The Lady of the House has been working extensively on the hides of our first two litters of rabbits, and has been doing a great job. I have mostly been a secondary assistant doing as I am told in between everything else going on. Despite life being crazy she has managed to get most of the skins to a fairly significant level of progress with the two Above nearly done. This is what we've been doing.
Step 1: Wash the skinned hide. You are just trying to get the dirt and blood off the hide. For us we just dunked them all in a 5 gallon bucket, and had a second one to rinse them off as we took them out one by one.
Step 2: Take the fresh, or green skin from the rabbit and tack it out on a board fur down. We have a lot of plywood scraps around and had a 4'x8' sheet of OSB cut into 8, 2'x2' squares for the rest. Make sure you have pulled it tight as you do so. We recommend using tack nails rather than anything larger since rabbit skin is so sensitive.
Left you can see a skin, somewhat ragged due to my lack of expertise in properly skinning rabbits. The pink and somewhat lumpy parts are places where there is still fat or pieces of flesh on the skin that we weren't able to get off. In our first attempt at this we tried to flesh the hides as much as possible. In the future we will be salting first to reduce the damage we do to the hide while fleshing.
Step 3: Salt the hide, for us with our limited and scattered time this is a vital step. This preserves the hide so it doesn't rot while we are unable to work on it. It also makes fleshing the hide much easier as we learned the hard way! You put down a thick, full covering layer of salt. You want non iodized salt in large quantities. Just pure sodium chloride. Get what ever you can that has no additives to it if you can manage it. Right is one of the first hides we salted. As you can tell we used a LOT of salt.
Step 5: Flesh the hide. In this step you scrape off all of the salt, and remove all of the flesh and fat from the hide. We've mostly been doing it by hand, but spoons have been a great help. The Lady of the House has been getting good results by scoring the fat with a sharp knife, but making sure to not cut the skin below. You have to be thorough, and also have to not get too deep and get to the hair roots because then you will lose the fur to fur slippage. Right is a bowl of mixed scraps of fat and flesh from the skins. Having a better person skinning the rabbit makes this process a lot easier from what I hear. Unfortunately at this point I am not skilled at skinning, which makes things that much more difficult for us as we try to clean off the hides. If you can't finish fleshing all in one go, re salt the hide and store it away again. Try not to leave it too long, they do start to stink after a few days, and we suspect they may also degrade in quality as this happens.
Step 6: Apply your tanning agent. In our case it is egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon or two of water. We have been using a pastry brush to brush the mixture on evenly. You need to be absolutely sure you are getting an even coating all over the hide. You also need to make sure you don't get any of the egg on the fur side. Left is a photo of me trying to get a good coverage with the brush at the edge of the skin.
Step 8: Wait. Set the covered skin aside. Most places say overnight. Many say 12 - 48 hours. We have been setting it aside for a fairly consistent 24 hours.
Step 10: Take the skin that has been sitting for 24 or so hours, and wash it clean. You want to get the egg mixture off thoroughly. This will also let you get any crud you missed when doing your first washing.
Step 11: Allow the skin to dry out. I don't mean let it get bone dry. You need to let it dry to the point that it is damp. In the nasty humid weather we have been having lately where we are, this is taking a good long time, and can be very frustrating when we leave the skins out to dry for multiple days. It is important though to not try to force drying by using heat. You can use a fan to blow air across it, but anything like a hair dryer with a heating element can damage the hide. You want to work with the skin when it is soft, pliable, and just damp enough to feel cool.
Step 13: Sew closed the holes in the hide. The nice thing about fur is that if the fur is good you can't even see the stitching lines if you're any good at sewing.
Step 14: Trim the hide. Basically take off the ragged edges. We haven't reached this step yet but will update with more information about it when we do.
Step 15: Smoke the hide. We obviously haven't gotten to this step yet. This step is to waterproof the hide. If you don't do this step any time the hide gets wet you have to rework it, and that's a pain in the ass. All we know now is to smoke over low heat so you don't cook the hide. We are trying to, as we did with the rest of this tutorial gather as much information as we can and compile it in a way that makes sense to us to pass on to you. Smoking will probably be its own post in the future.
What Else Is Going On?
I finally finished getting all of the tomatoes in the ground, and now need to go off and find 13 straight sticks in the woods that are long enough that I can sharpen them up and use them as stakes. I need to do that fairly urgently.
Also fairly urgent is getting another hutch built for the rabbits. Since we kept one of the kits from the first litter for breeding use, we need another hutch so the growing out hutch is clear when we need that. We are also considering picking up more stock at the fairs we are going to over the next few weeks including the Adams Fair, and the Cummington Fair. We will be looking at the various rabbit stock there and seeing if we can find any good looking American Blues, or Creme D'argents to add to our lines that aren't related to any of our rabbits for at least 3 generations.
Last but not least, the Lady of the House has been getting Rico started on some of the basics of agility. While he has a long way to go in confidence he is doing fairly well with the basics. As you can see, he is quite focused as he is learning to jump over some saw horses.