This saturday I will be harvesting, or “processing”, my first litter of rabbits. I have been looking into a lot of different things in preparation. The first of my concerns is sanitation. I decided that using a bleach and water solution was going to be for the best. This is what the pet-store used to sanitize everything they ever used for their animals, and it’s a very effective disinfectant. I poked around and here is some great info on using chlorine bleach as a sanitizing agent in food production. This also covers federal regulations for food safety. For me, everything I use will sit in the bleach solution for several minutes before being rinsed briefly in clean water before use. This is one of the options listed under federal regulation for approved food safety sanitation.
Now, there is another issue involved. The legality of processing meat. One needs things like licencing, inspection, testing for diseases and specialized equipment. There are almost no regulations specified for a small farmer. It’s a serious problem in a lot of food safety issues since most of the problems we encounter with food do not come from small farmers that focus to intensely on each individual product they create, but rather they come from huge factory and intensely grown foods. Every food safety law I read was geared towards being efficient for someone with 1000 or more breeding animals. It really is a serious problem because if you have a small farm with only 3 cows processed each year you have to spend the same amount of time and money on regulations as someone who has 300,000 cows each year.
However, there are a FEW exceptions, at least here in Ohio. I contacted our Ohio Department of Agriculture, Meat Division. I got this as a response;
“Rabbits are not what we define as “amenable”; meaning they are not applicable to the meat/poultry inspection acts/laws. Basically, if you raise rabbits on your farm, want to slaughter them and sell the carcasses/meat directly to the household consumers right from your farm—you can do that without any inspection at all. (Keep in mind, this is true of only non-amenable species. Mandatory species (beef, hogs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc) do require inspection.)…
…As far as other species that are not amenable, it would be easier to say which ones are amenable. Livestock animals include :cattle, sheep, swine, goat, horse, mule, or other equine and for poultry: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, ratites, or squabs )also termed young pigeons)…
…Also, regarding chicken/turkeys: even though they are amenable, a processor can raise (from chicks or eggs) the birds, slaughter/process them and sell them direct to the household consumer (no restaurants, retailers, etc) right from the farm with no inspection as long as you stay under 1,000 birds/calendar year…
… All other species are considered ‘voluntary’.”
I can’t thank to wonderful person who helped me get this info enough. Although when I asked about why small farmers have no smaller-sized regulations despite next to no illness coming from small farmers what I got was as a response was pretty much a wash. The people I have talked to from official offices have always been friendly. I think these people that I talk to really would LIKE to help small farmers see better regulations in place but are under so much pressure from higher up that they can’t even say either way. There’s a lot of political pressure on groups like this to shut up, follow a script or lose their jobs. It’s a real shame.
What this means is that I can sell my rabbits, right off of my property directly to consumers. Since there is no sales tax in Ohio for non-processed food products sold direct to consumers, I do not need to worry about sales tax. I also do not make enough money in a year right now to be charged for income tax. In short; I can sell my rabbits scott-free. This is GREAT. Farmers, especially small farmers, have so many regulations as it is. The fact that there are even just a few animals that we can produce freely is important. Some people may complain; “What if you’re not being respectable in your food production? What if you’re unsanitary!?”. Well why don’t you come out to my place and ask to see the processing? I will happily show my processing to anyone who wants to come by and see it. You are welcome to watch from start to finish to see if it is sanitary or not. That being said, you’ll have to ask. You’ll have to take the initiative to find out for yourself; Is your food as safe as you think? And if you ask a farmer to see the processing process, to see how the animals are raised and how the carcasses are handled and they say no… You probably don’t want to buy from that farmer.
That being said, I think I have found the way I want to do my processing. I would like this to be my consistent method of processing, although I’ll have a slightly more sophisticated station than a chain-link fence.
The day before, the rabbits will have strongly restricted feed and water to limit risk of contamination. I have purchased a special pair of heavy-duty scissors for this. They will ONLY be used for processing rabbits, never for other tasks. As stated above, I will be using the federally acceptable use of bleach and water for cleaning surfaces and tools like knives and the scissors. I will be rinsing the carcasses in cold water immediately after processing and then refrigerating them at near-freezing temperatures immediately after that.
Skins will go into cold water before freezing to be saved for tanning, and the skulls will be rinsed and frozen as well. Those will be donated to our local raptor (bird of prey) rescue/wildlife rehabilitator. The birds will get a nutritious snack (since eyes and brains are nutrient-dense) that they have to work for (skulls are hard to get into) and the mostly bone skulls will wear down their ever-growing beaks meaning they don’t need to have them clipped or filed; a very stressful process. The organs and any easily separated bones will be lightly boiled or fried and fed to our dogs; mostly raw and extremely healthy. I will be doing my best to use every single part of each rabbit. The parts I can’t (such as the stomach) will be composted and returned to the earth.
I am looking forward to saturday and processing my rabbits. I am even happier that I can do so legally. And if anyone asks… They’re welcome to come see for themselves how sanitary my station is, regulations or not!