Deus Ex Machina and I hosted a skillshare last night with the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group. The topic was raising rabbits for meat with some hands-on hide tanning.
The bulk of the evening was spent chatting about raising rabbits - little things we've learned after a decade of keeping rabbits, like two sexually mature male rabbits should *NOT* be housed together, especially if there's a female present. They fight - with claws and teeth. Or that a doe reaches sexual maturity at around four months (depending on the breed), and if there's any mature buck around, regardless of his lineage, she will be pregnant. Bucks reach sexual maturity faster than does (at around twelve weeks). Rabbit gestation is four months, and a doe can be fertile almost as soon as she kindles. I spent too much of the evening saying the phrase ask me how I know.
When we were asked to do the class and it was advertised on the meet-up group, there were some people on the group who expressed offense at the idea of keeping rabbits as livestock. One woman was particularly venomous, and I almost - *almost* - cancelled the skillshare, because I don't believe I deserve many of the personality characteristics she was assigning to me based solely on the fact that I eat rabbits. After a lot of really difficult days, I decided to go ahead with it because of those last five words of the preceding paragraph.
Those people who came to our skillshare want to keep rabbits - in spite of people like that woman with her very adamant rabbits-are-friends-not-food stance. They want to keep rabbits, and the very least I felt I could do for them, and for their rabbits, was to share all of our missteps and as much of the information as I could get out in the time we had about what rabbits need - which is not exactly what we're told by organizations like Rabbit House, which is geared toward pet rabbits, and some of the things they imply are not applicable to keeping rabbits for meat.
And pet rabbit organizations either don't know or won't tell us anything about rabbit sexuality (their stance is similar to the abstinence crowd - spay or neuter the rabbit *period*) - including how to tell if a very young baby rabbit is male or female, which is very difficult, and the only guaranteed way to know for sure is to wait, twelve weeks, and then, the distinctions are obvious :). Unfortunately, if there are other rabbits in the house, and if those rabbits were not surgically forced into celibacy, that lucky person will, in four weeks, have, at least, five more cuddly bunnies to love.
And that, my friends, is why our shelters are currently over run with pet rabbits who need to be adopted.
It is not rabbit breeder people, like me, who keep the animal shelters so well-stocked with *unwanted* pets.
As the evening wore on, and I shared stories of our experiences, I realized that I know a lot more than I realized about rabbits - most from cursory readings and simple observation.
One thing both I and the rabbits-should-be-pets-only people can agree on is that rabbits are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures. They are fun to be around and they have great personalities (unless they're sexually mature and a prospective mate is near by - and then, the best thing one can do is get out of the way, because they have teeth and claws, and know how to use them ... um, ask me how I know ;).
The one thing we'll never agree on is that rabbits are ideal livestock for nanofarmers like me and Deus Ex Machina.
The skillshare was also a potluck, and it seemed appropriate to cook rabbit as our contribution. My favorite way to cook most meats is by roasting, especially on the grill over woodchips. I love that smoked flavor. The problem is that rabbit is incredibly lean and it's easy to overcook and, thus, dry out the meat. I was very pleased with the rabbit we cooked last night, and as such, I wanted to share what I did.
We had two whole rabbits, which I brined in salt water for about four hours. I made a rub and coated each rabbit. What, I think, really made it good, though, was the "stuffing", which was butter and fresh herbs. I put the prepared rabbit on a pan we have that has holes in the bottom (it's some kind of gourmet pizza pan), and then placed it over a pan on the grill that contained mesquite wood chips (which is what we had, but apple chips would probably have tasted better), and cooked it on low heat for about an hour. The result was an incredibly tender and juicy meat. it was delicious.
For those who like to print recipes, here it is. Ingredient amounts are approximated ;).
Slow Roasted, Smoked, Herb-stuffed Rabbit
1 tbls salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp each cumin, ground sage
1/2 tsp (or less) cayenne pepper
2 to 6 sprigs fresh-from-the-garden Thyme, chives and sage
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbls butter (or 2 "pats") divided in half
1. Marinate rabbit in a salt brine for at least four hours (can be overnight).
2. Remove rabbit from salt brine and rinse.
3. Coat outside of rabbit with salt-herb rub.
4. Put fresh herbs and butter into rabbit cavity.
5. Place rabbit in a warm grill on top of smoking wood chips.
6. Roast on low heat for approximately an hour or until juices run clear.
Serves two to four people depending on the size of the rabbit. Goes well with vegetable side dishes that are typically served with chicken ... and is delicious with a nice, home-brewed, hard apple-cider ;).