Rabbits, this is a very controversial topic, and I tend to avoid mentioning that we raise meat rabbits. But we do. Yes, Rabbits are cute, and soft, and if they're handled from birth, are very sweet. Countries such as Korea, Italy, Spain, Egypt, and China, consume the majority of rabbit per-capita, but they're eaten all over the world, including here in America. For me, rabbits were a staple in my life growing up, my Grampa (this is how we spell it) was from Italy, and while I'm not 100% sure his family raised them over there, he definitely raised them over here. He grew a beautiful garden, had horses, chickens and a very mean rooster that my mom and Aunt still talk about to this day. Little did I know I was actually eating rabbit my whole childhood. Seriously, I was 16 when I found out.
Our decision to start raising meat rabbits actually came from the most unlikely of people, my father-in-law, who doesn’t remember the conversation he had with Chris about this. We were content with our 9, or 15 chickens at the time, but in a sheer panic over how to feed the dogs, we feed them raw human grade meat, (I'll talk about this in another post). At the height of the pandemic, our meat suppliers shutdown their freezers, and there were limits on the amount of meat that you could purchase in the store. I had to seriously consider going back to kibble, but even the higher quality kibble was out of stock. So now what? My father-in-law suggested to Chris that we get and raise meat rabbits. Chris assumed I wouldn't go for it, but mentioned it anyhow, and the next thing I know, we were driving to pick up four rabbits. I told him how I was raised on it but honestly don't remember eating it, or how it tasted, but then again my mom told me it was chicken. So I assumed it tasted like chicken.
We've been raising our meat rabbits for almost a year now, and I can honestly say, it's a struggle for me. I'm not even the one doing the dirty work, my Saint of a husband does! What's been hard for me is the rabbits we've lost for one reason or another. If you've ever owned a rabbit, you probably know they have no will to live. They just have heart attacks and die. We had one rabbit have a heart attack while she was nursing her kits, another got heat stroke and just wasn't recovering, so we had to cull her. We bottle fed 11 kits whose mom died one day, and only 3 survived that. A family favorite basically died in my arms. That's not even including the hard calls we had to make. So yeah, this has been the animal on the farm that has been the hardest, emotionally. But it's part of farming, and my mom constantly reminds me that my Grampa told them not to get attached. So I have stopped allowing myself to bond with them. But I still love them, and want them to have great lives.
We started the rabbits in hutches because there's a deadly disease going around that's transmitted by wild rabbits called RHDv2.
So I freaked out and decided we would keep them off the ground until we knew more. I can see the benefits of the cages, I really can, but I would prefer to keep them in a colony so they can live that great life I want them to have, with one bad day. For our farm, the colony would be easier, and better for not just the rabbits, but for us too. Plus, after almost a year of tracking RHDv2, I can happily say it isn't here in Michigan. So that's great news! Especially after the winter we just had, everything froze and we had two litters not make it. We're very much looking forward to starting them in the colony, which will be a whole new level of stress I'm sure, but we're excited.
So like I said, we raise meat rabbits for meat, but we haven't consumed the rabbit meat ourselves, yet. That's about to change, and purely for this article. And also a little because my younger self grew up on it, and I'd like to see if I can actually tell the difference. So we saved two rabbits and I found a recipe in my Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail cookbook by Hank Shaw
He actually writes that rabbit used to be the most common white meat eaten in the states, he goes on to say that chicken became the largest piece of boneless white meat we all eat today, after World War II, and breeders developed the “double breast”. Crazy right? Actually chicken used to be for special occasions only, Herbert Hoover coined the phrase "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage", during his 1928 presidential campaign.
So that's the recipe I used to make our first ever home raised meat rabbit dinner. My mom and I loved it, it really does taste just like chicken. Chris didn’t love the flavor but liked the meat, and said he would like to try a different recipe. My stepdad was too freaked out to actually try it. I guess if we were living in 1928, he would be considered fancy. I'm still shocked that chicken was fancy, especially since we raise meat chickens, and NO ONE here would call them fancy.
So will we eat more rabbit meat? Definitely, it’s delicious! And way more lean than chicken! I’ll try a few other recipes in that book, and probably substitute rabbit for chicken when we run out of that. But I can see why it was so easy for my mom to tell me it was chicken, in hindsight, we should have told Steve it was chicken. But I vowed to myself never to lie about what
people are eating at our house. It should be up to the individual to branch out of their comfort zone. But for Steve, if it doesn’t have Tapatio, it’s not really a meal, so you win some you lose some! For now, the rabbits will continue to feed the dogs, since we are still struggling to find what we need, and because they live in the cages, they aren't breeding like rabbits would breed naturally. Though I have a suspicion that we will be overwhelmed with meat rabbits once the colony is up and running.
Also as a side note, rabbits make great fertilizer, or bunny berries, it’s a cold fertilizer so it can be used immediately. It’s what we use for our garden, and we got a lot of compliments on how great our tomato plants looked at the farmers market. We do sell the berries, and we also make rabbit tea, or liquid fertilizer, to give the plants a quick shot of energy, some compare it to jet fuel, it works so fast.
Thank you for reading!