bolt into the head of the rabbit knocking it unconscious for killing.

* Quick
* Easy when you have the knack of it
* Blood is easily drained

* Very expensive
* Requires skilled maitainence

Where Does That Leave Us?
We are not %100 sure on our decision yet, but we are most likely going with the thumping method. It doesn't rely on a support structure, and seems to be quite humane. I may revise my decision after learning how to properly do it, but for now, that seems to be our best choice. If the skill and strength needed for that is greater than I can muster we may shift to cervical dislocation or, if we have the $300+ dollars, the captive bolt gun.


  1. I have seen cervical dislocation done on rabbits (took a class at a medieval event one), using the broomstick method; it didn't look to be difficult at all. The instructor slit the throats after dispatching the animals to drain the blood. I plan to do a "hutch to stew-pot" project some time as a research project (and dinner for me and a friend or 2), so I am very interesting in how your rabbit raising goes.

  2. Thanks for the comment b-chica, I appreciate learning that. I think part of my cautiousness about the cervical dislocation method comes from having seen horrible and traumatizing incidents of it failing to kill rats in a lab setting. It may be that with appropriate tools such as the rabbit wringer that my concerns are excessive or unfounded.

    With a hutch to stew pot project, if you breed you'll almost certainly have more than a meal for you and a friend or two. I'm going to be getting into production soon. But basically given 6 babies in a small litter and butchering at 5-7 lbs live weight you're getting quite a lot of meat.