We made our first trip to the processor just over a week ago now. Much like the day that we were to butcher the pigs, I wasn't quite sure how well I was going to handle the dispatch of the fuzzy critters we had raised from almost babies. But very similar to that day in December, I did better than I had expected.
The day began with preparing snacks, a diaper bag and beverages for the three hour round trip, plus time spent at the processor. Sandwiches, water, bottle, diapers and wipes were collected, packaged and put in the car. A tarp was folded and placed in the back of the SUV in order to collect any stray defecation from the bunnies and cages were pulled down from the rafters of the garage. Little man was packed in his car seat and sat in his stroller nearby to watch the unfolding comedy of collecting 20 rabbits from their hutches. Catching rabbits in two by three foot cages should be pretty easy, they don't have very far to run. Giggles erupted from the little man as rabbits thumped and ran around their cages causing quite a commotion. After 20 rabbits were captured and caged I felt like I had done my cardio workout for the day.
It was a glorious day, sun shining, temperatures in the upper 60's. The ride was uneventful, made even more so by a snoozing baby. We arrived at the processor/butcher thirty minutes early as the directions procured from the Internet were designed for a much slower driver than I. We visited with another couple who had brought in their pigs to be processed, two women from down state who also had rabbits and another man who had culled an older beef cow. Right before our time to unload arrived, the little man awoke and was thrilled to take part in the activities at this new location with new people, sounds and smells.
Rabbits were unloaded six at a time. The scale only goes to 50 lbs. With rabbits averaging just under six pounds a piece, weighing six at a time gives room for overage not to exceed the scales capacity. 116.21 lbs of rabbit. Three days earlier we had culled a doe who had buck teeth and was unable to care for the litter that she had. Beautiful, active pink bunnies were born into a nest box with pine shavings and some hay. Normally does start pulling hair a day or so before they kindle to prepare the box. She hadn't pulled any hair, but it was warmer than usual so we weren't too concerned. Numbering 12, the little hairless critters were defenseless save for their own body heat. Mom ignored them. No hair in the box at all. Between DH going to bed and my returning home from work, less than two hours, all of them had passed. She was an older rabbit and we had some trouble killing her. We asked the butcher if he would permit us to watch while he processed the first couple of rabbits to see what we had done wrong or could do more effectively.
Starting with younger rabbits appeared to be the key. The next was an extremely sharp knife - we have good knives - he had better. We watched as he quickly and efficiently dispatched five rabbits in about four minutes a piece. Little man stayed with us and I was concerned that he might be witnessing something so gruesome at such a young age, then I remembered that I was hanging around when a cow or deer was butchered when I was little and still turned out OK. Watching the processor butcher and clean our rabbits was much the same as the pigs, the initial "pop" and removal of the head was a little shocking, after that I did fine. This is a process I will be repeating several times as we save a couple of rabbits for our own consumption, I just need sharper knives.
Our proceeds for the day were good and we are just under a third of the way back from the money that we have invested in this venture. We lost one litter due to neglect from mom and found out that one other doe we thought was pregnant, wasn't. So it will take us a little longer than we had planned to break even, but so far it has been a pretty good learning experience. After our first bout with loose stools, the rabbits are healthy and growing quickly. Our most recent litters are nine (there were 12) and six born on the 3rd and the 7th. The litter whose progression this blog is following were born on 4/19/12. I hope to have their three week old picture posted soon.