Saturday, January 31, 2009

Butchering Rabbits

So about two weeks ago Matt and I butchered several rabbits and we have been really busy here lately that I haven't allotted an of my down time to blogging.  Tonight I decided was long enough to wait, so here are some pictures and a little but of the procedure.  Any questions?... Feel free to ask.

The Deciding Factor:
After we wean bunnies from their mother (6 weeks), we allow them to reach 4-5 lbs (12 weeks) before making the decision to butcher or keep for breeding stock.  To eliminate breeding full brothers and sisters, we only keep either bucks or does from a working doe.  We don't always keep every buck or every doe from a litter.  Only if they're awesome like doe #14 and buck #4 (who multiply like... rabbits?) do we keep all does.  We seldom keep all bucks from a litter.  If they aren't kept, they're butchered.

The Capture:
The hunt is simple... put bunny into crate from hutch.  Its best to carry them like a mother cat carries her kittens, by grabbing  a handful of skin on the back of their neck.  Be careful of their kicking feet and sharp claws.  My war wounds (scratches and one bite) just healed up.

Two bunnies ready to be butchered.

The Kill:
Once your are prepared to butcher... burnt peace offering, say prayer, deep breath, or whatever it takes for you to be mentally ready to kill such an awesome creature (I usually just jump right in), grab to fryer (terminology helps desensitize the act) in your non-dominate hand by grasping right in front of the hind legs.  This is different than the description of carrying mentioned above (see picture below).  In your dominate hand grab a heavy stick or metal pipe about 18 inches long.  Give to fryer a good blow to the back of the head, right above the ears.  This will instantly knock-out the fryer and allow you to hang it up by both feet and slit it's carotid arteries.  The fryer will then bleed out and basically die in its sleep.  In my opinion the most humane way to kill.
Here I am right before "The Kill."  Notice the holding technique.

Here the fryer bleeds out.  We catch the blood in a bucket.

Skinning 'em out:
Once you get them hung up and bleed out, it's time to skin 'em.  We start with the hind legs and pull the skin down over their bodies like a shirt over their head.  Once we cut the front feet off, the head comes next.  We try to cut the head off at the same cut used to bleed them out.  
Matt and I skinning fryers.  Rope and a clothes line post is all you need to hang them.

Cutting the tail off.

Notice how the skin is in one piece.  Just like a shirt over its head.  
I'm pulling out the front feet to cut them off.

Here Matt cuts off the head.  Notice how he holds the ears and pulls down.
This allows him to cut against something firm, not limp and dangerous.

One you have the skin off, its time to eviscerate.  If you have ever butchered a deer, the process is exactly the same... only scaled way down.  Be careful not to get any urine or manure on the carcass.  If you do just wash it off... no big deal to me, but for customers you need to keep them as clean as possible.  We keep the liver to sell with the carcass.  The only difficult task is removing the gall bladder.  Its hard to get a hold of, but unlike a chicken, it won't bust easily.  I tried to bust one and its rather strong.  Make sure to go past the diaphragm and remove the heart and lungs.   

Starting the cut into the cavity.  
Use your fingers to protect the guts from puncture and cut up.

The inside of a healthy fryer can be a awesome sight.

Pinching the gall bladder off.  
Don't worry about busting it... just grip and pull.

Clean Up and Cool Down:
Once we have eviscerated, we cut off their hind feet. wash the carcass with cool water, and then place them in a tank of cool water while we butcher the others.  This allows for quick cooling and hydration.  It also keeps the flies away from the meat.  Once we are done butchering, we pack the carcass (with liver in body cavity) in plastic bags and freeze them.  

Nice hind quarters after feet have been removed.
Makes you wanna slap your daddy!

Here Matt washes the fryer with clean water.

Cooling down in the tank.  Notice the liver below the carcasses.

I hope this brings you closer to understanding Polyface's butchering process.  It's really simple and only requires a sharp knife and some practice.

Thanks again to Rachel for all the photos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pictures from today... More Skating

Here I am pulling Travis and Andrew Salatin on the frozen pond out by the sales building.  The knee pads are very important... Look below to see why.

I would run along the ice at a high rate of speed, then glide down on my knees as the boys slide past me.  As you can see Andrew is really enjoying himself.

Andy (other apprentice) and I standing on the ice getting ready to start our hockey game.  If you look behind me you can see the new hoop-house we are building.  I really enjoy doing construction work and this project has been really fun.

Bring It On!!  Though this is a pose... I was a pretty intense goalie.  Notice the gear: one home-made hockey stick (thanks to Andy), two knee pads found on the back porch, and one little league version baseball glove (came in useful).

Another pose... still intense.

Here is most of the group.  Like I said yesterday only a few with skates but still loads of fun.

Thanks Rachel for taking all the pictures!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold Enough...

The current temperature is 10 degrees (F) here on the farm.  Its cold, but...

I like the cold!  I know, I know.  Who really enjoys the cold.  Well I must confess, I wouldn't like just sitting out in the cold doing nothing, but cold weather allows for certain activities that can only be done in the cold.  It allows for snow, which allows for skiing, snowball fights, snowmen, sledding, etc.  Today that activity was ice skating on one of the ponds.  We don't have any snow for sledding but since the temperature plummeted to well below zero last night and the low tonight is -6 degrees (F), ice skating is very possible.  

This morning after chores we began to discuss what we were going to do on such a cold day.  Not much was on the agenda so after breakfast we all went to the pond nearest to the house.  Daniel and Rachel both had skates on by the time I got out there and were skating around.  Daniel had some hockey sticks and Andy and I made a wooden puck (which worked awesome I might add) and the games began.  There were only 3 pairs of skates so most of us were just sliding around in our boots attempting to pass and shoot the puck.  After Daniel got tired and had to go back to his house for lunch, I borrowed his skates and played a short game with everyone that was left.  I think if I would have grown up in a cold weather climate where hockey was part of everyday life, I would have loved it.  I probably would have went pro... right?

Anyway, today was a fun play day on the ice with the whole bunch.  Just goes to show you that life on the farm can be a lot of work, but life on the farm can also present itself with a lot of fun.  A kind of fun that can only exist on the farm... "The Good Life."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rabbits and Layers

One of the great things about being an apprentice on Polyface is the realization that opportunities for food production are ENDLESS!!  Now don't run out and buy 1000 cows and expect to have money just rolling in, but people need to eat and some if not all of Polyface's production models are simple enough for anyone to take on.  I've been watching the rabbit production model for the past few weeks and I have no doubt that rabbits could provide a nice side income for someone wanting to produce healthy, tasty meat.  Rabbits alone could work but rabbits plus laying chickens equals great success.

Let me explain...

Rabbit meat is highly sought after by restaurants and many people.  Here at Polyface we cannot produce enough to keep up with the demand.  Currently we are not selling any rabbit meat to restaurants or through our buying club.  At least one restaurant asks our delivery driver weekly if we have any rabbits or if we will anytime soon, and our buying club customers ask the same questions.  You might say to yourself (as I have many times), "I don't know anyone or any restaurant the eats or serves rabbit meat."  Here's why... because they don't have a source or producer to get it from.  I'm starting to believe that many restaurants and costumers would love and may in fact prefer rabbit over many other meats.
During the summer we try and get the rabbits out to pasture in the "Hare Pens" and if not in the hare pens they get some sort of fresh green clipping.  When they aren't out on pasture during the summer (and winter for that matter) they are kept in one of the hoop-houses in 2ft x 3ft x 4ft hutches.  They are feed alfalfa pellets while in the hutches and watered via spigots that fill from tubes hooked into one central bucket (for 10-15 hutches).  Chores for the rabbits take minutes to complete and they reproduce quickly.  Gestation is only 28 days and litters contain up to 11 bunnies.  Lots of meat... FAST.
Adding chickens is the logical next step.  If you raise the rabbit hutches off the ground so they are easy to feed/water/check then they are also high enough for their manure to fall down below the hutch.  Without chickens it can pile up and reek of ammonia.  With chickens however, their manure disappears.  The chickens scratch trough the manure and eat anything nutritious and the rest gets spread throughout the wood chips and saw dust used as bedding.  So even without providing more income with the eggs they lay, chickens act as sanitizers for the rabbits.  This is what I call a WIN-WIN situation.