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:
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.