In my article 'Freezer Camp', I talked about the tools we use and some of the specific techniques we use when dispatching and butchering our rabbits here at the TAP Rabbitry and Homestead. In this article I am going to talk about how we process our rabbits and the the amount of meat yield on the four 16 week old New Zealand Cinnamon Tipped Steel's that I butchered when I was writing the article 'Freezer Camp'. I have probably butchered somewhere between 50 to 75 animals during our three years of raising rabbits here on the homestead and during that time my processing techniques have changed somewhat. When we first started out raising rabbits I broke down the whole carcass dividing it into four separate categories: 1) front legs, 2) hindquarters, 3) back loin or tenderloin, and 4) the belly meat. The remaining bones of the carcass were then boiled down and the meat removed from the bones. This meat was then pressured canned in it's own broth for use in soups, stews, casseroles, and cold rabbit (chicken) salad. Over the last year I have somewhat changed my focus and now simply break my carcasses down into three basic categories: 1) hindquarters, 2) back loin or tenderloin, and 3) de-boned meat for sausage. The front or fore legs are added to the pot with the bones after they have been de-boned and are then boiled down and the remaining meat and broth is pressure canned for future use. I still on occasion keep a couple of whole rabbits for the freezer, but for the most part this is how we process them here at the rabbitry.
Breaking Down The Carcass
If you have ever broken down a whole chicken into edible portions, then you can break down the carcass of a rabbit. To be honest there is not really a whole lot of difference in the way the two types of carcasses are cut up for cooking. I have been fortunate in that I have more than eighteen years of restaurant experience and culinary training and have broken down the carcasses of chicken, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, and small game such as squirrels. If you have done none of these, then finding a mentor or someone with butchering experience is a great way to learn this necessary skill. If you cannot find a mentor or anyone in your area that raises rabbits, then ask the breeder that you bought your breeding stock from if you can help them the next time they butcher. Be proactive, do not make the mistake by waiting until you have rabbits that need to be butchered before asking for help to learn how to butcher and or breakdown a carcass efficiently.
The one question I seem to get asked most often and one I see most often on rabbit forums and on Facebook rabbit groups is “how much meat can I expect to get from a meat rabbit?” This entirely depends on the age of the rabbits being butchered and how they are processed. So to that extent I will try and explain to you how the determine the possible meat yields of rabbits processed at home. So as I mentioned earlier, I butchered four pure breed New Zealand rabbits (2 bucks, 2 does) and the carcasses were broken down into hindquarters, loins, de-boned sausage meat, and the bones were then boiled down and the meat removed. When I talk about meat yields, I am talking about the actual weight of the meat after all processing is completed. I am not talking about “hanging or dressed” weight which is the weight of a carcass after it has been gutted and cleaned and weighed with the bone-in. What I am talking about is what is called the “retail or edible” weight of the animal. The edible or retail weight is the the actual amount of usable meat removed from the carcass which may or may not include some of the bone after processing.
The four rabbits that we butchered averaged just over 5lbs each (total weight of 336 ounces). I will admit up front that I did not weigh the carcasses after they were dressed to get a hanging or “dressed” weight, rather my focus was on the final retail or packaging weight. Once processed, the final amount of usable meat or retail yield of these four rabbits was 164.2 ounces or 48.8% retail weight (164 / 336 x 100 = 48.8%). I have included the following list of portions and their weights for you to examine.
8 Hindquarters, vacuum sealed into 2 packages of 4, total weight 68.8 ounces.
8 Back or tenderloins, vacuum sealed in 1 package, total weight 19.4 ounces.
Meat de-boned and vacuum sealed to make sausage, total weight 54.0 ounces.
Meat removed from bones after boiling to make soup 22.0 ounces
I have listed the industry average yields of processed cattle, pork, and poultry just for comparison. There will be some slight variation related to the breed and age of the animal but on average these yield percentages are highly accurate and considered the industry standard. I have included these examples so that you can compare and contrast your rabbits yields with that of other animals. As you can see the final retail weight of the rabbits (164.2 ounces) that we butchered is comparable to that of commercially butchered pork and beef. If you butcher and breakdown your own pork and beef carcasses your yields may vary.
TAP Rabbitry New Zealand Rabbits, hanging weight unknown, 48.8% retail or packaged weight.
Cattle produce on average 55 – 65% of hanging weight, and 45 – 50% retail weight
Pork produce on average 65 – 75% of hanging weight, and 50 – 55% retail weight.
Poultry produce on average 70 – 75% of hanging weight, and 70 – 75% retail weight.*
* Poultry is the only example listed which is sold completely bone in at your local supermarket, therefore their retail weight tends to be the same as their hanging or dressed weight. Portions of chicken that are de-bone and prepackaged have a retail weight of approximately 60 – 70%.
Raising livestock to help feed your family or supplement your income is not difficult. It does take some hands on work on your part. On average you can expect the rabbits you raise to produce the same percentage of meat yields as pork or beef (about 50%). Because rabbit is all white meat it is very lean and healthy when compared to beef and or pork. And because of it's size, rabbit is a whole lot easier to manage than pork or cattle and they take up quite a bit less room which is a “win win” situation in my book. I hope this article has shed some light on the kind of meat yields you can expect from your New Zealand, Californian, and American meat rabbits. As always, we ask that if you find this information interesting that you please share it with your friends on Facebook and Google+. Don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+. You can also subscribe to our blog so that you do not miss any of our new articles or our notices regarding new rabbit's that are for sale.
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