Animals for slaughter should be kept without food for 12 hours before killing, in order to enable the intestines to empty. Plenty of fresh drinking water must be provided during this time to prevent dehydration and weight loss.
There are different methods of killing a rabbit but whichever is employed, it should be quick and without suffering.
Method 1: An electric humane killer, a smaller edition of the ones used in the abattoir for cattle, is by far the best method for a large rabbitry.
Method 2: Put the Rabbit on a table, lift the ears with the left hand and apply a sharp blow with a short, heavy instrument on the head behind the ears, not the neck. In this way, the small brain is injured and death is instantaneous.
Figure 1: Rabbits in Battery Cages
After death, cut the throat and hang the rabbit by its legs for efficient bleeding. Skin the carcass immediately, before it cools. In most cases the skin pulls off quite easily. Two light cuts are made just above the hock joint on the inside of each hind leg, and the skin is peeled off, beginning at the rear legs. Skins should then be hung up individually – they must not be thrown on a heap where they will stain one another. Washing is not necessary but stains on the carcass must be wiped off with a clean cloth. To eviscerate, the cut is made about 100 – 125 mm long in the skin on the belly just below the vent.
When the cutting is in progress, ensure that the viscera are not cut, as this causes mess and tainting. To avoid rapid deterioration and spoilage of the carcass, quick cooling is essential. Hanging the carcass in cold weather overnight is quite satisfactory. In hot weather, cooling may be done by immersing the carcass in clean, cold water, or water with ice. Cooling is most successful if a freezer or dry process is available. Once the carcass is cooled and firm, it may be packed in a polythene bag for marketing or placed in a deep freeze.
The difference between the live weight of the animal and the weight of the carcass is known as the killing-out percentage.
It is calculated as follows:
|Weight of Carcass
|Eviscerate: disembowel an animal.
For rabbits, the killing out percentage is 60 – 63% depending on their age and condition. The loss in weight is about 12% for the skin and 25% for eviscera (the gut, lungs etc.). A rabbit in poor condition, one that has been badly fed, can have a killing-out percentage of 50% or less.
A good size of carcass for sale is from 1.2 – 1.6kg, coming from rabbits of 2 – 2.5kg live weight. This weight can be reached with the giant breeds at 12 – 14 weeks old and with the medium breeds at 20 – 25 weeks. Prime furs are obtained from rabbits after their third moult, at 10 months old or even older, and this is not an economic proposition unless a very good price is received for the pelts.
If the rabbit keeper is aiming to produce the best quality meat that is possible, he should follow the following rules:
- Do not overcrowd growing stock. Give them plenty of floor and feeding space;
- Make sure that animals are kept clean and their cages are cleaned out every day;
- Avoid a monotonous diet and try to feed some garden herbs such as parsley, celery and thyme;
- Do not slaughter the animals too young, before the 14th week, or too old after 5 months of age;
- When removing the guts, make sure the bladder, gall bladder and the two grey glands on either side of the anus are removed;
- Do not soak the newly skinned carcass in water, but wipe with a damp cloth;
- Meat that is to be kept for long periods should be blast frozen at -40°C and stored in a deep freeze at -20°C;
- Make sure that the animal is not frightened just before it is slaughtered; and
- The carcass should be clean, neat and tidy when presented for sale.