Sunday, April 4, 2010

foundation stock

I'm going to start out by saying Rabbit Tastes Amazing. I mean it. Cooked correctly, it may be the most delicious and satisfying meat I've ever eaten (and I am a butcher's granddaughter). When yesterday's three-hour crash course in running a small rabbitry concluded five of us sat around a kitchen table passing around a cast iron dutch oven of rabbit, covered in a a tomato sauce with black olives. It was my first taste of the white meat and it was kind of like chicken, but moister, denser, and had more flavor. A 4 oz portion made me feel like I had just put aside a prime steak. I noted how full I felt and Bruce, the man of the hour who's farm I was visiting, explained I just experienced the rabbit effect. Less food, more protein, little fat, and good flavor. Simple satisfaction.

I showed up at Wanabea Rabbit Farm mid morning. Two college students were with me to see the set up, Caroline and Connor. They were Green Mountain College students of the homesteading class and future farmers. When we pulled into the farm's lawn, Bruce was talking to one of his growers, who had just delivered a batch of stock to be delivered to a restaurant in Massachusetts later that week. Bruce was happy with the animals and seemed to be in a good mood despite his sore knee. The 60-year-old farmer walked with a cane, and his flannel shirt, beard, and felt hat made me feel instantly comfortable (and made miss Tennessee something awful). I beamed as I shook his hand.

Wanabea is not interested in agritourism. The place is a working production farm, not a still from the Waltons. People who drove by might not like the look of the metal pole/tarp garages that made up the rabbit barns or the collection of wire cages, goat pens, cats and colorful kitchsy decorations. I think a lot of people expect all small farms to look like upstate summer homes with sheep as sporadic lawn ornaments hoofing on mowed green grass. Wanabea was scrappy. I loved the place, it was growing healthy food right in my neighborhood and providing me with my first foundation stock: two bred does to start my own operation.

Bruce showed us around his barns and explained his hutches and watering system. He showed me all his animals without hesitation. From kits to older girls on their way out—all the animals were out in the open fresh air and seemed bright eyed and healthy. Well, save too who had to be culled due to age and wasting away. He offered to show up how to kill and clean the rabbits right there. All of us were keen on seeing a demonstration.

Bruce killed the rabbit by slipping it's head through a small noose attached the the door-frame abattoir, and in one quick jerk the animal's head popped off the neck with a crack. It was instant, painless, and the now dead rabbit's head hung to one side, still attached and bloodless, but clearly broken. Then Bruce hung it upside down by it's back feet and showed me how to skin and dress the animal. He explained what to remove, and what to keep inside, and the whole time all of his students had questions and stories. It may all sound grotesque but this wasn't the mood at all. It felt as normal as talking over coffee or as benign as four people baking bread at once. We were all excited about our future farms, hungry to learn. Chatting over food comes in many forms.

The demonstration was priceless, and while I felt I had a knack for it he offered to help me process my first animals at my own site. What a gift. With the confidence that I would have a mentor I felt even more excited about filling the back of the truck with used cages and my own does. We walked around the rabbitry trying to figure out which animals suited me. I told him I was leaning towards Californians (he called them Calis) and we found a 9 pound doe with thick loins who was already bred and due around the 16th to kindle. Then I saw a giant Papillon/New Zealand cross I couldn't take my eyes off and when I picked her up to inspect her eyes, ears, and frame I was taken back by the density. Nearly 13 pounds!

When all was done outside, the rabbits loaded in the back of the pickup, we went inside to talk and eat. Bruce handed me a copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits and showed me my speckled doe was a cover girl: her mug was right there on the cover of my publisher's rabbit book! Storey had just released a new edition, and without having any idea I did it: I had just bought the icon on the cover for 1.50 a pound. It's a small world after all started to chime in my head. I was a farm writer who just bought her first meat breeding rabbits from a man who's animals posed for the cover of the book she was reading to prepare for her own farm.

So it's Easter. I just realized my rabbit report falls on today, but bad form was not my intention. I have a feeling people who read this blog and have come to know me aren't phased in the slightest. They may even consider the timing delightful.

No offense EB, but you are delicious.


Blogger doglady said...

Wow, you really did luck out. Really beautiful bunnies. You are so fortunate to have Bruce's expertise to help you during your first experience at processing. It is so neat to hear the enthusiasm in your writting. I like the way Bruce dispatches the rabbt. I've been thinking about a 22 pistol when my Silver Fox kits are ready.

April 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger aerogramme said...

ood old mutt they make the best Does. I hope that once this venture is up an running you will remember that you are a member of ALBC and that a few breed can use some help ... I personnaly raise Blanc de Hotot and Silver Fox. Amazing rabbit meat and show breed ... Enjoy you new venture and now you have to learn how to use a scythe in order to feed them frech greens and reduce the feed bill ... might be mot=re time consuming than pellet but more rewarding too.

April 4, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Sense of Home Kitchen said...

My daughter and I had rabbit at a very fine restaurant. It was the first time we had eaten rabbit and we loved it.

Sounds like you had a very educational and interesting day.

You could have the bunnies that have been eating my blueberry buds. :-)

April 4, 2010 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

heh heh! your last comment made me chuckle. I didn't find your post offensive at all. It really does ring true with what you're all about, so no surprise there. I am really fascinated about raising rabbits for meat and fiber. They are the ultimate small homestead animal! I never would have thought of it until I read your book. Thanks for sharing your experience at that rabbit farm and good luck with your rabbits!

April 4, 2010 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger kandy Gray said...

rabbit is goooooood! i have rabbits as pets and would never eat them, but i still cook and eat rabbit that i have not named ;-)

and as for being offensive on easter, well, i'm a Buddhist, and even i know that easter is about jesus, not bunnies :-)

April 4, 2010 at 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds very educational. I'm now searching local rabbitries to see if any similar classes are offered around here. I'm so jealous that there's a homesteading class offered at the community college. So much more practical than my Communication degree.

April 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I understand the importance of the ALBC, and if Bruce had those animals I would scoop them up in a second. But a local mentor with healthy, affordable, stock is more important to me than shipping in rare breeds on spec. Also, the start of cost would be huge. My rabbitry and animals so far have cost under 100.00 for all the meat rabbits, food, and supplies.

When I am on my feet and know what I am doing, I'll look into rare breeds for all my ventures, but I would prefer spending my money on local farmers, with good advice nearbye, before I do that. Same for chickens, sheep, pigs, anything. Start and then grow into what you want to be

April 4, 2010 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger Anna Larson said...

I would love to have a bunch of meat rabbits here but hubby believes that rabbits are all pets because he had pet rabbits as a kid. He's a city boy and refuses to eat rabbits.

April 4, 2010 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't see how this could be offensive. Totally a part of life and a working farm. Make me rethink rabbit as food. I am used to what my brother-in-law and nephew hunt, there doesn't seem to be as much meat on the wild ones.

April 4, 2010 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger LindaSue said...

Last night I found myself bragging to my hubby about how well you were coming along. You were getting your own real farm, Finn was going to get to come home and on and on. Then I realized I didn't really know you. Well, not in the face to face sense anyway. I feel like if I walked onto your farm today you and I would be friends. That has to say something about how well you have written about your life and goings on.
Happy Easter with your new bunnies. Give those two pups a hug for me. Pat yourself on the back for a great job done well. Enjoy your Sunday at home with all your critters.
Most of all continue to write and share with all of us your joy in the farm. I brightens my day so much. Linda in SE Ala

April 4, 2010 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

On the contrary; I think your post today is entirely appropriate.

Better to put rabbits back where they belong, which is on the table, instead of leaving them out there blurring the real reason for Easter.

I am pretty sure that meat rabbits are in my future, but not right away. I'm trying not to bite off more than I can chew and I'm still working on the growing fruits and vegetable aspect of this homesteading thing.

Good luck with your rabbits!

April 4, 2010 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger aerogramme said...

Hey Jenna,

I agree with you on the importance of having a mentor, low starting cost and healthy starting stock. Do not get me wrong like I said "once you are up and running" ... In my mind that means that the venture is proftable wich won't be magical and will need some hard work on your side in term of marketing ... Rabbit is for me one of the most important meat for homesteader, cheap to produce and of great quality ... unfortunatly not much people are willing to give it a try in the US while in Europe and other part of the worl they are eaten on really large scale.

Now concerning the cost of rare breed, I never understood breeder who ask up to $75 for a junior doe. Those breeder believe that this is a fair price, which sometimes is but never agree on the fact that they sell must of their stock as meat rabbit even the potential show specimen when nobody want them ... a much lower price will help increase the number of rabbit out there and in the meantime will bring in more cash. I have 4 does and 3 bucks. I am breaking even and put free meat on the table ... hope you can do the same at first.

I hope the first kindle will be a great success.

April 4, 2010 at 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. The leap from long-term vegetarian to eating the cutest meat animals available - not to mention observing and participating in their dispatchment and processing - is incredible.

You've really jumped in feet first!

Does this mean you'll be killing and butchering your own meat rabbits? Will you do the same with the chickens?

April 4, 2010 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Turtle said...

lol at the bunny report timing! We had rabbits when i was little and i admit to having to leave the house on butcher day. The crying i just could not take. But when animals are raised with love and live well i feel better when they are eaten. (the full circle but in a happy circle, not industrial) enjoy your easter!

April 4, 2010 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I'd written a children's book about a rabbit, and unbeknowing to my husband, and came home with two beautiful floppy-eared rabbits to serve as my models for my illustrations. My husband made me promise that I'd only keep them for a few weeks (I squeezed out about 5 months) before I sold them. I've taken so many pics of them and totally enjoyed having them while I did. I'm glad you have your farm and all your livestock! Enjoy! I'll be looking forward to seeing all the pics in the future.


April 4, 2010 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger sheila said...

My sister brought me 2 ready to breed does today. My Easter present. Although they are sisters out of the same litter one looks like a New Zealand and one is marked like a Californian. Both big girls. The beginnings of my meat rabbits. All I have to do now is find a buck. I didn't eat any bunnies for Easter but I'm planning to in the future!

April 4, 2010 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Jo Spurrier said...

Jenna, have you seen this mention in New Scientist about rabbits being the most environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral choice for raising meat at home?

Out of curiosity, is there any use for the leather or fibre of meat rabbits? I've heard that rabbit fur is notorious for shedding, and that the leather itself is not strong enough for anything that sees a lot of use, but I have come across a traditional use for rabbit hides as outlined here:

Do you have any plan in mind for the use of the hide and fur?

April 4, 2010 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I haven't had rabbit in years, but I remember it being very tasty. My grandma stewed it.

If it turns out that our jackrabbit population explodes like it did last year, I may have it again this year....they really worked over my herbs last spring, thwarting several fencing attempts.

Sounds like it was a great experience. Congrats on your new breeding stock!

April 4, 2010 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger Tracy Bruring said...

Marjory with Backyard Food Productions sets her rabbit on the floor, places a broom handle on its neck with her feet on each side of it's head and pulled up on it's feet. very quick and painless. That is going to be my late summer project!

April 4, 2010 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Sacha Joy said...

Hey, I'm living temporarily in Pullman, WA to do a semester of coursework for my masters in Hort and was over shopping in the Coop in Moscow today. Did you know they are having an entire evening dedicated to "Made from Scratch"? And there is an article on it in the Coop newsletter? Very cool! Congrats! We're the same age, and I wish I could be as influential as you. I'm just muddling through the mire of academic journal articles and statistical analysis.

April 4, 2010 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Jo- Though I can't pretend to know what Jenna has in mind for the hides, they CAN be very useful! Many commercial fur gloves are made out of rabbit - it does shed though, that's true. Rabbit can also be dyed (depending on the original fur color) to simulate much more expensive furs, and in some places there is quite a market for (larger) rabbit hides to dye and peice together to simulate mink coats etc. The key here is that they have to be larger hides to be really effective, meaning that you have to let them grow up to "roaster" size and age. "Fryers" are smaller and softer meat and are more popular in the states, as opposed to Europe, but their coats are small enough that commercial furriers won't be interested - a patient home operation might be able to much though. The other downside of raising to roaster size is that after a certain age, the feed to meat conversion ratio goes down and the meat is not as profitable/economical per ounce.

April 4, 2010 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I made rabbit for my boyfriend and I a couple months back, and its exactly as you describe it. Almost like a tougher chicken breast, but not overdone chicken breast. Its delicious!!

April 4, 2010 at 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jo: I do know that rabbit skins are notoriously soft and absorbent. They've been used as diapering, bandaging, lining for foot gear and mittens.

I had mittens topped with rabbit fur that were wonderful in the bitter 40 below winters. I'd hold the mitten tops to my face to take the sting out of the wind, and breathing through the rabbit fur would warm the air before it hit your lungs.

Rabbit skins have their uses, for sure.

April 4, 2010 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Robj98168 said...

Well, maybe bad timing but people have to know with the influx of rabbits bought at easter, it is one answer to a cute bunny grown into a scewy wabbit.
See I am not a peta member, I realize what goes on a farm!!!

April 5, 2010 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Rene said...

Easter is about the resurrection of life from death. I don't think anything could be more appropriate than talking about the death of the food that gives us life. If more people had to think about where the things that sustain life came from, I'm certain they'd be making different decisions about the way they live themselves.

April 5, 2010 at 2:19 AM  
Blogger ~ Janis said...

Congrats on your carefully chosen farm livestock for your homestead.

What are your does bred to ?
New Zealand bucks ?

Calving season has started here:

and the mud is finally drying out.

April 5, 2010 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

What an amazing post. We have the one angora right now but I do want to expand. We are still unsure if we'd be able to dispatch a bunny. Our first course would be chickens and see how that goes. We are still very very new to farming and understand what goes into it but haven't had the experience (even watching someone else) right now to say if we could or would though it's one of those things that is a definate possibility.

Good job, Jenna for following your heart and what feels right for you.

April 5, 2010 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

It's great that you have such resources and folks who can give you guidance.
This has me thinking of a meat alternative to raise here on our small plot of ground.

April 5, 2010 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Jody M said...

My husband keeps trying to get me to buy/eat rabbit, but I keep balking. I was happy to read your comment on rabbit as food and it makes me more interested.

But...I have no idea how to cook them! Can anyone point me in the direction of some good starter recipes???

April 5, 2010 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Jody M - cook them as you would chicken, but use more fat since they have almost none. Also, a moist heat method such as braising works well to keep them from drying out.

I have a doe that looks like she'll kindle today. Mmmm!

April 5, 2010 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Simmer rabbit pieces in vegetable stock and red wine with diced onions and mushrooms for an hour or so, till tender. Remove rabbit, thicken the stock in the pan, and serve as a gravy. Absolutely delicious - my mom used to do that with every rabbit my dad brought home from hunting.

Love this post, Jenna! It always makes me happy to see someone putting food into perspective, and honoring the respectful relationship we should have with animals. Keep up the great writing!

April 5, 2010 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

where can one find this book?

April 5, 2010 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Sandra Henderson said...

Jo, Jo, Jo, Jo.....
I had a rabbit fur coat as a child as did EVERYONE! HA! YEs, you can use rabbit fur.
You and Meridith need to get together and get yourself a face and some information behind your names. Meredith wants to go around telling folks to not buy at TSC because they mistreat their animals with no proof given. Come on....

April 5, 2010 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger Sandra Henderson said...

Raised rabbits as kids. Grew up on them fried or stewed. Delicious! Can't eat em fast enough to keep up w/production! Thus, the low carbon footprint.
God sure did know how to plan it well.....

April 5, 2010 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

My husband is a hunter and we have a beagle so obviously we eat wild rabbit. And you know what, my kids (ages 4 & 5) tear it up! I think they like it more than venison (another favorite of our family!) There is a reason most wild rabbits don't live more than 6months, they are too darn tasty!! Enjoy your bunnies!

April 5, 2010 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

Wasn't the Waltons program off tv before you were born? Have you rented it on netflix?

April 5, 2010 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger sunset pines farm said...

I have been playing with rabbit recipes lately and I agree-their meat is so lovely! Unfortunately for me, I don't raise them so i purchase the meat(the last one I bought was about $15 from the local meat store) but I am lucky to live near a meat rabbit farm, I just found out. Next time I will buy directly from them.
Congratulations on your new bunnies!

April 7, 2010 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

And now I just got to this post, and I see you'll have a mentor through the first rabbit processing. That's wonderful.

April 11, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

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