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WARNING:  This diary discusses the raising of rabbits for human consumption.  If this topic disturbs you, please do not proceed.  

In this diary we will discuss the unpleasant deed of dispatching rabbits for slaughter.  This diary will contain embedded videos that show rabbits being dispatched.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Here are the previous diaries in this series, please peruse them at your leisure:

Part 1: the argument for raising rabbits for meat.
Part 2: Shelter
Part 3: Nutrition and climate
Part 4: Breed Selection
Part 5:  The breeding process.

In this diary we will discuss the unpleasant task of humanely dispatching rabbits for slaughter. It's not a deed anyone enjoys but regardless of your reasons for raising rabbits (for meat, for pets, for show) there will come a time when you will need to cull a rabbit that is sick, malformed, or injured beyond reasonable medical intervention, or to provide meat for your consumption.  We'll discuss several methods of dispatch that are humane and nearly instantaneous as well as provide some video examples.

Before you even think about slaughtering a rabbit there are a few things you need to do to ensure the dispatch is as easy and painless as possible for both rabbit and human.

1) Do not feed the animal 24 hours prior to slaughter.  This will save on feed but it will also clear excess food and fecal matter from the digestive tract making the actual slaughtering cleaner.

2)  Handle your rabbits as much as you can while they are young.  It takes 8-12 weeks (+2 weeks for Florida Whites) for an average meat rabbit kit to attain "fryer" weight (which is around 5 lbs).  This is the preferred weight and age for slaughter as the meat is tender and the animals are a more manageable size.  Several of the methods I am going to describe in this diary require placing the rabbit in unusual positions that they might ordinarily object to. It is important that after the first week of a kit's life, you handle the rabbits daily to get them used to being in these positions so that when the time comes, they will be more comfortable being held that way.  Pick them up, place them on their backs, and gently hang them by their back legs for brief periods.  Even if you're not raising rabbits for meat it's a good idea to get them used to be held on their backs as that's the preferred position to check teeth, nails, and sexing rabbits.

3) Do not name any rabbit you intend to raise for meat.  Rabbits are beautiful, sweet, cuddly creatures and it's very natural and very common to develop an emotional attachment to them.  Even people who have years of experience raising rabbits for meat find themselves getting attached to the little fellas.  The act of giving an animal a name creates a relationship that will be that much harder to end when the time comes to dispatch.  If you see a particularly exceptional rabbit that you intend to raise as breeding stock, then, only after it has developed enough that you can be reasonably certain you want to keep it or sell it, should you give it a name.

4) Be very mindful of where you dispatch and slaughter your rabbits. Do not dispatch and process your rabbits in view of or upwind of your other rabbits.  This, understandably, causes them distress.  You also have to be mindful that other people don't have a free show either.  Especially in more urban environments where people are so used to the sanitary detachment of plastic wrapped trays of meat, witnessing an animal being killed and slaughtered for meat is liable to cause them to call the cops or animal control on you (which you REALLY do not want).  Be as discreet as possible.  It's best that your neighbors don't even know you're raising rabbits at all unless you tell them, but you really don't want to distress anyone with the sight of slaughtering an animal.

5) Be patient with your rabbit. Above all, it is important that the rabbit be calm when you are handling them for dispatch.  If they're squirming or fidgety, your attempts may backfire and cause needless suffering.  Take the extra time to calm them and comfort them.  In some cases you can provide them a treat to occupy them down and make sure they remain still.  This will increase your chances of a successful dispatch.

6) Always have a backup and do not hesitate to use it if necessary.  The best laid plans often go astray.  If, for whatever reason, your initial attempts to dispatch the rabbit fail, it is imperative you have a secondary method ready to employ at a moment's notice.  And it is imperative that you employ it without hesitation.  It is the ultimate goal to give your rabbit the gentlest death possible.  But if that becomes impossible, hesitation and timidity will only cause needless pain and suffering for the animal which should be avoided at all costs.

7) There will be twitching.  All of the methods of dispatch listed here rely on causing fatal trauma to the medulla oblongata in the rabbit's brain.  However you dispatch your animal, there will be post mortem twitching and writhing. Even the heart may continue beating minutes after death and after you have removed it from the carcass.  This is not an indication that your animal is suffering, it's just how the nervous system works.  Prepare yourself for it, it will happen.

8) Always confirm the kill. However you dispatch your rabbit it is important to confirm the animal is truly beyond pain before you proceed to process the carcass.  This is done by testing the pupillary reflex.  No matter what state of consciousness an animal is in, it will always blink or react when something comes into contact with the exposed eyeball.  After you dispatch your rabbit, touch the eyeball to confirm that there's no blinking or twitching response.  If there is any reflexive response, resort to your backup method right away.

Now that we've gone over the basic rules, here are the different methods of dispatch.  I was not able to find video examples of all of them, and there are some I would not recommend attempting without guidance from someone who is experienced in that method.

Like I mentioned before, the main goal in humane dispatch is to cause fatal trauma to the Medulla Oblongata (or brain stem) of the rabbit's brain.  The Medulla Oblongata is found at the base of the rabbit’s skull, right where it merges with the first vertebra of the neck.

1) Gunshot.  This can be performed with a very small caliber handgun or rifle, or (especially in an urban or suburban environment) with a more silent pump action pellet gun (not a BB gun). Create a small pen out of wire and place the rabbit in that pen with a treat or some greens to munch on.  While the rabbit is occupied, place the end of the gun between the ears at the back of the skull and aim towards the mouth.  If you are using a firearm, a gun safety course is highly recommended and it is recommended you do not perform this on a rocky or hard surface where there is a risk of ricochet.  Here is a video that demonstrates this method.  It also demonstrates the actual processing of the rabbit if you want to keep watching it but I'll address that in the next diary:

2) Blunt force trauma.  Carry the rabbit nestled in your non-dominant arm with the head facing out and the rear nestled towards your elbow.  Hold the front legs immobile with your non-dominant hand.   Push the rabbit's ears forward causing it to drop its head downward and expose that spot between the ears at the back of the skull.  Using a ball peen hammer or other heavy, sturdy object (like rebar, a club, or even your own fist if you're strong enough), strike that spot on the back of the skull HARD.  Once to stun, and then two more times in rapid succession to kill.  The most important thing to keep in mind with this method is to make sure you are accurate and forceful with your blows and that your non-dominant hand is out of the path of the blows.  Quickly test the pupillary reflex and add additional blows if warranted.  But the first blow needs to be strong enough to render the rabbit completely stunned in order to be successfully humane.

3) Manual cerebral dislocation.  This is just a fancy way of saying you're breaking the rabbit's neck causing the brainstem to be completely dislocated from the central nervous system.  This method requires no extra tools and, when done right, is incredibly fast and painless for the rabbit.  However, it does also require quite a bit of technique and muscular effort to pull off right and is not recommended for a novice. I bought an educational video that displays this method, but for copyright reasons I cannot share it.  If you wish to learn this method it is best to have someone experienced show it to you.

4) Mechanical cerebral dislocation. Just like the previous method, the intent is to break the neck and dislocate the brain from the nervous system, however it is done by employing some kind of mechanical aid.  One common method is known as "broomsticking".  Place the rabbit on the ground with a treat to keep it occupied.  Place a sturdy broomstick type rod of wood or metal behind the ears over the rabbit's neck.  Place the ball of one foot on one end of the rod to keep the rabbit gently pinned to the ground.  Now, hold the rabbit's back legs and lift up so the body is more (but not perfectly) perpendicular to the ground.  Place the ball of your second foot gently on the other end of the broomstick and ONLY when the rabbit is in position, put your full weight on both ends of the broomstick while simultaneously yanking the rabbit's feet up in a swift movement dislocating the head.  It is crucial that you do not place your full weight on the broomstick until you are ready to yank the rabbit's feet up as that will only serve to strangle the rabbit for moments before it dies and cause it unnecessary suffering.

There are other mechanical methods.  There is a company that manufactures a device called the "rabbit wringer" demonstrated in a youtube video here:

(disclaimer, I do not endorse nor do I act as a spokesperson for the maker of the rabbit wringer.  I'm merely pointing it out as an option of dispatch.)

There is also a gentleman who created a similar method of cerebral dislocation out of wood hung from the rafters of his basement, shown here:

The next diary will go over proper procedures for processing the carcass.

Originally posted to DawnG on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 11:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Urban Homesteading.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I did finally get my first rabbit. (4+ / 0-)

    My plan to get Americans fell through after the breeder lost an incredible number to heat stress after a big heat wave.  He literally had only 4 Americans at the end of it (he also breeds other rare breed rabbits).  So I figured I'd get a few generic meat rabbits and practice on them before I start breeding for show.

    I got a young grey buck that very much resembled an American, but the lady I got them from called them "American Palaminos".  They didn't resemble anything close to any Palaminos I'd ever seen and they were GIANTS.  Her biggest rabbit (she claimed) was 37 lbs!  Well that was a bit too big for me, but I saw this 3 month old fellow in a hutch by himself and he looked really good so I got him.  She said it was the only time she'd ever seen a solid grey rabbit out of her stock (most of them were white or chinchilla looking rabbits).  He wasn't as big as some of the others and he had been previously owned by a little girl who got tired of having a rabbit when it got too big.

    So I brought him home and got him set up in his new cage.  I named him August and he's so SWEET! OMG!  He loves getting petted, but he still hates being handled.  He's afraid to come out of his cage at all.

    I finally got A/C in my shed and now I"m looking for a ladly friend for my little Auggie.

    I mention how sweet he is to people and they reply "and you plan to eat him?" and I remind them that no, I do not plan to eat HIM as he's going to be a breeder.  The father of my food, probably not food himself.

    Let there be balance in all things.

    by DawnG on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 11:07:10 AM PDT

    •  Congratulations (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DawnG

      Got any photos to post yet? I guess not, otherwise you would have posted them!

      Ya know . . . if you handle each of your meat rabbit babies once a day, you'll fall in love with each and every one.

      Thanks, and keep us updated when you get his wife.

      •  Perhaps. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Crider

        It depends.  It's a fine line to be sure, to have an emotional connection with an animal and still respect its place in the food chain.  

        I haven't done it yet, and I'm many months away but we'll see how it goes.

        Let there be balance in all things.

        by DawnG on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 12:24:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's okay to have an emotional connection... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          flowerfarmer, DawnG, ban nock

          I do with my chickens. I can recognize all of them individual, I pet them, handfeed them... And still I've eaten them.  It has changed how I think about everything though.  I told myself that if I can't do it, I have no business eating meat again.  Ever.  I know my chickens like the interaction with me (they will run up to me and following me around begging for treats), it enriches their lives, and I treat them with respect and compassion until the very end.  

          Now how many of the plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery store ever got nose-scratches or handfed?  Or were ever recognized as individual lives?  

          My first rooster in the pot had a name (Sparrow) and a personality.  

          •  And that's what I mean... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ban nock

            ...by respecting an animals' place in the food chain.

            Chicken, and rabbits, are food animals.  At least for certain breeds, it's almost exclusively why they were developed.  They're stills sweet and friendly and they're still adorable and lovable, but they're still food.

            Let there be balance in all things.

            by DawnG on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 05:32:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  They can be both. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DawnG

              Chickens and rabbits are also much-cherished pets to many people who would never dream of them as food (although meanwhile still eating KFC).  

              I have been a life-long animal lover.  There is no critter out there that I don't like.  Once upon a time, I had a much-beloved rat named Nicodemus.  I also had a much-beloved ball python.  So while I adored both of them and handled them frequently... I also had to feed Nicodemus's kinsfolk to my ball python.  It was pure luck of the draw that Nicodemus ended up going home to someone who loved him deeply (and I really did, I still think about him 20 years later, and am tearing up thinking about him... great little buddy), while his littermates likely ended up snake food.  

              I know people tell themselves not to get attached, but I don't think it's that simple really. I respect the food chain... but we're humans.  We're just not that black-and-white.  We form attachments to what others think of as just food-items.  And that's perfectly okay, and we risk diminishing ourselves by striving to keep that artificial line of attachment sometimes.  Or at least that's my personal take on it (I know we're all different). All I'm saying is don't fight against yourself if getting "attached" works for you.

              •  For some I would agree. (0+ / 0-)

                but there are people (I would wager a majority of people) who can't possibly kill something they've developed an attachment too.  Death is seen as universally bad in our culture and killing is often seen as universally cruel and traumatic.  

                I completely believe you and understand what you mean about loving an animal you intend to use for food, but I also think that mind set is in quite the minority in our culture.   Most people I"ve talked to about this have a common theme:  They say they couldn't POSSIBLY kill an animal as cute and adorable as a rabbit.

                When you're starting out, it's probably better to wait until you know you CAN do the deed before you let yourself fall for them.  I think I can, but I haven't yet, and I'm a good 6 months from that possibility.

                Let there be balance in all things.

                by DawnG on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 06:49:20 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  my grandma (a former kansas farmgirl) used to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnG, flowerfarmer, ban nock

    fry up rabbit for us. i would go to work with pieces of bunny in my lunch sack.
    she came to the left coast in '42 to work in the war plants, becoming the first female machinist hired/trained by boeing.

    she was amazing, and whatever she cooked was good enough for us. i love animal protein, but cannot bring myself to kill.

    "Calm down? Dude, I'm fucking shot, a ground beef patty attacked my face, and I'm going to break out now because you poured olive oil on me."

    by Ramdove on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 12:12:03 PM PDT

  •  I lived at a guest house in China once called (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnG

    Yunnan Garden. All kinds of rabbits running around. Once in a while they'd cook some for Chinese guests. The method the cook used was to pick one up by the hind feet and give it a quick thump to the back of the head with the heel of the butcher knife which he'd then use to clean it. Took 2 seconds, nary a twitch.

    I can shoot a wild animal easily, I feel the opposite of sadness or remorse, more like elation.

    But when we've discussed buying a cow to get clean cheap beef the one thing I insist on is the farmer has to kill it. Don't know about killing something that just stands there.

    My grandfather was the last generation to grow up on the farm, he had that rule about naming things too.

    Good diary or story as the new word might be, wish more eyes could see it.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 06:29:26 PM PDT

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