Raising Rabbits in Colony Series
How To Slaughter A Rabbit Part Two: Dressing
(Step-by-Step With Photos)
by guest author Tricia Woolbright
and Cameron Gramarye
Once you’ve popped the neck, as quickly as possible, hang the rabbit above a bucket. Pictured is the Hopper Hanger we use, more metal rod with mounting brackets, bent so that it holds the hind feet. Getting the feet into position can be problematic, because of those death throes, and one foot often pops out while we’re trying to get the other one hooked.
We started out using a suspended bit of clothesline, with slip knot loops tied in either end, to hold the ankles. It worked well enough, but it was even more trouble to get the hind feet secured while they were still kicking.
Ideally, you want to slit the neck while it’s still thrashing about, so the muscle contractions squeeze as much of the blood out as possible. Poke your knife in behind the jaw, with the edge facing the front. Depending on how tall the blade is, insertion may be enough to push the edge out through the front of the throat and sever the arteries, so that the blood drains into the bucket.
If you have to, do the same from the other side to get the other set of arteries.
If you want to, you can remove the head completely now. The ears make a good handle. If you pulled far enough when you were making the kill, there should be more slack in the neck than bone, and it should be easy to find the gap with the knife. If not, wiggle the knife to find the notch between any two vertebrae. Set the head aside, and you can decide later if you want to do anything with it.
While you’re waiting for the blood to drain, cut through the skin around the wrists and ankles. We call it cutting bracelets. If at all possible, avoid cutting through the tendons below the skin, because that will make skinning easier.
Usually by this point, the twitching has subsided, but don’t be surprised if you still get a reaction while you’re cutting the bracelets, even if the head is already off. Those nerve signals are processed in the spinal cord, not the brain, and it’s really just reflexes, don’t worry. The pain receptors in the paws are still detecting the damage, but the messages aren’t making it to the brain.
You may also still see random muscle twitches throughout all the rest of this process. It’s just the body running down. I once had a heart that kept beating, more and more faintly, even after it was removed from the body and in the gut bucket. (This was before we started saving them.) It’s a little freaky, but it’s nothing to worry about.
If you haven’t yet, remove the head now, because it’s only likely to get messier from here on out.
Back to the legs. Slit the skin along the inseams, from the ankle bracelet toward the crotch. The last inch or two toward the center will be a little tricky, because of how squishy the flesh gets there. It’s easier to put the knife down and separate the flesh with your fingers, creating a tunnel from one side to the other. Once you can get the knife through, slice upward through the skin.
Peel the skin from the bracelets down toward the body. If you accidentally severed any of the tendons, those muscles may stick to the skin and try to peel away from the body as well. Detach them from the skin, and make sure they stay attached to the body.
Once you’ve got the legs bare, cut another loop around the top of the tail. The idea is to leave the tail in place, and be able to peel the skin away from it down the rabbit’s back. The easiest way to do it is to insert the point of the knife at the edge of the skin, just to one side of the tail, with the blade facing upwards. Then stab diagonally toward the center, at the top of the tail. The blade will slice out through the skin, and if you repeat that from the other side, you’ll have a complete triangle.
Continue peeling the skin downward. Sometimes the skin of the abdomen sticks to the muscle near the centerline of the pelvis. You’ll need to cut the attachment with the knife, or else the skin will tear the abdominal muscle away, which will make things much messier.
Once past that, the skin of the torso peels off pretty easily, and you won’t have any more significant resistance until you get to the shoulders and arms. It will take a little more effort, and you may have to hook your hand through between the arms to get a grip, but if you cut all the way through the skin when you did the bracelets, the skin should just pop off.
There may be a hole torn in the abdominal wall near the pelvis. If so, that’s a good place to start. If not, you’ll need to make one now. The trick is to hold the abdominal muscles out away from anything else, and make sure that’s the only thing you’re cutting. In particular, the bladder is right there behind where you’re likely to be poking, and is likely to be full. If you puncture the bladder, or press on it enough that its contents flow out, don’t worry, just rinse it off. It’s a little gross, but it won’t ruin anything.
Once you’ve got a hole to work from, slice downward along the center of the belly until you get to the ribcage. At this point, you’ll be able to see the guts, which are all suspended from the body wall at the back. (Side note: You know all those horror movies where someone gets their belly slit open, and all their intestines fall out onto the floor? It totally doesn’t work that way.)
Whichever set of reproductive organs your rabbit has will also be visible. Pull them out, along with the bladder, and toss them in the bucket. If the kidneys aren’t visible yet, they will be shortly. Your choice whether they go in the bucket too, or into the bowl of salt water with the other organs you want to keep.
The next step is to go back up to the pelvis. The goal is to crack it down the midline, where the two halves meet up. So take your knife and score the cartilage there. I get best results by laying the edge of the knife along that line and rocking it back and forth along the length of the blade. Once you’ve weakened the cartilage a bit, grab either side of the pelvis and bend it in half. If you just try to bend it without scoring the cartilage, you never know where it will break, and it makes the process a bit more complicated.
Once you’ve pried the two halves of the pelvis apart, there will probably be a couple remaining strips of muscle running across the gap behind the bone. Cut them, but be careful. The last part of the large intestine is right behind there, most likely full of turdlets. When you’re done, you should be able to see that tube running from the tail all the way down into the puddle of intestines cupped by the ribcage.
Now grab the tail. The next step is kind of a combination of cutting around the top of it and cutting through the vertebrae of the tail. Once detached, it will come away, hopefully with the intestines attached. You should be able to pull it cleanly down through the split pelvis, hopefully without tearing it, and drop it into the bucket, followed by all the rest of the digestive tract. The stomach will be on the left, you can’t miss it.
When you pull on the stomach, you’ll see a tube running away from it down into the chest cavity. That’s the esophagus, and since the head is off, it’s not firmly attached to anything anymore. Just pull, and it’ll pop out.
The liver is the big red blobby thing on the right. Tucked in a groove on the underside of one of the blobs is the small greenish teardrop of the gall bladder. One of the liver’s jobs is detoxifying all the nasty stuff you get exposed to on a daily basis, and one of the ways it gets rid of those toxins is by secreting it into bile, which is stored in the gall bladder, and then deposited into the digestive tract. So you don’t really want the bile touching anything you plan on eating. (There are other useful things in bile, but that’s another article.)
For many animals, you have to be careful about handling the liver, or else the bile and all of its questionable components will spill/squeeze out of the gall bladder and ruin anything it touches. That’s not really a problem with rabbits.
If you’re going to toss the livers, you don’t have to be careful at all. If you’re saving them, just take the point of the knife and run it along the seam between the gall bladder and liver tissue to separate them. It peels away pretty easily, but if you have to grab it to help it along, grab the narrow end, where the duct exits, so that the bile is trapped inside. If you’re nervous, do it under the trickling hose, where any leaking bile will be immediately washed away. Once the gall bladder is off, the liver goes in the bowl of salt water.
The liver is composed of a bunch of lobes which all branch from a central point, kind of like petals. Unless you tore it while you were taking it out, it’s all in one piece. You may see another red blob that looks very similar, on the other side of the stomach, a little smaller than your pinky finger and flat. That’s the spleen, not another part of the liver, and it should go in the gut bucket.
While you’re handling the liver, take a closer look at it. Some rabbit diseases can be diagnosed by discoloration of the liver. If it’s blotchy or pale, it’s not safe to eat, and the rest of the rabbit may not be either.
Once the liver is out of the way, you’ll be looking at the diaphragm, a thin sheet of muscle separating the thorax from the abdomen. There will be a couple small holes in it, which you can use to cut it, but it tears pretty easily too.
Once the diaphragm is out of the way, you’ll be looking at the lungs. There will be some blood there, but the lungs themselves will be (nearly-)white and fluffy. In between them is the heart, which will have much more blood, and will probably squirt more out as you handle it. You’ll need to pull all of that out, and you may have to pull hard.
If you want to keep and eat the heart, squeeze as much of the blood out of it as possible. There’s a thin bubble of membrane around it that you may want to take off, but it won’t hurt anything if you leave it on. The easiest way to remove it is to just squeeze the rest of the heart out through the hole at the top, where the vessels attach. Then into the bowl of salt water.
There’s one more thing in there that you may or may not want to dig out. The thymus gland, also known as sweetbread in other animals, is attached to the inside of the sternum, just inside the neck hole. If you want to remove it, stick a couple fingers in (the neck hole will be too small, use the bottom of the ribcage, where you’ve been working) and scrape your nails along that section. You’ll be able to feel a small, squishy mass there, and may not actually be able to dislodge it. No big deal.
One last thing to do before it’s done. It’s still got all four paws attached, which is a lot more bone and fur than you really want to deal with when you get to cooking it. Heavy duty shears can take care of them pretty quick, but a knife will do too.
Notice that your own wrists and ankles have a wide range of movement up and down, but much less side-to-side. Grab the paw in one hand and the leg in the other, and bend sideways until you hear the crack. That’s the sound of ligaments popping loose, which means your knife can now get in between the bones at the joint, and cut the rest of the way through. Repeat for the other three paws.
Depending on where you cut the bracelets, the fur boots may reach up beyond the joints, onto the forearms and shins. If so, it’s a learning experience for where you should cut them next time. No big deal, push them down and do what you can.
Rinse the remaining blood, fur, and other miscellaneous schmutz off, and the rabbit is ready for the brine pot. Brine isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps to tenderize the meat. But this is plenty long enough already, so we’ll get to that in the next article, along with a couple recipes.
Keep Reading: Brining and Cooking Rabbit